The horrific bombing of the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan has once again illustrated the growing lack of respect for the Geneva Conventions and other international norms in conflicts around the world. This is having a catastrophic effect on civilian populations and on humanitarian workers.

The 24 members of the Start Network, all international NGOs with a global humanitarian reach, condemn this event and align ourselves fully with the call by MSF for an independent investigation through the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission (IHFFC).

The world is a safer place for all peoples when humanitarian action is respected. An IHFFC investigation, regardless of its outcome, will confirm that governments and people around the world value the Geneva Conventions and the protection of humanitarian workers. Even war has limits in a civilised world.

We call on the UN and member states, in particular those governments from the countries in which our network members are based, to implement this independent investigation without delay and commit to following up its findings.

For more information please contact:
Mike Noyes, Head of Humanitarian Response and Resilience, ActionAid UK
Tel: +44(0)7720 084 061

Alexandre Brecher, Head of Communications, Start Network
Tel: +44(0)795 0908774

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Community World Service Asia celebrated International Literacy Day with the community in Thatta.  Supported by Christian Aid, we have opened two adult literacy centers in which 100 women are enrolled, and are learning to read on write using phonetic methodologies. Raj bai, an adult literacy student, shared that she will become an “educational partner” of her children following the completion of the course, while Fayyaz, a fourth grade student, shared, “I will struggle for the enrolment of other children in my school as well, and I will make it true that my village becomes 100% literate.”  We hope to continue working with the community in Thatta to make Fayyaz’s dream a reality!

Photographs were taken by our Thatta team as an assignment of the in-house photography training follow up.

A young patient's visit to Dr. Shazia Shah

Dr. Shazia Shah, 30 years old, from Jamshoro, Sindh, is a humanitarian worker and a practising gynaecologist. She works for Community World Service Asia as the only lady doctor serving the community of Union Council Bijora, District Thatta, in the Sindh province. She tells us about the experiences, the challenges and what drives her in her work.

“My mother, Ghulam Zahra, is my biggest inspiration. She always encouraged me to do better. It was her dream to make me a doctor.”

While talking about her work in the humanitarian sector, she shares:

“My work is rewarding for me, I count myself very lucky to be able to make a living doing what is in alignment with my values and the things that I believe in. The contentment I draw from working in this field motivates me to make it my life’s mission to improve the lives of women and children.”

When asked to share an inspiring story which she will never forget, she took a pause and recalled a former patient with a beaming smile:

“I will never forget the smile on Noor Jehan’s face after she saw her new-born baby for the first time. When she came to me, her medical situation was complicated and she had no money or other means to get medical care. She was scared and in a lot of pain, I assured her that despite the complication, I would try my best and she wouldn’t have to sell her livestock to pay the medical bills. She gave birth to a healthy baby here in the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health (MNCH) center.”

Dr. Shazia added that empathy and compassion are the keystones for humanitarian work; it is the ability to feel what the other person is feeling. This ability connects you with people you work for; it makes you realize that how similar we all are despite coming from different areas, background and cultures.

 “The people I have met in this line of work are among the most wonderful friends and colleagues I can imagine. The bonds that are formed working together in intense situations are very powerful, so they stay with you for life.”

As the only female doctor in Ranta village, Dr. Shazia provides access to health care for women and children in need. Her services touch and affect many lives; and a huge amount of energy goes into making sure the necessary support is delivered.

Working as a humanitarian aid worker exposes you to a side of human nature and reality that we are shielded from in our privileged modern day lives. While talking about the challenges and risks she faces during her work, Dr. Shazia is candid. It gets messy, chaotic, and difficult at times—but I am hooked.” She added that, on a personal level, this experience has transformed her from a naive newcomer to a hardened, hopeful but critical realist. She expressed, “We all know that humanitarian work, especially in crisis situations or in unprivileged areas, is not easy work, but we still go for it because we believe in the worth of the work.”

Dr. Shazia is a beacon of hope and a role model for many mothers and young girls in Ranta village. Not only does she provide them with medical support, but is constantly changing the traditionalist mindset of the villagers too. They are now more open to the idea of sending their daughters to study in schools.

She believes that the world needs more empowered women, and that we should motivate and mobilize women by enabling them to live their life and their dreams to the fullest potential.

“Humanitarian work can be conducted anywhere in the world. What you do today can change a person’s life, so always try to celebrate humanity in your own capacity.”

Temperature check by Dr. Shazia, her favorite doctor!
Temperature check by Dr. Shazia, her favorite doctor!

On the World Humanitarian Day, Shazia articulates, “I want to see women unified and empowered by sharing the belief that they hold the power to create and shape. They are a powerful agent of change so we all should do more to support women and promote their role in the humanitarian action”

To build an understanding of the brand new Quality and Accountability (Q & A) initiative, the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), the Q&A team of Community World Service Asia organized a two day in-house “Write-shop” for its relevant staff members from July 31st to Aug 1st at the O’Spring Estate in Murree, Pakistan. The write-shop was the first of its kind to be conducted in-house. It promoted the importance and explained the structure of CHS and its implementation internally as well as externally. Participants were asked to prepare some of the session plans on the assigned topics for the training which they each presented through various methodologies. At the end of the write-shop, participants developed a concrete action plan that aimed to help them in implementing CHS internally and as well as providing technical services to external stakeholders.

CHEF staff engaged in a role playing learning exercise

Community World Service Asia organized and conducted a four day training on Sphere Minimum Standards focusing primarily on the theme of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) for the staff of Comprehensive Health & Education Forum (CHEF) International. The training was held from July 6th to 9th in Muzaffargarh, which is among the more disaster prone cities of Pakistan. Attended by 23 participants, 17 men & 6 women, the main objective of the training was to develop a thorough understanding on the use of Sphere Minimum Standards in Health related projects.  To meet the learning needs of the participants, new and contextualized Sphere training materials were used through interactive learning exercises which helped in achieving the goal of the training. At the end of the training activities, the participants were asked to prepare a three months action plan on incorporating the standards learnt through the training. To support the participants in the implementation of the Sphere Standards, Community World Service Asia will be providing follow-up technical support to all the training participants at CHEF.

Communities seek safety on higher ground of river embankments as their homes are flooded
Village organization planning emergency evacuation as part of a DRR training in Thatta.
Village organization planning emergency evacuation as part of a DRR training in Thatta.

Heavy rains have been severely affecting communities in Union Council Bijora, District Thatta, in the Sindh province of Pakistan.  Community World Service Asia has been present in the area since the devastating flooding in 2010, and continues to run health and livelihoods projects.  As part of an initiative funded by Christian Aid, Community World Service Asia is supporting the livelihoods of community members through vocational training and literacy classes for women, and community mobilization for disaster preparedness.

Thatta is an extremely flood-prone area, and flooding presents a serious hazard to the wellbeing and livelihoods of the local population. The destruction of crops, livestock and property results in significant losses and lead to the accumulation of debt and continuing poverty for already vulnerable households.  The recent monsoon rains have left 25 to 35 families homeless, rendered pathways between villages inaccessible and heavily impacted the earnings of people who rely on agricultural labor for their wages.  A lack of safe drinking water has also caused illnesses such as vomiting and diarrhea, which are particularly dangerous for young children, and especially so in a situation of food insecurity when many children are already malnourished.

Since 2013, Community World Service Asia has been conducting disaster risk reduction (DRR) trainings for community members and establishing village organizations to mobilize the community and facilitate them in disaster preparedness.  These organizations have undertaken a variety of key DRR initiatives, including the establishment of a community-based early warning system, based on regular and close monitoring of radio reports, hazard assessments and regular coordination and communication throughout the community.  They have conducted evacuation drills and have formed Emergency Rescue Teams to be ready for, and activated in, an emergency situation.

This value of this preparation became clear when the heavy rainfall began to affect the area, as the village organizations and community members promptly began coordination and activated the rescue teams to evacuate villagers to safety on the high ground of the embankment.

The village organizations are also coordinating with local authorities, utilizing the contacts that were provided during Community World Service Asia’s trainings. This had resulted in the district coordinator coming to inspect the situation of the village, and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority providing tents to shelter the displaced families.

The pro-active response of the community has demonstrated the effectiveness of the training methodologies. More importantly it has shown the importance of empowering the community to take ownership of its preparedness, and engaging the local population in efforts to reduce the risks posed by flooding.

The death toll of the heatwave affected individuals has risen to 1400 with more than 40,000 people suffering from heat exhaustion and strokes according to UNOCHA’s latest report. To respond to this growing crisis Community World Service Asia initiated an emergency heatwave response. In collaboration with its partners, Participatory Village Development Program (PVDP), Transformation and Reflection for Rural Development (TRD) and Society for Safe Environment and Welfare of Agrarians in Pakistan (SSEWA Pak) the response has completed its first week.

Heatwave rehabilitation centers in three different districts; Dadu, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar of Sindh have been established and are running successfully. A number of consultation meetings were conducted with the government health departments in order to set up these relief centers.

Free medical consultations and medicines have been provided to 215 patients from the affected population under this response so far. Of the treated patients, 104 are men, 61 are women and 50 are children. Awareness raising activities on heatstroke orientation, its symptoms, treatment and prevention are also being conducted for the public sector paramedic staff and the visiting patients. The community members have been actively participating in these awareness sessions and the attendance is seen to have increased by the day.

As per the project plan, awareness sessions on building resiliency towards extreme weather are to be extended to village levels. Mobile health teams will conduct these sessions with the communities in other villages as well. Awareness about heatstroke prevention and extreme weather precautions will also be disseminated through text messages and interactive theaters.

Some of the affected areas in Sindh received its first surge of rain after a long drought last week but the showers were minimal. Thus, the drought and extreme heat spell is expected to continue in this part of the country. Medical specialists have started warning government departments about the possible spread of gastroenteritis amongst the affected communities in the coming days.