Life as a Caritas aid worker in the Pakistan floods
23 August 2010
By Shahzada Irfan
Ameen Babar monitoring the issuance of slips to recipients.
For Ameen Babar the working days are long, there are no days off in sight and no plans for a holiday.
As Disaster Management Programme Coordinator with Caritas Pakistan in Faisalabad, his days are filled by trips to areas devastated by rainstorms and flashfloods. With road networks destroyed or submerged under water, travelling to these places is not at all easy.
“Sometimes you even have to wade through waist-deep water, not knowing where you are going to end up,” says Ameen.
Pakistan is currently facing the worst floods in 80 years. Millions of people are affected. Around eight million people need help with shelter, food, water and medicines.
Ameen’s job requires him to prepare communities to survive disasters, assess damage, draw up appeals for funds for the national Caritas office and assure supplies of relief goods reach the most vulnerable people. He also has to monitor the work of local aid workers as well as paying visits to places falling within his office jurisdiction.
None of these tasks have been simple for him during the flood crisis. Even the buying of relief goods from local vendors needs special skills.
“The rates they quote change every couple of hours as these goods are high in demand nowadays,” he says.
Ameen stands by the truckload of relief goods at Rehampur village in Okara district, around 100 kilometres from the Faisalabad office where he is based. The village was battered by heavy rains last month resulting in the partial or total damage to houses and crops, injuries and also the death of a 14-year old girl, Shama.
Some women gather around him. They are frustrated that they aren’t on the distribution list. Ameen says that these difficulties occur when people don’t register during assessments.
“The goods are distributed only among the registered people who bring their identity cards as well as the token issued to them at the time of assessment. The recipients are required to give their thumb print on a form prescribed for this purpose,” he says adding, “Transparency has to be ensured and that’s why I am here.”
The relief goods brought for distribution include basic food supplies and bottled water - enough for 15 days - and other household items such as cooking pots and dishes.
“We are out here to meet people’s most pressing needs,” says Ameen.
Sometimes the transporting of relief goods can become life-threatening, says Ameen who, along with his team members, routinely receives training in how to counter attacks on convoys.
“You can expect anything at a place where sheer hunger and destitution prevail,” he says.
Ameen recalls how his team had to face a gang of men who threatened to take the relief goods at gunpoint. The incident took place during a distribution at Gojra - a flooded town near Faisalabad. “Our team members managed to save themselves and the goods without violence thanks to the skills they learnt in training,” says Ameen.
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