University Volunteers in Pakistan play pivotal role in collecting and disseminating data
RISEPAK achieved much of what it set out to do chiefly because of the efforts of 40 staff and student volunteers from LUMS. Giving up their Eid celebration, these university volunteers spent the festival days working with district governments and relief organizations to systematize and update data on communities that had received assistance, and to use this data on the website.
"Not everyone believes that the focus should be on data and information,” said Shandana Mohmand, a LUMS faculty member. “Students and faculty alike have faced hard questions about why they are spending their time on this effort rather than directly involving themselves in providing relief.”
The volunteer group split into several teams that dispersed in different directions—some to Islamabad to work with relief organizations, others to the quake-affected districts where LUMS programmers helped set up data-entry systems for the authorities to use and trained staff on how to enter and record data on compensations and relief to individuals.
"As students of development economics and humanities, working in the field gave us a profound understanding of the need for co-ordination between various local, national and international agencies involved with the relief efforts, said Erum Haider, a Junior year student at LUMS.
Key insights from a large household survey of quake-affected areas
With the effort in Pakistan now moving from immediate relief to long-term recovery and reconstruction, the familiarity and expertise that LUMS built up over the first two months working with relief actors and villages is again proving invaluable.
“Working with the students in the field was an incredible experience,” said Das. “On walks, they would cross landslides, talk to every single person they met on the way, and return by torchlight well after dark. These are some of the most committed and enthusiastic people I have worked with."
Twelve teams of volunteers surveyed more than 3000 households in 18 villages—easily the largest independent survey of households after the earthquake. The survey, designed with assistance from Tara Vishwanath and Ambar Narayan of the Bank’s Pakistan Office, produced some critical insights related to disaster relief, in a report that will shortly be available on www.risepak.com
Although the feeling in Islamabad was that affected villages had evacuated, the survey found that 95% of those in the hardest-hit areas remain in their villages. Not a single person interviewed expressed any inclination to move away for the winter, despite houses being destroyed. In response to such findings, a large scale emergency shelter plan is underway during the winter.
Another common misperception is that livestock is a major source of income in the quake-affected region. However, the survey found that over 70 percent of households did not own a single domestic animal such as a buffalo, cow, or goat.
Many of the LUMS volunteers were women, who brought an added advantage to the survey in that they could freely speak with widows and other women in the villages, taking their concerns—often very different from those of the men—into account.
While men were more concerned with the need for shelter, women were anxious about the lack of warm clothing and blankets for children, and the scarcity of cooking utensils, a daily hardship. They were also sensitive to the special needs of the other women around them, such as those of single mothers.
“Talking to people in the villages unearthed stories from the recipients' point of view, revealing stresses and pressures in social systems that would exacerbate a natural disaster such as the earthquake,” said Haider.