Pakistan’s Floods: An Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis

(from left to right): Dr. Asher Hasan, Dr. Rashid Chotani, Asad Hayauddin, Todd Shea

If you widened the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans by five times, this would be the scale of devastation that occurred due to the recent flood of the Indus River in Pakistan, said Todd Shea, one of the presenters at the October 14th Pakistan Symposium sponsored by the Northwestern University Center for Global Health. Mr. Shea, along with Dr. Rashid Chotani and Dr. Asher Hasan, participated in the symposium entitled “Pakistan’s Floods: An Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis.”

The three presenters painted a picture of the aftermath of the Pakistan floods to an audience of nearly 100 people. Also in attendance was Consul Trade and Commerce for the Consulate General of Pakistan Chicago, who participated in the final question and answer panel.

Dr. Asher Hasan, of Naya Jeevan for Kids, a social enterprise that provides micro-insurance for the urban poor, began by telling the story from the perspective of two young girls whose villages were destroyed. He explained that “trade, not aid” is really the best way to help Pakistan recover from this tragedy. Dr. Hasan demonstrated the Pakistan Resource Finder (http://pakistan.resource-finder.appspot.com/), which is a tool that allows users to search for and map medical resources and infrastructure throughout the country. He then explained his organization’s hub-and-spoke method for providing healthcare to some of the most rural and vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, he said, the challenge, even before the floods, is that the health care infrastructure is just not there and current centers are not left un-staffed or staffed by under-qualified personnel.

Todd Shea from Shine Humanity, a disaster relief organization, spoke next and discussed how his organization started immediately by using mobile medical teams to take services to people who could not get to medical facilities. As the situation has stabilized, however, they are moving toward providing support to existing medical facilities. “The system is totally overwhelmed,” said Shea, “….if this disaster had happened here in the States, even the U.S. couldn’t handle it.” His organization promotes consortium efforts between small organizations that do not have the typically high overhead that some of the large international organizations have.

Dr. Rashid Chotani, Director of the Chemical Biological Defense Programs at TASC and a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Defense on Pakistan, concluded with a presentation that relied heavily on hard data. He focused on the most vulnerable victims: women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, children and the elderly. According to his estimate, within the next three months we should expect an additional 3,000 to 9,000 deaths in expecting mothers, prenatal infants, neonatal infants, and children less than five years old due to the floods. He concluded with two quotes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: “I will never forget the destruction and devastation I have witnessed” and “In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

More on the symposium and the materials presented can be found on the Center for Global Health Website.

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