By Aroosa Masroor
Karachi

Rescuing survivors of a disaster is possibly one of the toughest jobs one can do, and given the frequency of both natural and man-made disasters in Pakistan, rescue workers stand at constant vigil to protect citizens. Rozina Qadir, is one such worker who has been volunteering for people’s safety for over two years now.

At the age of 35, Rozina defies the stereotype that only men are fit for search and rescue operations. During each of her operations, Rozina’s life is on the line, but she faces all such missions fearlessly. She is one of nine females in a team of 40 members of FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, an international crisis and response and disaster risk reduction agency, which has been working in Pakistan for over a decade now.

FOCUS was founded in 1998 by the Ismaili community and is affiliated with the Aga Khan Development Network in Pakistan. Operating in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, the Northern Areas and Chitral, the team is trained in urban, mountain, avalanche, and water search and rescue.

More than their rigorous training, what is surprising is the commitment of these workers – all of whom are volunteers. From Karachi alone there are 20 members comprising professionals, students, and housewives. “I had always wanted to help humanity in some way, but when my children were younger, I knew I could not engage in an emergency operation. Now that they are older, I feel its time I give something back to society,” said Rozina, now a mother of three teenaged children.

Amyn Dossa, Chairman FOCUS Pakistan, believes it is all about commitment. “You can only become a rescue worker if you understand the value of human life and are committed towards serving humanity. No one can force or train you to be one unless you are convinced from within,” he said. He added that the team has been trained with the help of international rescue teams, including Avalanche and fire-fighting rescue workers from Sweden and France.

Moreover, Rapid UK regularly visits to train the Pakistani rescue team. Dossa, however, stressed that it is not just training that the workers need. “Possessing the right equipment and technical expertise is just as essential.”

Citing the example of the recent Marriott bomb blast in Islamabad, he said that government rescue teams were unable to evacuate the top floors of the hotel because they lacked the sophisticated equipment needed to carry out rescue operations.

In the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake, FOCUS provided relief to victims initially in Margalla Towers, Islamabad and later in Balakot and Muzaffarabad. The team was also present in the recent Balochistan earthquake in October 2008. “Before the rescue operation begins,” said Dossa, “a Disaster Assessment Response Team first carries out the initial damage and needs assessment in the area after which the rescue team follows through.”

The team has not only responded to the disasters within the country, but also in neighbouring countries including China (during the May 2008 earthquake) and India (during the 2004 tsunami). Dossa added that the government recently approached FOCUS to train CDGK’s Urban Search and Rescue team, and is working in collaboration with the government’s National Disaster Management Authority. “It is difficult to work in isolation, and such efforts should be collective. In areas where FOCUS does not have access, we work in assistance with the Army too.”

When not working in disaster-struck areas, the team shifts its focus to disaster-prone areas of the country through its PMP (Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness) programme. “Through the PMP programme, we have trained communities in ‘red zone’ areas of Gilgit and Chitral – two naturally hazardous regions of the country,” said Dossa, adding that people residing in these strong seismic zones were earlier unaware of the risks of living in the area. “An attitude change has been noticed.

People are now aware of the importance of such training, and this awareness in itself is a powerful source of motivation,” he said. This degree of self-reliance has helped women in the area overcome their fear too. “They feel safer and better prepared now,” he added.

During the training programme, necessary equipment is stored in each participating village as well. A standard emergency stockpile comprises blankets, shovels, tarpaulins, tents, ropes, torches, batteries, axes, bamboo poles, crowbars and first aid kits. “Satellite telephones for emergency communications have also been introduced.” When asked why more people have not volunteered for the programme in a span of ten years, Dossa explained: “The problem is that we do not value human life as we should. The need for more rescue teams will not be realised until we educate people and convince them to come forward.”

Keeping in mind the climate change and severe weather conditions, natural disasters across the world are expected to rise in the coming years, including Pakistan. “Urban and rural communities are equally vulnerable. We need to prepare ourselves so we can help minimise the impact of disasters.” For this, Dossa suggests that more volunteers like Rozina, irrespective of their gender or profession, should come forward.

Source: http://www.thenews.com.pk/ daily_detail.asp?id=153584

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