Sep 19, 2010

On the front line

Humanitarian organisations put their lives in danger to serve the people

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani finally confessed in a meeting of Council of Common Interest that the international community does not trust in his government and aid was not coming in through government channels. No wonder two weeks ago he had to categorise government and non governmental organisations as "us and them" and had already shared that eighty percent aid would come through "them". He had also claimed that had aid come through "us" (government), we would have contributed something from our resources and have spent all of it for relief and rehabilitation of flood survivors (people still remember similar claims from his predecessor after the earthquake and still waiting for a new Muzaffarabad and a new Balakot). In his opinion, NGOs would misuse what they receive in the name of flood survivors and at least 50 percent of funds would be spent on their bullet-proof cars and lavish salaries (as if NGOs were part of Pakistani cabinet).

This is an extremely serious allegation coming from head of the government against those who have been supporting the people of Pakistan in any unfortunate event be it flood, earthquake, IDP crisis or drought.

I am not sure whether Prime Minister knows the difference between "for profit" American consultancy firms (that he was referring to as NGOs when he objected channelisation of Kerry Lugar bill through NGOs in the past) and "non profit" organisations actively helping out millions in these troubled times. Ever since the start of the massive deluge, aid workers and humanitarian organisations have been on the frontline, battling against all odds, reaching millions of helpless people with food, water and essential medicines.

They are climbing up slippery rocks in Swat, gotten on boats, walked hours on foot or waddled through waist-high waters in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan to reach the most in need with immediate relief. NGOs, INGOs and their staffs are probably the only ones serving the affected population unconditionally.

Most of these humanitarian organisations, charity groups, and relief providers both local and international have missionary zeal and volunteerism. These are the groups who put their lives in danger and despite repeated attacks on their staff members and offices in recent past continued to serve the people of Pakistan.

Unlike the so called "people's representatives" in Pakistan, the staffers working for these organisations don't want to hide themselves from common masses; hence they don't use bullet proof vehicles. In their budgets they cannot charge overheads, personnel costs, salaries, and equipments, etc from relief donations. They have to be mindful of delivering in a cost-effective manner. Unlike former commerce minister, they don't use tax-payers' money to pay golf club membership of their cronies.

I would suggest that the cabinet of the Prime Minister should be sent on an immersion course, a real life exposure where they should work with these organisations in providing relief during various emergency situations to get a feel of luxury lives that these relief providers spend.

The government of Pakistan should try to understand why people have a blind faith in organisations such as Edhi Foundation, Shaukat Khanum Trust, Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz Foundation, Rural Support Programmes, Sahara Trust, etc. They should also try to figure out why international humanitarian organisations such as Oxfam, Actionaid, Muslim Hands, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Church World Services, Catholic Relief World Vision etc., are able to generate and mobilise funds. All of these national and international organisations are credible.

They are accountable to their donors. People trust in them and they provide relief without discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, colour and nationality. They work on selfless basis and don't try to threaten others' lives and properties for their own interests (as is the case in Indus river dykes's breaches in Sindh).

Prime Minister may recall that before her assassination Benazir Bhutto had meetings with some of the NGO walas in Islamabad and Lahore. She had explained the reasons why PPP had decided to contest general elections under General Musharraf's regime. The same was repeated by Mian Nawaz Sharif. Many belonging to these NGOs played an active role for restoration of democracy and reinstating of judiciary. The services of majority of NGO walas are acknowledged by general masses. However, it seems that rulers are trying to shun rather punish everyone who supported them to come to power.

One thing in which current government has attained perfection is opening uncalled for fronts, be against judiciary, media, or civil society organizations. The current one is against relief organisations. It is high time that government should listen to Senate's Flood Relief Committee who had called upon NGOs and philanthropists to play more active role in flood relief. Finally, he should hold a meeting with representatives of these organisations not only to acknowledge their services but also to learn from them the basic standards of good governance that has given them credibility to mobilise 80 percent of the funds coming for flood survivors in Pakistan.

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