The emergency situation in the disaster-hit regions of Pakistan, caused by excessive flooding due to severe torrential rains, cannot leave us indifferent especially since we’ve had the possibility of hearing about it first-hand through a Pakistani focolarina visiting Malta.
We had the opportunity to ask Rubina Ashiq about the situation and what our local Focolare communities are doing to respond to this crisis which is described as the worst in the country’s history.
Interview by Maria Bonnici
Rubina, thank you for being with us today to talk about something that for sure is very close to your heart at the moment. We know that Pakistan is often affected by floods, but what was different this time?
Pakistan is a huge country. It’s 3 times larger than Italy. About 65% of the population live in rural villages with the majority of the people working in subsistence agriculture. Most of these villages tend to be situated along the rivers, so when these floods arrive all the crops are destroyed along with the people’s livelihood.
This time round the floods were more severe due to heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers which followed a severe heat wave. More than 1,600 people have died since the rains started in mid-June 2022, and some 33 million have been displaced. 700,000 homes have been destroyed.
Entire villages were swept away and thousands of farm animals, such as buffaloes, were also carried away by the water currents. As floodwaters slowly recede, the sheer scale of damage will be revealed and it will be necessary to procure farm animals in order re-cultivate the fields.
These are the consequences. But the greatest problem is that Government services alone, as well as the armed forces which are also deployed, are not enough to reach people in affected areas in order to give the much needed help.
When a disaster like this happens, there is usually a boom in the international media. It grabs people’s attention as distressing images and videos are beamed around the world, but all this while people are dying of hunger or falling victim to illnesses caused by stagnant water – diarrhea, malaria, cholera, dengue fever. Around 3.4 million children are in need of assistance due to malnutrition. There are no hospitals nearby and medicines aren’t available.
What is the Focolare doing to alleviate the suffering?
Most people in Pakistan respond to a crisis such as this. They don’t wait for the Government to do something. Even poor people start to collect clothes and food supplies in order to send to the disaster-stricken areas. They know it’s just a drop in the ocean but they want to help in a practical way. This is something really beautiful.
And this is why the Focolare Movement, through its local communities, has been able to do its part to help. The young people and the volunteers and other members of our Focolare community asked themselves: “What can we do?” A woman volunteer said: “I’m going to look through my whole house to see what I can donate. I’m ready to give even what I myself need.” So they organised themselves into groups and delivered the donated items to the Focolare Centre in Karachi for distribution to those in need.
The Focolare is four hours away by car from the flood-affected zones and the men and women focolarini have been personally delivering food supplies, safe drinking water, medical supplies and hygiene kits. Food collection points and a medical camp have been set up.
One evening, in the Focolare here in Malta, we too asked ourselves, “What can we do?” We wanted to show our solidarity so that the community here in Malta could say, “We’re thinking of you and praying for you.” We wanted to share in their suffering.
Word got around quickly and soon a number of donations and gestures of kindness arrived at our door! We thank everyone for their generosity and solidarity. The donations received will be sent directly to the Focolare in Karachi as they best know where the urgent needs lie.
Rubina, do only Christian communities in Pakistan benefit from this emergency aid?
In actual fact the majority of the people affected by these floods are our Muslim brothers and sisters. Even the local Church has been putting schools and halls at their disposition. Many people we know have been opening up their houses in order to give them hospitality. A Focolare member who is a Christian welcomed fourteen Muslims in his house! And this is a beautiful witness.
We try not only to give them food and clothes but also to let them know that we are close to them in their suffering, that we understand their situation. Even people who were wealthy have lost everything. Some don’t even know the whereabouts of family members. They too lost elderly parents, children, cattle. A flood spares no-one in its path; all people are affected irrespective of their social status or religious affiliation.
How did the Focolare Movement’s international networks become aware of this situation?
Julia and Alessandro, who are responsible for the Movement in Rawalpindi, wrote this heartfelt appeal to Margaret Karram, President of the Focolare Movement:
“(…) While the Focolare Centres and the vast majority of our close members have not been directly affected by the floods, with a few exceptions, there are seriously affected areas around 4 hours away from us which we are trying to reach. Displaced people have started to arrive in the cities where we live, and so reception camps are being organised. So many Church group volunteers are there on the ground giving help, including priests and nuns.
We as Focolare Movement feel that we too should act concretely to reach out and embrace the pain of our brothers and sisters, to love the suffering Jesus in them, also by collaborating with other associations. Everyone is taking action: our young people, the volunteers, the families. We talked about it during the meetings of the local communities to understand what steps to take. It is not easy to act, due to innumerable difficulties, but people have come forward to help because of their knowledge and experience helping the flood victims in 2010. We are in contact with the bishops and with Caritas who are mobilising aid throughout the country.
Each day we receive requests from communities who are without food and shelter. The list of urgent needs is endless. In order to meet these demands, we are counting on the generosity of all those who can offer some financial help in order to help our people (…)”.
And the response from Margaret Karram was immediate: “We assure you that the Focolare Movement worldwide will do everything that is possible to provide relief.”
Anyone wishing to contribute to this emergency fund can do so by visiting these websites.
(Focolare Movement Malta)