Pakistan’s affluent lead private flood efforts !

Pakistan’s rich and famous are leading a groundswell of private aid for the 20 million victims of the country’s worst ever floods amid rising distrust of the government’s own efforts.

Circumventing an administration maligned as corrupt and bogged down in bureaucracy and infighting, Pakistan’s private donors are turning to cricketers, pop stars and business leaders to help the desperate and displaced.

An official prime minister’s relief fund had collected 17.5 million dollars by Saturday.

In contrast, Pakistan’s best-known charity, the “Edhi Foundation”, will spend more than 35.5 million dollars of private donations, said its founder, 82-year-old Abdul Sattar Edhi.

As Pakistan faces a critical risk of yet more flooding in the next couple of days in its fertile southern plains, many of those who have escaped the barrage of water are handing over cash and supplies to well-known popular figures.

Pakistani pop singer Shahzad Roy, said he was forced to act when donations came flooding his way from those wanting to help without going through official channels.

So far his team have distributed 5,000 litres of milk, 40,000 litres of water, 4,000 ready meals and installed water purification systems in camps set up to house the five million made homeless by the month-long disaster, he said.

“There has been a huge response from the public. I receive calls to collect relief goods every second. I don’t know why the government isn’t receiving aid,” said the 31-year-old.

The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan staged a five-hour televised phone-in on Sunday with private TV network “Geo” that raised 65 million rupees (760,000 dollars) and was attended by Pakistan’s leading showbiz stars.

“We will establish a supply line of hundreds and thousands of trucks to the affected areas,” said 57-year-old Khan.

“I take responsibility for all the donations. Not a single penny will be misused,” he said, in a thinly-veiled jab at the government’s reputation for financial mismanagement.

The National Disaster Management Authority, in charge of relief operations, said that most wanted to give directly, with many dropping off blankets, clothes and even cash at roadside collection points in major cities.

“People and private organisations have shown a willingness to provide relief goods worth millions of rupees, but the majority of them want to distribute it themselves,” said Idrees Masood, the agency’s director.

Flood survivors camping out in miserable conditions under the increasing threat of water-borne disease have staged spontaneous demonstrations, shutting some highways in protest at what they see as a lacklustre official response.

Pakistan’s media has added to the furore, with chat shows and newspaper editorials highlighting the anger triggered when President Asif Ali Zardari failed to return from an expensive European trip at the height of the crisis.

The business community has also chosen to handle its own relief efforts.

In the southern city of Karachi, the local Chamber of Commerce has set up its own relief champ housing 5,000 people and funded with 120,000 dollars so far, its president Abdul Majid Haji Muhammad told AFP.

In the eastern Punjab, Lahore Chamber of Commerce has donated food and drinking water worth nearly 240,000 dollars, while its equivalent business body in the capital Islamabad said it would construct 100 village shelters for the homeless.

Picture courtesy Taimoor Ahmed

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