Toronto-area support for Pakistan ramping up as it still deals with severe flooding

Support for Pakistan is ramping up in the Greater Toronto Area as the country deals with major flooding damage. Nick Westoll reports.

As a bleaker picture of the scale of damage caused by flooding in Pakistan has emerged in recent weeks, efforts in the Greater Toronto Area are ramping up to support residents in the country.

It’s estimated that one-third of the entire country has been flooded, impacting approximately 33 million people and washing away nearly half a million homes. Almost 1,400 people have died.

When it comes to the scale of the disaster in local terms, the number of people affected or displaced is more than 11 times Toronto’s population and more than double the entire population of Ontario.

“The whole infrastructure is gone,” Haroon Khan, a long-time Peel Region resident, said while admitting he’s still trying to come to terms with the damage that has been caused in his native Pakistan.

“It happened probably about a month ago I didn’t give that much attention, but then one day I watched TV in the nighttime and I saw people were just up to here with their necks and I couldn’t sleep on that night, and I said, ‘What the hell happened? How happened and how is it happen(ing)?'”

Khan is leading a small team of volunteers in Mississauga to collect food, something he did back in 2010 when Pakistan was heavily impacted by flooding. He said they are collecting rice (eight-to-10-pound bags), tea, powdered milk, sugar, dal, lentils, biscuits and oil.

The volunteers are boxing up the materials and five times a week Pakistan International Airlines is flying the materials to the country at no cost for distribution by the military.

Khan said Vaughan-based Super Asia Foods is accepting donations to buy food staples in bulk at cost.

The volunteer team is working out of Eawaz 770 AM and TV’s building on Timberlea Boulevard in Mississauga.

RELATED: Floods in Pakistan worry Canadians

“As a person who is a native of Pakistan, when the first images started coming I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was just sitting there and I started crying,” Shazia Malik, the station’s associate editor and a journalist who worked in the country up until eight years ago, told CityNews.

“Look at the people, look at their condition, they don’t have anything to wear on their feet. They are just submerged.”

Malik said the station offered to convert its TV studio into a temporary warehouse for Khan’s food drive.

“It started with one announcement, but then the response was overwhelming from the community,” she said.

“Everyone had to pitch in. We are just at that very moment when the country needs our help and we need to roll up our sleeves and do something about it.”

At GlobalMedic in Etobicoke, the emergency response charity’s executive director said they have performed a dozen missions in Pakistan. Rahul Singh led a team there in 2010 after Pakistan experienced severe flooding.

“At the time we thought that was the worst flood ever, the flood of the century, and it was 20 million people affected,” he said.

“This is 33 million people affected. We’re at the start of the flood season, we’re not even at its peak, these numbers will just continue to increase.”

Singh said they aim to get 5,000 emergency kits on the ground in the next little while. Each kit has a water filtration kit that’s good for nine to 12 months, personal hygiene items and a solar light.

Morgan Clark, the organization’s emergency programs officer, said they have more than 6,000 volunteers registered in their system and were able to scale up quickly in response to the flooding.

“We put a call out to volunteers two days in advance and we filled the shifts immediately,” she said.

The volunteers are responsible for assembling and packaging the kits before packing all those up onto skids for shipping by air or boat (in this instance all are being flown to Pakistan).

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“It’s pretty painstaking, it’s pretty meticulous work, it’s hard to reach lots of folks because they’re really spread out and of course, everything is flooded,” Singh said, adding they’re looking for financial donations, more volunteers and sharing messages about the crisis on social media.

“But it’s a matter of life and death. If we don’t get families the kits, they don’t have clean water and it becomes really problematic – especially for kids.”

While Singh said it’s hard to determine what exactly will come in the weeks and months ahead, he noted it’s still too early to think about rebuilding.

“There’s no point rebuilding if people die and they’re no longer there in order to rebuild for, and people will die if they don’t have access to clean drinking water,” he said.

Dr. Nirupama Agrawal, a hydrologist and professor of disaster and emergency management with York University, said the disaster has been caused by a multitude of factors: Climate change, melting glaciers, intense rains, declining and inadequate infrastructure, overdevelopment in floodplains and wetlands, a lack of emergency preparedness and problems with governance.

“We have developed downstream areas without thinking about what if this dam fails and what is going to happen? So there is more and more people living there, population is increasing, we’re removing vegetation, we’re clearing more land for development,” she said.

Agrawal said the issues of development in flood-prone areas seen in Pakistan are similar to certain instances in Canada, such as the 2021 floods in the Sumas Prairie region of British Columbia.

She said the situation in Pakistan is “a bit of a nightmare” and one that requires governments and individuals to serious reflect on past experiences and take corrective action going forward.

“We forget about the previous one and then we are hit by the next one,” she said.

“Climate will continue to change and it’s going to continue to impact in whichever way.”

Meanwhile, Malik said the questioning of the political response needs to increase too.

“What have our own politicians done, you know? Why every single year these devastating floods are coming?” she said.

“When your whole country and one-third of it is underwater, you need to ask some tough questions from your own people, especially your politicians who are so hungry for power.”

Click here for more information on the food drive by Khan, his volunteers and 770 AM.

Pakistan needs ‘massive help,’ U.N. head says

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the world owes impoverished Pakistan “massive” help in recovering from the summer’s devastating floods because the country bears less blame than many other nations for climate change, which experts say contributed to the deluge.

Nations that “are more responsible for climate change … should have faced this challenge,” Guterres said while sitting next to Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“We are heading into a disaster,” Guterres added.

“We have waged war on nature and nature is tracking back and striking back in a devastating way. Today in Pakistan, tomorrow in any of your countries.”

The U.N. chief’s trip comes less than two weeks after Guterres appealed for $160 million in emergency funding to help those affected by the monsoon rains and floods that Pakistan says have caused at least $10 billion in damages.

He said other nations contributing to climate change are obligated to reduce emissions and help Pakistan. He assured Sharif that his voice was “entirely at the service of the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people” and that “the entire U.N. system is at the service of Pakistan.”

“Pakistan has not contributed in a meaningful way to climate change, the level of emissions in this country is relatively low,” Guterres said. “But Pakistan is one of the most dramatically impacted countries by climate change.”

Later, Guterres directed his words at the international community, saying that by some estimates, Pakistan needs about $30 billion to recover from the floods.

“Even today, emissions are rising as people die in floods and famines. This is insanity. This is collective suicide,” he said. “From Pakistan, I am issuing a global appeal: Stop the madness; end the war with nature; invest in renewable energy now.”

RELATED: Waterborne diseases spread among flood victims in Pakistan

So far, U.N. agencies and several countries have sent nearly 60 planeloads of aid, and authorities say the UAE has been one of the most generous contributors and sent so far 26 flights carrying aid for flood victims.

The floods have touched all of Pakistan, including heritage sites such as Mohenjo Daro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered one of the best-preserved ancient urban settlements in South Asia. The civilization that dates back 4,500 years, coinciding with those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The U.N. heritage agency on Thursday announced it would send $350,000 to help recover flood-damaged cultural heritage sites.

Speaking at a press conference with Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari, Guterres underscored the importance of combatting climate change.

“It is happening now all around us and I urge governments to address this issue,” he said, adding that what he has done so far as the U.N. chief is “a drop in the ocean of the needs of the Pakistani people”.

He said a proposal for a donors conference for flood-hit Pakistan is under discussion.

Since June, heavy rains and floods have added new burdens to cash-strapped Pakistan and highlighted the disproportionate effect of climate change on impoverished populations. Experts say Pakistan is responsible for only 0.4 per cent of the world’s historic emissions that are blamed for climate change. The U.S. is responsible for 21.5 per cent, China for 16.5 per cent and the European Union for 15 per cent.

The floods in Pakistan have also injured 12,722 people, destroyed thousands of miles of roads, toppled bridges and damaged schools and hospitals, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

With files from The Associated Press

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