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'It would be naïve not to have reservations about helping Pakistan'

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'It would be naïve not to have reservations about helping Pakistan'
Photo: DPA
11:19 CEST+02:00
Germans have been reluctant to donate to the flood victims in Pakistan. The Local spoke with Shahid Riaz, president of the Pak-German Council for Culture and Democracy, about the need to ditch prejudices and focus on the humanitarian catastrophe.

The devastating flooding in Pakistan has been described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as a slow motion tsunami. At least 20 million people have been affected, with half of these having lost their homes, crops or livestock.

Yet sympathy and more importantly, aid, has been slow in coming from much of the western world, including Germany.

Reasons for this are thought to include a general mistrust of Pakistan as well as concerns that money donated might not get through to the people who really need it.

Now, while rain continues to deluge some areas of the country, and flood water moves south, refugees are facing the prospect of water-borne diseases such as cholera, as well as malaria, as mosquito numbers soar.

But there is a simple way of donating money in the secure knowledge that it will be used to help people – give to German charities working directly in Pakistan.

The Local spoke with Shahid Riaz, president of the Pak-German Council for Culture and Democracy.

How is the situation developing with donations from Germany?

At the beginning it was not so good because people didn't understand the devastation caused by the flood – it didn't attract much attention in the media, it wasn't obvious what kind of fate people were facing. But with time the media are realising how devastating this is, with more than 20 million people affected and still it is not stopping.

The willingness to donate is increasing. Some people are even sending me payment slips to show what they have done. One young girl wrote me a note to say that her grandmother wanted to donate via mobile phone, but did not have one – so the girl did it for her, giving €5 from her granny and €5 from herself.

Why do you think it was slow to start?

Of course people have reservations regarding Pakistan, concerning maybe terrorism or simply mistrust. I've read comments made in online forums where people are showing this kind of thinking. But my request is that people should discriminate between the humanitarian catastrophe and the political situation. It would be naïve to think there was no reason to have reservations about Pakistan, of course there is, but I repeat it, the reaction should be to help those people who really need it.

There has been much made recently by politicians and others about the danger of extremists winning the loyalty of those in the disaster-hit areas by helping where no-one else is willing. Appeals have been made in this light for liberal, secular forces to help more to provide an alternative. What do you think of this idea?

This is a reality, one cannot deny it. The first reason to help people should be humanitarian but there is the political aspect too. Religious organisations have a tradition of helping in such disasters and getting positive reactions from that. But it is right that people there will be really happy to see help coming from people with a more liberal view point coming forward to show that they care.

I am really pleased and very happy that people in Europe and especially in Germany are increasingly reacting very sympathetically to the people in Pakistan. There is a humanitarian heart in Europe. Other people might say if they are wealthy enough to have an atomic bomb in Pakistan why shouldn't they feed their own people? I tell them many people in many countries are in this situation.

Even if the military have such weapons, the people still need help. I just ask people to see the humanitarian aspect and put that first. There are about four million children affected by the floods and now threatened by the outbreak of disease.

How big is the Pakistani community in Germany and what are they doing to lead the attempts to gather help?

The Pakistan embassy has been in touch with me since I started talking about this publicly, and said it would help German organisations which wanted to go to help, by providing security for example, and information.

The Pakistani community in Germany is fairly small, about 75,000 people officially, although I estimate if you include those with Pakistani roots but also German passports, that number becomes about 130,000. There are many groups, many voluntary organisations.

Many people are watching Pakistani television and seeing pictures from there, and have been prompted to help. There is no one central organisation here, people are helping for example through mosques, there are some organisations here connected to wings of political parties, and there are business networks too.

How can people who want to donate be sure their money will help those in need?

All the money that goes to Pakistan helps, there is no doubt about that, but I would like to see a centralised project with organisational skills to direct the help better. We at the Pak-German Council for Culture and Democracy have decided the best way to do this is to give money to Aktion Deutschland Hilft eV., which is a group of ten charities who are working there to help people.

The easiest way to give to them is to send a text message with the message ‘PAK' to the number 81190 – that donates five euros directly to Aktion Deutschland Hilft. As of last Thursday, that group has helped around 100,000 people in Pakistan.

The basic message?

All other things can be discussed – one can criticise and discuss – there are a lot of things to discuss with Pakistan. But at the moment our appeal is to think about the victims. Help as much as you can, ask friends to help, ask colleagues. We are really thankful to all the people who are helping.

The Aktion Deutschland Hilft group is an umbrella group for 10 German charities including the Arbeiter-Samariter Bund, Care Deutschland-Luxemburg, World Vision and the Malteser Hilfsdienst. To donate €5 to Aktion Deutschland Hilft, send a text message reading simply ‘PAK' to the number 81190.

The Pak-German Council for Culture and Democracy organises a host of events, including this Friday's performance of Sufi music at the Ruhrtriennale in Bochum.

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