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Relieving the Suffering

Relieving the Suffering

Issue 78 March 2011

With the increased frequency of natural and man-made disasters, Khadija Gulamhusein explores the Human Relief Foundation, a charity that looks to provide immediate assistance to those whose lives are inverted by such crises.


In recent years, news headlines have often been occupied by the widespread devastation and loss of human life incurred by natural and man-made disasters. The birth of the 21st century saw two multi-billion dollar wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded in history —the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

 A report published in January by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) found that 2010 ‘was a bad year for natural disasters.’ According to CRED, natural disasters affected the lives of 208 million people globally and resulted in a staggering £69 billion of damage, in addition to the loss of 296,800 lives. The most deadly of these disasters, the Haiti earthquake and the Russian heat wave, took an estimated 222,500 and 56,000 lives respectively.

 Severe flooding in Australia and South Africa in recent months has shattered the myth that natural disasters are isolated to third world countries. And while these phenomena are indiscriminate in their location, the lingering long-term effects are more acutely felt in developing countries. Lack of infrastructure, the means to rebuild homes and livelihoods, and the absence of medical facilities result in the persistence of poverty long after the materiality of the natural disaster has gone.

 Organisations like the Human Relief Foundation (HRF) look to alleviate some of this suffering and ease the transition to normality. They provide emergency aid and assistance to ordinary people caught up in extraordinary, life-threatening situations like wars, famines, and natural disasters. The HRF was established in 1991 by a group of dedicated professionals in the UK, including Dr Nabeel Al-Ramadhani, Dr Haytham Al-Khaffaf, and Dr Nooh Al-Kadoo. They wanted to mitigate the damaging effects of the Gulf War and UN-imposed sanctions on the lives of Iraqi people. Since then, their work has expanded significantly; they now operate in tens of countries, including Somalia, Chechnya, Bosnia, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The work they carry out has also received international recognition; in April 2003, the charity was awarded Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The HRF is also a signatory of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and a member of a number of well-recognised humanitarian bodies around the world.

 In 2005, the HRF established itself in Pakistan after a massive earthquake shook parts of Kashmir and Balakot. When floods overwhelmed large swathes of the country at the end of July 2010, leaving more than 20 million Pakistanis homeless and over 2,000 dead, the HRF was well established and able to provide immediate assistance. It distributed food rations, clean drinking water, non-food items, clothing, and provided urgent medical attention to the survivors of the crisis. More than 30,000 people benefited from the efforts of the HRF.

 In particular, the HRF played a key role in attempting to curtail easily transmitted diseases like malaria and cholera in the district of Mianwali. While the government hospital was flooded and occupied by several organisations wanting to reconstruct it, the HRF decided to open up a parallel facility to address the urgent medical requirements of the population. As a result, the Isakhel Hospital was launched, providing medical services to a population of 600,000 of which 62% had been severely affected by the floods.



 A major concern in the area, even prior to the floods, was the lack of maternal and childcare facilities. The HRF noted the shortage, and equipped itself with the necessary resources to aid the plight of pregnant women in the region, who often lost their children because of the considerable distance they were required to travel to reach the nearest hospital. As a result, the infant mortality rate (deaths of children under the age of five) is as high as 40% in the Isakhel area of the Mianwali district.

 The hospital currently provides some of the best medical services in the region, not only in terms of maternity and child-care provision, but also with regards to skin, eye, transmittable, and non-transmittable diseases.

Despite the life-changing work that they have carried out, and continue to undertake, Yousaf Razzaq, Project Coordinator of HRF UK, humbly thanks the HRF’s supporters and partners and primarily credits them with the HRF’s success. “All these achievements,” Yousaf says, “would have been a distant dream if the community in the UK, the British and Pakistani governments, the HRF office in Pakistan and the local community had hesitated in their unconditional support for the Human Relief Foundation. And the love we have received from the Pakistani people has strengthened our resolve to bring positive change to a fragile and struggling community, determined to rebuild itself.”



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