Snake Bites and Effective Help

by Steffen Richter, 2007/09/12

The situation in the flooded region in southern Asia is still serious.

Nils Stilke has returned from being in Pakistan for two months. In his bags the trained nurse carries not only his journal containing amusing entries from his daily experiences - which he shares with us, but also unforgettable experiences ranging between life-threatening situations and helping others.

Nils, how do you feel after two hard months of work in Pakistan?

I am satisfied, I’m doing really well. There were many different aspects to the operation. The distribution of relief supplies was a big challenge and I had no problem in taking it on. Despite the many adverse conditions we had in Pakistan, we were successfully able to end our project. I’m tired of course, partly because of the high temperatures there, but also from the intense work - every day we were confronted with new difficulties. I could definitely use a couple of days to recuperate.

What was the main objective of your work?

Our most important task was the distribution of emergency shelters made out of natural materials, foodstuffs, mosquito nets and hygiene supplies to 3,000 families in the flooded regions Baluchistan and Sindh. First, I visited the affected regions and spoke with the refugees and helpers about the current situation to try to get an idea of where the help was needed most, in order to maximize our assistance. Then I bought the relief supplies, acquired personnel and coordinated the distribution to the affected areas. In addition, I had to document everything.

What were the circumstances you encountered in the affected regions?

In the flooded areas, the people were living on the higher streets and hills, in the unbearable, blazing sun. The temperature would often reach 50°C (122°F). There were no toilets or enough drinking water. The refugees had to drink water from sources which were used as toilets and as a place to bathe the animals. This quickly led to the spread of disease. There weren’t enough mobile medical teams, who would have been able to help the refugees in the surrounding regions. The children weren’t going to school. The contaminated bodies of water had fast currents and depths of up to 3 meters (almost ten feet) and kept the people from being able to return to their flooded villages. Poisonous snakes posed an additional, even greater danger.

What were some of the problems you had to deal with on a daily basis?

Translating difficulties, long distances, danger from terrorists, poor roads and the fact that in Pakistan, things don’t run as smoothly as we are used to in Germany.

What were the most common diseases?

Dysentery due to the poor sanitary conditions and the lack of drinking water. Dehydration and skin diseases, but also colds and the before-mentioned snake bites.

How did the people react to your work?

Many people in the areas which weren’t affected were thrilled at our work and showed their appreciation by giving us discounts. The refugees were pretty skeptical of us when we first meet with them, but that changed into gratitude and friendliness after they realized that we were there to help them. In addition, there were cultural differences that one must be aware of. For instance, I wasn’t able to wear any shorts. Cultural courtesies, like drinking tea, long welcomes and accepting invitations, however, took up a lot of time.

What was a typical day like?

Throughout the project there was no typical day on which I could prepare myself. No work hours, no regular eating times. We usually worked between 12 and 18 hours a day, were continually underway and were always moving from hotel to hotel. Spontaneity and ingenuity were the key characteristics which shaped the day. At 2:00 at night I could be purchasing 1,000 huts for 19,000 Euros or doing my laundry. During the day I continually tried to plan how we could be most effective, and made lists as to what order we should do things. Normally, though, it never worked out as I had planned. No one day was like another.

How do you personally prepare for an assignment like this?

As basic preparation, humedica offers training camps for those wanting to help, in which one can prepare for a disaster relief mission. The experiences made from these camps have always paid for themselves. In addition to the basic preparation, I learn a little about the respective country, and keep myself informed as to the current situation there.

After being away for more than two months, you are now back in Germany.
What is the situation currently like in Pakistan?

The water levels have retreated significantly and many families have been able to return to their destroyed villages. The construction material we distributed will now be used to rebuild their houses. But it will still take several weeks until the last of the flooded fields can be used again. Hundreds of thousands of flood victims are still homeless and live under extremely unsanitary conditions.

Thank you for your time.

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