x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Flood heroes welcomed home

Some of the first responders in a mission in Pakistan that could last for years, soldiers delivered medicines and flew vital rescue operations

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, welcomes UAE Armed Forces home from a humanitarian mission in Pakistan at the Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi. WAM
Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, welcomes UAE Armed Forces home from a humanitarian mission in Pakistan at the Bateen executive airport in Abu Dhabi. WAM

ABU DHABI // Relief teams from the UAE Armed Forces returned home on Tuesday after a seven-week humanitarian mission in Pakistan, a precursor to rebuilding efforts that could last years in the flood-ravaged country.

"The Emirati relief force was among the first to reach the most severely affected areas in Pakistan, especially the Punjab province, and spent the greatest effort to provide as much assistance as it could in the different arenas," Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region and chairman of the UAE Red Crescent, said in a statement published on WAM, the state news agency.

The relief forces arrived in Pakistan on August 8, as the extent of the disaster became apparent. Initial efforts focused on evacuating residents in Punjab to camps in cooperation with the Pakistani army. The displaced people were treated by the Armed Forces medical teams. The success of the initial work allowed the Armed Forces to expand to parts of the Balochistan and Sindh provinces, where the UAE provided tents, food and medical services. After the floodwaters began receding, residents were helped back to their homes.

The UAE's transport planes provided more than 426 tonnes of relief material and evacuated 1,700 civilians, officials said. The country supplied several Chinook helicopters and transport aircraft to evacuate people stranded by the floods, setting up an "air bridge" for victims. The medical supplies helped prevent the spread of infectious diseases and deal with the immediate health situation, which many experts and relief workers called critical.

Medicines and other supplies were also given to local hospitals, and the armed forces, with support from the Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation, built water-purification plants that can treat 100,000 gallons of water a day. Sheikh Hamdan made his remarks to a delegation of top army officials, including Lt Gen Hamad al Rumaithi, the chief of staff, and Major Gen Mohammed al Qamzi, the commander of the Air Force.

"Pakistan is extremely grateful to the leadership of United Arab Emirates for standing beside [the] Pakistani people in the worst floods of the country's history," said Khursheed Junejo, Pakistan's ambassador to the UAE. "Now that the floodwaters have receded, a more gigantic task of rehabilitating the 20 million displaced by the floods will start," he said. "This is a challenge which Pakistan can only undertake with the support of the international community and friends like the UAE," he said, adding that he hoped the Government and the people of the UAE will continue to support the government and the people of Pakistan in the same way they helped during the first phase of rescue operations.

"The human tragedy that Pakistan endured due to devastating floods requires our solidarity with the government and the people of Pakistan," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the foreign minister, said in a speech yesterday at the UN General Assembly. Sheikh Abdullah plans to attend the Friends of Pakistan conference next month in Brussels. Mohammed al Qamzi, the secretary general of the UAE Red Crescent, said in an interview last week: "The presence of the Emirati Red Crescent in Pakistan will be for years."

Helping people in need is part of the UAE's "inherent path", said Sheikh Hamdan, and was key to improving the country's relationship with its neighbours. With the initial relief mission completed, the plan now involves rebuilding the ravaged infrastructure. "The army helicopters are normally needed first for rescue," said Mobisher Rabbani, a philanthropist who participated in relief efforts in the wake of the floods. "Rescue work is completely over and the water is receding."

With winter coming, mobility in the northern region of Pakistan, which lacks proper road infrastructure, will be difficult, Mr Rabbani said. "These areas need relief work, especially for the future," he said. As people return for their villages, food supplies are needed immediately, followed by long-term projects to rebuild homes, schools and infrastructure, he added. 

kshaheen@thenational.ae