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Help on a personal scale: Pakistani immigrants create their own mini flood relief efforts

wading in pakistan

Photo by DFID - UK Department for International Development/Flickr (Creative Commons)

People wading through flooded streets in Charsadda, Pakistan, August 9, 2010

Three weeks after the Indus River overflowed in Pakistan, creating the nation's worst humanitarian crisis since a devastating earthquake struck the northern part of the country in the fall of 2005, aid has been slow to trickle in. The situation is expected to get worse as millions are left without shelter, with food running out and more flooding predicted.

International organizations ranging from UNICEF and Oxfam to Islamic Relief Worldwide have been collecting donations for disaster relief, but closer to home, members of Southern California's Pakistani immigrant community have been mounting their own flood relief efforts, even if on a tiny scale. In the Los Angeles area, where the Pakistani community is estimated at around 150,000, efforts to raise money for disaster relief have taken the form of garage sales, a potluck fundraising dinner, even a weekend plant and clothing sale.

"It's a very simple grass-roots effort," said Tahereh Sheerazie, a Pakistani immigrant and avid gardener who with her husband, an Indian immigrant who works in the clothing industry, plans to hold a fundraising sale of clothing samples and plants at the couple's Pasadena home in Sunday. "It might only make a thousand dollars, but a thousand dollars in Pakistan is a lot of money."

Pakistani immigrants here complain of relatively little news coverage of the floods and, as of yet, little relief. While the death toll so far has been minimal in comparison to the 2005 earthquake, which killed tens of thousands, the worst of the floods is yet to come: An estimated 20 million have been left homeless, and with food supplies scarce and a lack of clean water, starvation and disease are soon to follow.

"I was taking to my parents in Karachi, and they were telling me that you can't even grasp the scale of misery you are seeing there," said Hina Abidi, who with her husband, a UCLA professor, is hosting a fundraising dinner at their home in Pacific Palisades on Saturday.

"Most of the country is underwater, and people who rely on agriculture for their livelihood have lost all crops, livestock, their homes, everything," Abidi said. "There is a big fear of cholera and dysentery. It is very, very serious, and it is going to get worse in the coming weeks."

Abidi's goal is to draw about a hundred people to her fundraiser, with proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders, the disaster relief organization Shine Humanity, which among other things is gathering emergency food and water packets, and The Citizens Foundation, a group that builds schools in Pakistan. Representatives from the organizations have been invited to speak at the fundraiser, which will be held as a traditional Iftar dinner, the traditional fast-breaking feast held at sundown during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began last week. The dinner will be a homecooked potluck, Abidi said, provided by other members of the Pakistani immigrant community.

Abidi said she feared that would-be relief donors from outside the Pakistani community might have "donor fatigue" after helping out with other recent disasters such as January's Haiti earthquake.

"We need more support from the outside community," she said. "Pakistanis, we are a handful of families. It's not that they haven't been doing all they can, but it is not even a drop in the bucket."

For more information about Saturday's fundraiser: