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Wednesday:  October 1, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in floods (11)

Saturday
Mar312012

Fiji Floods Wreck Havoc: Cause Travel, Health Concerns (NEWS)

(Video: TV1, Fiji)

(HN, March 31, 2012) - One person has died and five others are missing in Fiji as sudden widespread flooding is causing havoc on the main island of Viti Levu.  Flash floods have cut highways in half and forced evacuations along the island's west coast, with some residents waiting out the rising water on rooftops.

The first victim was a woman from Lomolomo and the five missing were in a vehicle swept away by raging floodwaters along the Nadi Back Road.

Since Thursday, continuous heavy rainfall has resulted in towns, settlements and villages in the Western Division being submerged for the second time this year.  What's made the current situation different is the influx of calls for assistance from people stranded in their homes and businesses.

(PHOTO: Flooding in Nadi/FijiTimes) Workers at a Nadi resort frantically called The Fiji Times office in Lautoka after calls for assistance went unanswered for more than six hours as close to a dozen hotel staff - including a 2 year old baby - were left stranded on the property situated near Martintar in Nadi. 

The National Fire Authority said 11 evacuation centers have opened, although no figures detailing how many people were sheltering were immediately available. The country's rescue units were heavily engaged, speeding through rising floodwaters to help people tho itself asking for boats to help with the rescue efforts.  Emergency services were stretched in what has been described as the worst floods ever.

Strong winds blew roofs off of structures and heavy rains as rivers, creeks and waterways spilled as closing roads and washing away bridges and walkways.  

The worst hit villages Ba, Nadi and Rakiraki towns were overcome by surging torrents of floodwaters on Thursday night, the likes of which have never been seen before.

At 9.30am yesterday District Officer Nadi Peni Koro said his office and the Nadi Police Station were surrounded by water with swift currents making it difficult for his team to venture out and gauge the situation in the central business district area.

"Nadi Town is closed to all vehicular and foot traffic and people will not be allowed into town", he said.

In Ba, the special administrator Arun Prasad said his town had just started to recover from the January floods when the Ba River broke its banks again sending sludge, mud and sewage into the streets.

"The town area, FSC and Yaladro flats are heavily under water. This is worse than the floods that happened in January," he said.

Authorities say there are serious concerns of further flooding with the onset of high tides and a forecast of rain continuing for another 24 hours.

CAUGHT UNPREPARED

A complaint by many has been that a disaster plan was not in place and business owners in the Western Division say the lack of warning by authorities could result in extensive damage.  Ratish Kamal Roy, the managing director of Bargain Box Fiji Limited, which employs close to 50 people at three different stores affected, said that had warnings been given earlier, he would have instructed staff to move merchandise to a safer area.

"The water level is significantly higher than the floods in January and this could result in a lot of damage to stock," he said.

TRAVEL HAVOC

(PHOTO: Ba town, Fiji/News.com.au) City markets and bus stations were empty as bus companies stop services and vendors were caught without any means of transport. 

On Friday, Air New Zealand cancelled flights to Fiji's only international airport, in Nadi; and an advisory by Air Pacific cancelled all domestic flights in country and diverted flights to Apia, Samoa until further notice.

CONCERN FOR HEALTH

A warning issued by the Fiji Health Ministry urged residents and tourists to take extra care of their health due  to the cold, wet weather and rising floodwaters, saying the increased moisture could lead to respiratory illnesses like Dengue fever, influenza, typhoid, and leptospirosis. 

Worries that standing water after the flooding would increase mosquitoe production and therefore disease caused authorities to advise using rubber gloves outside, and the Ministry told everyone to boil drinking water as it would likely be contaminated, and could produce diarrhea like illness.

---HUMNEWS

Friday
Nov252011

South Pakistan Flood Victims Still Struggling (NEWS BRIEF)

(HN, November 25, 2011) - Three months after the worst floods in southern Pakistan's history, nearly three quarters of a million people remain displaced in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, and a third of the affected area remains under water.IDPs at a relief centre at the Sindh Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority College in Badin. Credit: IOM

According to aid agencies, of some 800,000 homes severely damaged, some 328,000 were totally destroyed.

Pakistan's government believes that up to twice as many households may have been affected. 

A recently released aid cluster report estimates that just over half of affected families have received tents or plastic tarpaulin shelter kits.

Thousands of people are still living in the open with little or no shelter facing falling temperatures with the onset of winter," says International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Pakistan Emergency Manager Tya Maskun.

"Shelter cluster agencies have about 45% of the funding that they need, but most of that money is focused on emergency shelter. We calculate that we are only meeting about 10% of the need for NFIs like kitchen sets, blankets and sleeping mats, most of which were swept away in the floods," she adds.

- HUMNEWS staff, IOM

Friday
Oct282011

Italy: State of Emergency Due to Flash Floods and Mudslides (NEWS BRIEF)

(PHOTO: DW-WORLD.DE)(HN, October 28, 2011) Seven people have been reported dead an others are still missing after heavy rains caused severe flooding in northern Italy, officials said Friday.

Flash floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains earlier this week barreled through picturesque towns along the northwest coast, burying streets under mud, damaging homes, stores, churches and overturning vehicles.

Among hard-hit towns are Monterosso and Vernazza, along the Cinque Terre region on Italy's northwest coast.

The Italian Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency in the flood region, which means 65 million euros ($91 million) will be put aside to deal with the disaster, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Heavy rains continued to fall Thursday night in Milan and other spots across the southern European nation, according to the Servizio Meteorologico, Italy's official weather agency. The agency gave an alert about intense, widespread rainfall in the regions of Calabria and Basilicata in southern Italy, as well as the eastern part of Sicily.

--- HUMNews Staff

Monday
Oct242011

Indochina: Floods Impacting Millions, Crops Damaged (BRIEF, PHOTOS)

A Cambodian boy rides his motorcycle through flood waters. CREDIT: WFP Cambodia/Polly Egerton(HN, October 24, 2011) - A wide swath of Indochina is being hit by historic floods. An area the size of Spain is said to be under water, with tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies and dozens of factories damaged.

Over the weekend, flood waters began to submerge streets in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Laos and Cambodia have also been hit by widespread flooding.

In Cambodia, aid agencies are reporting severe flash floods and rising water levels in 17 out of 24 provinces affecting more than 1.2 million people. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an immediate response operation to address the food requirements of over 12,000 families - or 60,000 people. 

WFP is by providing a monthly 50kg of rice per household in Cambodia, said spokesperson Gaelle Sevenier.

Impoverished Laos, which is also flood-prone, is reported to have had almost eight percent of its rice farmland damaged. The UN says 12 out 17 provinces have been affected by severe flooding caused by tropical storm Haima and Nock-Ten this year.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, David Singh from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said the floods in South East Asia are threatening 8 million people.

Prokeab village in Kampong Thom province shows the overwhelming impact of flood waters on people's lives and livelihoods. Credit: WFPHe said the floods underline shortcomings in disaster risk reduction, with the highest concern being many children drowning because they can't swim (reportedly over 200 children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand out of an estimated total of 740 related deaths). There are also thousands of workers unemployed because of poorly located manufacturing plants. 

UNISDR wants the governments of the affected countries to open discussions with the private sector on what adjustments needed to be made in their land use and basic prevention measures when these events were now so predictable.

Across the region, the well-being of millions are be drastically affected by the loss of livelihoods, as manufacturing plants are forced to shut and agriculture struggles to recover.

Singh said that, over the long term, countries such as Thailand need a more comprehensive framework to manage disasters, especially floods. The main shortcoming right now is there are about eight institutions that deal with water. Most of the countries in the region have no comprehensive framework to deal with this catastrophe.

Their analysis have raised fears that the current flooding in Thailand may be a prelude to even worse flood catastrophes in the future. UNISDR believes that the worst is yet to come.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Tuesday
Sep132011

Late Monsoon Rains Pound Pakistan; Millions Affected (NEWS BRIEF)

A year after the devastating floods in Pakistan, families are trying to rebuild their lives, homes and livelihoods. CREDIT: UN(HN, September 13, 2011) - Just a few weeks after the commemoration of the one year anniversary of the worst floods in Pakistan's history, the South Asian country is again bracing itself for another humanitarian disaster from late and heavy monsoon rains.

The percipitation began a month ago and have to date affected some 5.3 million people, according to government estimates. 

An estimated 279,300 displaced people are now living at some relief sites, including public buildings and other temporary settlements.

Over a million homes have been destroyed or damaged, 4.2 million acres of agricultural land has been inundated and over 200 people have died, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The latest floods come as the country is still recovering from the worst floods in its history just a year ago in which 20 million people lost their homes. So far 200 deaths have been recorded, and UN aid agencies are stepping up their response.

Heavy rains resumed at the weekend and are forecast to continue through the next three days, affecting districts including Badin, Mirpur Khas, Tharparkar, Umar Kot, Thatta, Hyderabad, Shaheed Benazirabad, Dadu and Larkana, as well as Karachi and eastern parts of Balochistan.

Karachi, the country's commercial capital and largest city with more than 13 million people, has endured several times the normal rainfall for September. A HUMNEWS correspondent said her family in Karachi is suffering the effects of "a total shut-down and washout."

According to GEO News, all schools, colleges and universities are closed in Karachi; one Internet consultant said his area has been without power for 12 hours.

"The rains are showing no sign of abating and this disaster is still evolving. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people already need emergency shelter and, as in 2010, the inaccessibility of flooded areas is going to be our biggest challenge," says Arshad Rashid, an official with the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM).

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Friday
May132011

Pig in a Python (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG)

- By John Terrett  (May 13, 2011)

The sign said it all. Welcome to Memphis! 

We were in Frayser, just outside the city, filming homes that had been inundated by flood water up to their roofs.

There was no one around - hadn’t been for days apparently - ever since the mighty Mississippi began hitting record levels.

The man in charge of coping with the disaster, Bob Nations of the Shelby County Office of Emergency Preparedness, told us the problem is not so much the Mississippi but its many tributaries:

"These tributaries for about a week now have not been able to dump their water into the Mississippi River and that's what you see backing up here in Shelby County."

Patrick Casey has worked in a nearby liquor store for more than 20 years. He and his colleagues spent the day moving stock to higher shelves.

"This is an incredible flood but I think we'll be OK, it's just a matter of time before it goes down. We'll get in there to clean up and take care of the neighbourhood."

Sergeants Derek and James, two Shelby County Sheriff Deputies, took us out in their amphibious vehicle to see the high water first hand.

It was eerily quiet floating so close to the roofs of people's homes. High water from the Loosahatchie River, one of the tributaries of the Mississippi north of Memphis, had wrecked a mobile home park we floated over.

The waters rose slowly and everyone got out alive but the people here had lost virtually everything.

Fears of looting

Sergeant Mills was there to stop them losing anymore than they already have.

"We're out here patrolling property to stop people looting and also we have sightseers. We don’t want them falling in the water and drowning. It's hard to get emergency vehicles in here, we're just out patrolling 'til the water goes down."

Around 450 people have been living in 10 shelters like the one we visited at the Hope Presbyterian Church on the edge of Memphis.

A displaced flood victim, Minerva Zuniga, told us:

"My husband took me and my kid out of the house and said we were not coming back here because of the flood and as soon as we were safe he tried to go back to get our stuff but he wasn't allowed in ... so we've lost most of our property."

Families get three square meals a day at the shelters, counselling and access to free supplies like clothes, baby toys and the internet.

Scott Milhollen from the Hope Church explained:

"Many of the families, the working spouse, often times the husband, is working during the day - we see them checkout at six or seven o'clock in the morning and we see them again at night for dinner all the time."

And the shelter's staff is gearing up for the long haul. The Mississippi and its many tributaries are not expected to return to levels normally seen at this time of the year for many days.

Pastor Rufus Smith said:

"This is projected to be a marathon, not a sprint because the water was so slow to rise in the flood. The prediction is that it's going to take longer, or as long to recede, so we're in this for up to two months ... if that's what it takes."

Wall of water

"Here comes the pig in a python", as the governor of the state of Mississippi put it recently. He was referring to the way the wall of water from excessive rain and snow melt is making it's way down North America's longest river.

On Railway Alley, just outside Vicksburg, Mississippi, we saw Ashley Johnson getting into her friend James' boat.

He'd offered to row her over to see the home she shares with her mom - now full of water.

Ashley said:

"I just want to see how high it is, I'm pretty sure it's pretty high from looking at the houses you can see from the road it's over most houses."

Cornelius Johnson - a distant relation of Ashley's - has lived here for sixty six years.  He was refusing to leave his home in case thieves targeted his property.

"My daughter and my wife are going to move but I'm going to stay here because of the looting ... man they went into two of those houses up there yesterday."

Cornelius also worried about numerous reports of snakes being driven from the woods by the advancing water ... "if I take off", he said, "you'll know I've seen one."

Meanwhile, when Ashley came back from viewing her house she showed me photos on her camera phone. The water had reached the windows but like so many people we've met in the flood zone she was optimistic.

"I know the Lord is going to be with us so everything is going to be fine."

Half a kilometre down the road Bernard's family had decided it's time for him to leave.

Well into his sixties he's recovering from heart surgery.  

His brother William Jefferson blamed the authorities for doing too little to build up the levees that hold the river water back since the last big flood in the 1970s.

"Everybody I guess just sits around until it happens and then everybody goes running all haywire, you know, trying to correct it and you cannot correct this after it's happening."

The rising Mississippi and its tributaries are affecting people who live in low-lying areas like Railway Alley north of Vicksburg - poor communities, where people live without insurance, and where by American standards they have nothing.

Now they're about to lose even that.

- originally published by Al-Jazeera on May 12, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Wednesday
Feb092011

Second Tsunami of Floods Hits Already-Drenched Sri Lanka (Report)

(HN, February 9, 2011) - A devastating second wave of floods that has hit Sri Lanka are much worse and more serious than those that had hit the country some weeks ago, says the UN.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) official figures indicate more than 1-million people are affected by the floods, including almost 200,000 persons in 703 temporary evacuation centres in 15 districts. There has been fourteen deaths and it's estimated that more than 7,700 houses in 13 districts have been damaged or destroyed, Elisabeth Byrs of OCHA has told a media briefing in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS.

While the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center is doing its best, resources are becoming increasingly limited, the UN says.

Another challenge is that some measures taken by the authorities, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in response to the first wave of floods had been almost erased, including the re-contamination of wells in the water and sanitation sector. The work is further being further complicated by flooded roads and the insufficient availability of boats and helicopters.

The $50 million Sri Lanka Floods Flash Appeal, launched in early January, is currently funded to only 15 per cent, with $7.7 million received, but would be revised upwards at the end of this month, given the current situation of unforeseeable rains which meant that the overfilled reservoirs could lead to new population displacement.

Emilia Casella of the World Food Programme (WFP) says the Rome-based agency is scaling up its food assistance to flood-affected people.

In January, the WFP provided rations to 500,000 people in five districts in response to the first wave of flooding. Now, with the second wave, WFP has dispatched food assistance for 326,000 people over the past weekend and continued to move towards 500,000 people in this ongoing emergency.

The Ministry of Agriculture says that in January 450,000 metric tons of rice paddies had already been damaged and now there was even more damage to the rice harvest, which was a particular problem for the most vulnerable people.

Initial estimations suggested that at least 87,000 farming households would be affected by the damage to the rice crops, having a knock-on effect on the wider community of people who would be receiving that harvest food.

WFP was facing a number of challenges, Casella underscored. Not only had WFP been using the stocks for its conflict returnee programmes to assist flood-affected people, its rice suppliers also faced difficulties in meeting their deadlines to deliver to the WFP as they had themselves been affected by the floods.

Friday
Aug272010

FLOODS PLUNGE PAKISTAN DEEPER INTO OBLIVION (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan
The devastating floods in Pakistan this past month have done more than just render over 20 million people homeless and submerge one-quarter of the total land area from north to south. They have, once again, magnified the ineptitude of the state to deliver to its people, or answer to its constituents.

But this is something Pakistan has been akin to for several decades now. The earthquake in the northern areas in 2005, illustrated a similar lack of preparedness and the failure of the state to contain the misery.

Now, five years later, history has repeated itself, learning nothing from its past. Except this time, the scale is far, far greater and the effects far more devastating and all-encompassing.

Pakistan has stepped up to the challenge of this natural disaster, despite its limitations. Like the earthquake, Pakistanis all over the world, have gone above and beyond to provide relief and shelter to the affected. But with the numbers of refugees rising everyday, and the floodwaters still hesitating from emptying their bowels into the Arabian Sea, this is literally a drop in the ocean.

Despite this, everyone is doing whatever they can under the sheer immensity of the circumstances. But as all such opportunities allow, the debates emerging from this national crisis, go far beyond just nature’s wrath and how it could have been prevented.

International humanitarian aid has dominated the agenda of this disaster from Day One. With the UN taking centre stage to call for funds (an initial flash appeal of $460 million), the world has been quick to respond. The US alone has pledged almost $800 million, while the UN claims that commitments in pledges and private donations have topped $1 billion. This is just for immediate relief.

Damage to Pakistan’s agriculture and livestock has pushed the country at least 2-3 years behind in terms of food security. Estimates for long-term reconstruction and economic rehabilitation have reached a staggering $43 billion so far. But the cry from within, is that more is needed, both in cash and kind. And there is no denying that there is a dire immediate need.

However, the fact remains that Pakistan’s capacity to utilize aid of any sort effectively, has been sorely questioned in the past. This is fueled by sour experiences during the 2005 earthquake, which remains mired in controversies of financial mismanagement and unfulfilled pledges, forcing many to rebuild their homes themselves.

More recently, and definitely more crucial, is Pakistan’s links to militant jihadi outfits, which have further tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad and are now being used as a basis on which to judge future contributions. But politics is a dirty game, and the millions who wait desperately for even a tarpaulin over their heads in adhoc refugee camps, have no idea that they are simply a pawn in a larger, deadlier political brinksmanship.

To begin with, Pakistan’s government and its erstwhile civilian rulers have chosen to distance themselves from the disaster relying instead on international hand-outs. The President after taking much heat for his European sojourns has donated a paltry Rs.5 million (about US$58,000) and the Prime Minister claims that he does not believe in donating cash, only in kind.

International agencies meanwhile are using the threat of militancy as a reason to invest more in flood relief, lest the 20 million homeless “cross over to the dark side”, raising fears that intentions may not be purely humanitarian. This has been manipulated with great dexterity by the militants, who are now threatening foreign aid workers, only adding more girth to the fears being purported by donors like the United States.A young boy in flood-ravaged Pakistan. Credit: Asad Zaidi

The United Nations is also playing on this card by alerting the world to Pakistan’s “image deficit” abroad, a term it very cleverly coined to fill its own coffers, rather than address the actual threat of militancy, which it claims is not its mandate.

Furthermore, the armed forces contribution to rescue and relief efforts, is a thorn in the civilian democracy’s side, resurrecting the never-ending tussle between man and might that has shadowed Pakistani politics since birth.

Intellectual and civil society pundits insist that this is a time to put aside age-old grudges and just get on with helping those in need. Yet, they are unable to create an effective framework of relief to handle the sheer numbers. But the reality is that, both practically and politically, it is not possible to “just get on with it”. The sheer physical scale of the disaster is beyond comprehension and most civilian and government attempts will only go so far.

The US meanwhile, continues to use the Taliban threat to remain in control of the region. And whatever the international relief agencies and NGOs are attempting to provide, not much success is possible without greater coordination, which like the earthquake, is very limited at the moment. This time around, global politics is very much in control.

But this international versus national aid conundrum has exposed a darker, more chronic side of the disaster. I myself have not yet been to any of the flood affected areas - however I did work in the earthquake emergency. But one does not really need to physically view the sites in order to comprehend the scale of the disaster, nor the suffering of those affected.

The irony is, that in Pakistan, time and again, it is those who have ever barely had a roof over their heads who have been rendered homeless. It is those who have never had the luxury of a steady income that have been robbed of their meager livelihoods. It is those who never had access to basic health care that are now lying ailing and in need of urgent medical attention.

Ultimately, the flood has brought to the surface the harsh reality that it is Pakistan that abandoned its own people a long time ago. It is even more ironic and heart-breaking that even a disaster of this scale still does not make us realize that and we continue to look every which way, except within.

Till that realization actually strikes each and every Pakistani, it seems, we are still at the mercy of the global powers that be, our political elite and God’s wrath.

--HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi.

Saturday
Aug212010

PAKISTAN: FOREIGN MEDIA-OCRITY (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan in Karachi

(HN, August 21, 2010)  --- “It’s such an exciting time to be in Pakistan.” This is a line one hears time and again from every new arrival of foreigners that lands at Islamabad airport. From the US Secretary of State, to the new foreign service employees at an embassy, to the newest international media correspondent, Pakistan seems to be the new land of opportunity.

Except that this opportunity doesn’t really work for us too much, considering we were declared the most dangerous country in the world last year and now, because of natural disasters, are at our absolute lowest point. Sadly, Pakistan is being mined by the rest of the world as an example of how good it can get when it gets really bad.

Unlike most other developing nations that have abject poverty, corrupt economies and poor leadership, Pakistan has still managed to hold onto some semblance of normalcy in its daily suffrage. There is still a sense of survival (just barely), social decadence and just plain old resilience amidst the madness of militant terror and disastrous flooding.  Supposedly this is what makes Pakistan ‘exciting’ for outsiders.

In the age of global communication, there is nothing that doesn’t get out. Not even top-secret documents on America’s war in Afghanistan. But some things don’t get out by agenda. One of these is how the global media wants its audience to view countries like Pakistan. Portrayals include a state that colludes with Islamic militants to encourage global extremism; a country rife with civil and ethnic angst that abuses its justice system; a country constantly plagued with preventable and mismanaged natural disasters. And oh yes, a confused nation of elite party-goers all juxtaposed against the women in black (burqas). Pakistan’s stereotype has come a long way. While most of these claims are admittedly true, is that all there is to us?

Over a year ago, I did a story on the sudden rise in the almost permanent presence of foreign media networks in Pakistan since the Afghanistan invasion in 2001.The bottom line was that the war on terror was the only news that was worthy of the presence of almost 100 foreign journalists in Islamabad. Nothing else figured on the agenda. No economics, no culture, no society, no people, except for those affected by the suicide bombings and drone attacks, or those displaced by army action in the tribal areas and lately, by natural disasters.

To give benefit of the doubt, dirt sells and news is business after all. Even our local television feeds the international media with its tales of graphic horror. We don’t give much airtime to anything else either. But one would expect more from the international media networks, since it is one of the very few ways people abroad have to form an impression about countries like Pakistan. All the more reason the stories going out should show more than just one face of the nation.Foreign journalists fuel "mediocrity and one-dimensionality" CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw

But the reality is, that there is extremely limited interaction of the foreign media with the ‘real’ Pakistan, with global headquarters dictating what should and shouldn’t be news.

In a country of 170 million, only a handful of ‘key’ persons are introduced to a journalist’s brief international posting. Most of those belong to the elite English-speaking and civil and state bureaucracy. Its not newsworthy enough to venture into other more mundane areas like the informal economy, agriculture, performing arts or local initiatives. Frankly, if its not related to terrorism, its not a story. So what ends up is a life primarily ensconced in Islamabad, mixing with the movers and shakers. There is not even a meager attempt to visit the nether regions of the country to show the world how we really live, both good and bad. Last I checked, journalism was about breaking boundaries, leaving your comfort zone and opening minds to different ideas and opinions. I guess I haven’t checked the latest in a long time.

Even with the coverage of the current flooding, the focus remains on how inept our leaders are (which they are) and how aid is waiting to be mismanaged (which it is). But what about what many are trying to do single-handedly? Ever since the earthquake, if there is one thing Pakistanis (barring the feudal and political elite), have been known for, its plunging into the middle of a natural disaster to do all they can. Doesn’t the world deserve to see that side of us for a change? And then they say we suffer from an international ‘image deficit.’

The perception is further fuelled by the presence of the international diplomatic community, supposedly to ‘foster meaningful relations’ and ‘help end poverty.’ The goodwill doesn’t reach further than the diplomatic enclave as its so much easier to spend money sitting in a cubicle surrounded by barbed wire and your very own panic room. After all, that’s how they do it in Afghanistan and Iraq and see how much good its doing there.

So despite best intentions, the perspective remains skewed, to the networks (and its representatives) benefit, but to our own detriment. The slap in the face is a foreign correspondents ‘observation’ of (a very politicised) Pakistan, in hardback edition.  Three years in a city, and they know the country better than we do apparently.

Journalism unfortunately, is now a well-paid job that can get you around the world, complete with furnished homes, domestic staff and your very own ‘king of the hill’ attitude.

But the mediocrity and one-dimensionality of live international broadcasts from residential rooftops in Islamabad, does eventually show through. Case in point – a message sent out to all invitees last year by one foreign correspondent after a high-profile suicide bombing in Islamabad, in response to a scheduled party hosted by another foreign journalist in the same area that night: “if we cancel the party, the terrorists have won.” Senseless loss of life right outside your doorstep, but the party must go on. Now that’s what I call true dedication to the cause of journalism.

I guess they don’t make them like Robert Fisk anymore.

---HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media. This column originally appeared in The Dawn Online.

Thursday
Aug192010

PAKISTAN FLOODS UNPRECEDENTED SCALE - UNICEF (UPDATED 1439GMT)

(HN, August 20, 2010) - The area of Pakistan now under water is equivalent to that of Switzerland, Belgium and Austria combined.

"I've never seen an emergency this large," said Daniel Toole, the UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia who has 20 years emergency experience. "In terms of the scope, the scale, the number of displaced...the situation is as grim as any I've seen and it is likely to get worse."UNICEF Regional Director Dan Toole

"There are amazing expanses of water as far as the eye can see."

The UN now estimates that there are 15.4 million people affected, and nearly 7.5 million very severely affected. UN agencies say some 3.5m people are at very serious risk of water borne diseases. Toole said that at a health unit in the Punjab he had visited, of the 950 patients about 80 percent had been diagnosed with diarrhea. "The situation for health, nutrition is quite severe."

UNICEF estimates about 5,000 schools are still occupied by displaced people and nearly the same number destroyed or partially damaged. The number of health centres damaged equal about 5,000.

More than 20 days after the floods hit, Toole, who spoke to journalists by phone from the affected area, did not mix words to underline how crucial it is for donors to release funds now. "It's too little and too slow for cash."

Toole said that the joint appeal the UN initially issued - when only 3.5 to 4.5 million people were affected - is now out of date. "We now have 5 times that many affected," he said. UNICEF initially appealed for $47 million people but now needs at least $141 million to deal with the numbers of people it is trying to assist. The children's agency now has only $8 million in cash and has mobilized $7 million of its own funds. Although UNICEF has $35 million in pledges, "we cannot pay with pledges, we cannot find cash from commitments to buy sanitation supplies, water supplies, medicines and nutritional supplies. The situation is very, very difficult."

UNICEF is now providing water to 1.5 million people, but only a fraction of what is needed. "We all need to scale up, we need a long term commitment. We urgently therefore need funding - and not pledges, but actual cash in the bank."

Toole said UNICEF prefers to purchase supplies like soap and buckets locally but the scope of the disaster makes that difficult. "The Pakistani economy is wounded seriously by the disaster and local suppliers cannot possibly keep up with the demand we have. We put an SOS to all of our offices in South Asia to source supplies."

With temperatures hovering around 35C - but with the heat index in places like Sukkur about 54C - and plenty of water, Toole said "the conditions are absolutely perfect for malaria, acute watery diarrhea and cholera."

All UN agencies predict the emergency will last for quite some time to come. Aside from the homeless situation and the large probability of disease, lack of food will be a problem.

Officials in Sindh Province said this year's rice crop is gone and that farmers will likely be unable to plant rice next year.

Yesterday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced $60 million I'm fresh emergency aid funding - bringing to $150 million committed earlier. She said the waters are not expected to recede until mid-September.

And speaking before the UN General Assembly this morning, Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani said an astonishing one in ten Pakistanis are now destitute.

At the same session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon compared the floods to "a slow-motion tsunami."

He added: "At least 160,000 square kilometers of land is under water. Fifteen to 20 million people need shelter, food and emergency care. That is more than the entire population hit by the (2004) Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake, Cyclone Nargis, and the earthquake in Haiti - combined."

Pakistanis are not the only ones affected by the flod waters. With 1.7 million Afghan refugees, the country has one of the world's largest refugee populations. More than 1.5 million of these are in affected provinces, dozens of Afghan refugee villages have been damaged, and several are completely destroyed, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Click here to view an exclusive photo essay on the Pakistan flood emergency by photographer Asad Zaidi

Saturday
May222010

UN Appeals for $5.3m for Flood-Ravaged Tajikistan

(HN, May 22, 2010) The United Nations is appealing for $ 5.3 million to provide relief and recovery assistance to thousands of people that had been affected by the flashfloods in Kulyab and the surrounding districts in the south of Tajikistan on 7 May.Floods have hit Tajikistan for the second year-in-a-row.

About 4,500 persons had been displaced since their houses had been destroyed, their livestock killed and crops destroyed said Elisabeth Byrs of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA).

The displaced are currently staying in tent camps. Another 16,000 persons in rural areas had lost their livelihoods and their livestock. OCHA says the hard-hit needed life-sustaining support for up to six months.

Byrs said the appeal included 26 projects proposed by United Nations agencies and partners. Tajikistan was already the poorest country of the 15 former Soviet republics, she noted.

In May 2009, two major floods destroyed four villages in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Province, displacing about 440 families.