x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Flood relief volunteer haunted by memories of camps

Ali Naseer Bhatti said what he witnessed during a mission to distribute food and aid to flood victims in Pakistan last week will haunt him for ever. But he feels driven to do it again.

Ali Naseer Bhatt took leave from his job in Abu Dhabi to volunteer and distribute food and other essentials to flood victims in Pakistan.
Ali Naseer Bhatt took leave from his job in Abu Dhabi to volunteer and distribute food and other essentials to flood victims in Pakistan.

ABU DHABI // Ali Naseer Bhatti said what he witnessed during a mission to distribute food and aid to flood victims in Pakistan last week will haunt him for ever. But he feels driven to do it again. 

Mr Bhatti, 29, a petroleum engineer, and his wife, Yasmeen, wanted to contribute to the relief efforts. But they felt that a donation to charities would not be enough. So when Mr Bhatti's wife asked him to personally oversee the distribution of aid, he agreed.

"You cannot say no to your wife," said Mr Bhatti, whose ancestral home is in Karachi. The couple circulated e-mails to friends and Mr Bhatti visited colleagues asking for donations. "People were not convinced. When you have to go door to door, you see the people's faces. I would tell them that I am going on my own, that all my expenditures are my own," he said. "I showed them my ticket, and a lot of people said, 'Why are you wasting your time?'"

The couple collected Dh7,220, and Mr Bhatti arrived in Hyderabad last week. "I was a little disappointed from people's donations, but every penny matters," he said. The money fetched 90 packages filled with 18kg of food, including rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar, lentils, soap, evaporated milk, matchboxes, tea and detergent. Basic medical supplies were also given to a nearby dispensary that had been set up by a non-governmental organisation.

He met his friend, Adeel Sanjrani, and with the help of Mr Sanjrani's brother and his college friends, they arranged transport and hired armed guards. "You cannot travel into the interiors of this region in sedans," Mr Bhatti said. They crossed the Indus River and visited camps. Mr Bhatti and his team spoke to widows and orphans and handed them food tokens, promising to return at night to give the aid to avoid ambushes.

"Help is not reaching the people. They are so desperate that they will attack cars for food," Mr Bhatti said. "I have seen these scenes and they're still haunting me." Mr Bhatti, who returned to the UAE on Friday, said water had yet to recede two months after the floods. On the advice of friends, his team distributed uncooked food because some people, especially children, would store cooked food for days, not knowing when they would eat their next meal.

"The food would rot, but they would still eat it and this made them very sick," he said. "They are suffering from malnutrition." But Mr Bhatti remains undeterred. He would like to appeal to more people and return. "I can go back and help people again," he said. "That is simply the next step. Let's see if people cooperate more this time."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae