As Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visits Pakistan and warns the country will need aid for years to come, a British doctor delivering £1m of aid on a solo mission tells Channel 4 News Pakistan needs foreign armies to help rebuild.
It took Dr Muhammed Nasir two days to get his cargo of hospital syringes, cannulas, gloves and medicines through the red tape at Karachi airport.
The consultant anaesthetist, who works at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital,collected £1m of aid to help hospitals and field camps in Pakistan’s flood-hit areas.
He told Channel 4 News about his experiences as he delivered the aid to the devastated country.
‘Pakistan needs foreign armies’
Dr Nasir says from the scale of the devastation he has seen, it is clear Pakistan needs foreign troops on the ground – to provide the physical muscle to lay roads and build hospitals, and to co-ordinate the private contractors.
“The government doesn’t have enough boots on the ground. It is really just co-ordinating the NGOs like the Red Cross and Save the Children. They’re doing a great job, they’re the ones holding Pakistan together at the moment,” he said.
“It’s no good just giving the government money and expecting it to spend it properly on rebuilding. I have my suspicions about the government – it’s shown it’s not credible.
“I went to help when the Kashmir earthquake struck in 2005. This disaster is on a much larger geographical scale, but the response from the public hasn’t been the same.
“I think the international response has been poor because people are worried about handing over money to a government they think is corrupt.”
Sindh – People too poor to leave
Dr Nasir’s first delivery of medical aid was in Sindh, at a school which has been turned into a camp and medical centre for 400 families.
“These people lost their homes when the flood came through two weeks ago. They’re the people who can’t get out, because they have no relatives in the cities – and no money to get there,” he said.
“They will need help, and cash, to build new homes. They don’t have bank accounts with savings. They don’t have anything to sell. They might have had a bit of jewellery – but it was all washed away.”
Desperate for clean water
“The people in these camps are absolutely desperate,” he said.
“There aren’t nearly enough water purification tanks. People have put up a few water pumps, but the water that’s coming out is just dirty flood water. Some people are washing their clothes in it, but many have been wearing the same things for weeks – and it’s spreading infection.
“I saw lots of people with eye infections and skin diseases like scabies. The only way to stop scabies, which is contagious, is to apply a cream and then boil your clothes at 100 degrees. There isn’t any water to boil clothes.
“The stagnant water means hundreds of people are suffering from malaria and gastroenteritis.”
Save the Children says 2.4 million children under the age of five still have not been reached with food aid.
All of the Channel 4 News reports on the Pakistan floods here
Dr Nasir said the plight of some of the children is extremely worrying.
“The children are malnourished,” he said.
“I was really worried about one baby girl I saw, who was very weak. We asked the camp to try to get some high protein, high calorie milk for her.
“I realised the hospital supplies I had brought were useful, but people needed even more basic things – like water purification tablets. I fell ill too – with gastroenteritis. I was drinking bottled water, but you can’t avoid breathing in the germs. Everyone is coughing. And when people want to shake your hand, to thank you for helping them, you can’t refuse to touch them.”
Punjab – hospitals without drips, people without boats
From Sindh, Dr Nasir travelled to Punjab, to deliver drugs and equipment to a private hospital.
“The hospital was flooded and was struggling. Most people were arriving with chest and throat infections. But there weren’t enough cannulas – the little tubes which go into veins – so they couldn’t get fluids or drugs into the patients.
“Getting hospital supplies from the cities is almost impossible. The army has built some new bridges, but the roads are bad. If you try to overtake, the sides of the road are so waterlogged, you’ll sink.
“One day I saw four teenage boys using a big cooking pan as a boat to get to school. The next day they tipped over in the fast moving water. Two of them nearly drowned – they were fished out unconscious. I helped treat them. The next day their father invited me to lunch to thank me – I used the same cooking pan to float to his house. I didn’t think it was safe, but I couldn’t appear ungrateful.”
Have I made a difference?
Dr Nasir said he had taken what he could, and was glad he went to Pakistan, but still felt that the people there were in desperate need.
“The people in Pakistan need so much more than I could give them,” he said.
“When the flood hit, my instinct was to get out there as fast as I could. My philosophy was ‘scoop and run’ – I didn’t want to wait. So I collected what I could easily get hold of, which was hospital equipment. I didn’t have time to raise lots of money to send.
“The hospital supplies were needed, but I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have taken water purification tablets, toilets, clothes. I’m trying to raise more money to buy them.
“But I’m glad I went. If someone like me wants to go with supplies, there is no shortage of NGOs who will help them do good work.
“I’m trying to raise more money in the UK so I can buy the basics for the people still trapped by the flood. The people are surrounded by black and stinking water – I worry about the toxic effects it will leave behind when it eventually goes down.”