–After international donors and aid agencies banned from working in rain-hit areas, extremist organisations find opportunity to do more than just provide relief
By Amar Guriro
KARACHI – The government’s ban on international donors and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) – prohibiting them from working in the rain-hit areas of lower Sindh – has created an opportunity for some Islamic organisations with extremist views to work in these areas.
These extremist organisations’ initiatives are a cause of worry for religious minorities present in many of the rain-hit areas of lower Sindh, for which ‘The Sphere Standards’ – recognised by the United Nations – clearly states that relief must be provided with dignity without harming the beliefs of the victims.
The Sphere Standards are the minimum standards set for relief work by 400 organisations from 80 countries.
The recent severe monsoon showers caused breaches in the Left Bank Outfall Drain resulting in inundation of large areas of the five districts of Mirpurkhas division including Badin district.
Around 92 percent of Pakistan’s biggest religious minority, the Hindus, are living in the Mirpurkhas division and other lower Sindh districts – around 2.7 million according to the 1998 National Census.
During the recent monsoon rains, a large number of Hindus were affected. Unfortunately, before the government itself stopped relief work in the rain-hit districts and barred NGOs from work there as well, Islamic extremist organisations were already forcefully converting Hindus in these areas.
“Now they [the extremist organisations] would have the opportunity to do this in the name of relief work. They would accelerate their mission and more Hindus would be forced to leave their religion,” said Pakistan Hindu Foundation President DM Maharaj.
A visit to the town of Jhudo revealed that hundreds of people with their cattle herds were living on roadsides as their villages were completely submerged. Most of them were living in tents provided by extremist organisations.
They told Pakistan Today that whatever relief items they were given so far were provided by such outfits as well.
“We cannot refuse to accept these items as the government has nothing for us so far and we have nothing. When our children are dying, how can we refuse relief goods on the basis of who is giving them to us,” said Ravito Kolhi, a member of the Hindu community.
Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE) Chairman Ali Akbar Rahimoon said that the government’s attitude is surprising.
“If, for whatever reason, the government has barred NGOs and other aid agencies from working in the rain-hit areas, then it [the government] should carry out relief work there itself. Why has it created an opportunity for extremist organisation in these places? We are afraid that these organisations will create lot of problems for the religious minorities in these districts,” said Rahimoon.
He demanded that the government should start working in these districts, and warned that if the government would not work, these extremists would take over these districts permanently.
“Lower Sindh is the hub of traditional Sindhi culture and is more tolerant towards others, but if such disasters continue and the government does nothing, then perhaps this culture will be destroyed,” warned Rahimoon.
Followed by the earthquake in 2005, the federal government established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2006 to cope with disasters and carry out relief and rehabilitation works in the disaster-hit areas of the country.
It was the first-ever government sector initiative, and before that there was only the Calamity Act of 1956 under which the relief commissioners were responsible for response, relief and rehabilitation in their areas.
During the 2010 floods, the NDMA issued disaster alerts for all international donors to start work in the flood-hit areas.
However, unfortunately, the government has not only kept itself out of the relief work this year during the monsoon, but has also stopped NGOs and other aid agencies to work in these districts.