Rabei Javaid Bhatti ’22 discovered that Pakistan, her home country, is facing one of the worst climate disasters of the century — leaving thousands dead and upwards of 33 million displaced — through Instagram.
“We’re so far away from home that it’s hard to find information about things affecting your family,” Bhatti said. “I was very sad at first because so many people are getting displaced, which is terrifying, and then I got angry about the way it’s not being addressed at Cornell necessarily.”
Khadija Rashid ’25 also received videos taken by friends and family members in the afflicted areas.
“My friends and family are being affected by it,” Rashid said. “I’m so far away from home, but I had to do something here.”
Rashid, who is the head event coordinator for the Pakistani Students Association and social chair at South Asian Council, collaborated with Rabail Makhdoom ’23, president of PSA, in the organization’s first effort towards flood relief during the first week of September. They circulated a bingo board for donations through Instagram stories, and it has amassed more than $3,100 to date.
“It was the first week of classes — we had to get together whatever we possibly could,” Makhdoom said, describing that PSA immediately created a Venmo account. Rashid added that within the first 30 minutes the fundraiser had reached $200.
At the South Asian field day, SAC raised another $200 through activities such as ‘pie someone in the face for $5,’ Rashid said. PSA is planning to ticket its Winter Daawat at $5 which would also go towards donations, according to Makhdoom. Bhatti has organized an Oct. 15 open mic at Green Dragon Café.
“The Green Dragon team has been very supportive, and such an event has been held before for Ukraine,” Bhatti said. “It can be a no-judgment place for resolving emotions in addition to fundraising.”
Bhatti said that while the director of diversity at her college, Art, Architecture and Planning, contacted her to check up on her, there are still professors who have not reached out to her regarding the situation. Rashid stressed the importance of professors acknowledging the toll the floods have taken on Pakistani students, which could come in the form of acknowledgment that these are lived experiences of people and including trigger warnings for Pakistani students.
Nevertheless, information sessions are being planned with the Brooks School of Public Policy and information and resources being disseminated in newsletters with the aid of faculty like Raza Ahmad, Brooks School of Public Policy, and Prof. Iftikhar Dadi, history of art and visual studies, according to Bhatti.
Ahmad commended the “heart-warming” efforts of students at Cornell who have taken initiative in raising awareness and funds for the “colossal, Biblical” floods. He said that he hopes these efforts would be supplemented by the Cornell administration and other campuses across North America.
Ahmad said that current international attention is limited when it comes to the Pakistan floods.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a complete uproar in America — and certainly we defended the welfare of Ukrainian people — but unfortunately a similar kind of alertness, involvement, response is not to be seen when it comes to floods in Pakistan.”
Dadi echoed the importance of international assistance, stating that the massive need for relief and reconstruction is far beyond the infrastructural capacities of the Pakistani state and organizations.
While Pakistan contributes to less than one percent of carbon emissions, it remains among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Ahmad explained that the relief needed in Pakistan far exceeds the current measures in place.
“The latest estimate suggests Pakistan needs 30 billion dollars going forward,” Ahmad said. “The U.S. government has announced a 55 million dollar aid package, which of course should be welcomed, but it is far less than the kind of military aid they were giving in the ongoing war on terror.”
The need for relief consists of addressing the total lack of shelter, food, employment and healthcare that the affectees are experiencing.
“Because of the lack of clean drinking water, people are using flood water to cook and drink: what can they do in these dire circumstances?” Ahmad said.
The faculty underlined the significance of an institution like Cornell in playing a role in the mitigation of climate risks. According to Ahmad, the expertise at Cornell can provide advice in terms of rehabilitation, rebuilding, disaster management and climate adaptation, which will play a major role in the future.
For Ahmad, the efforts in addressing the situation are relevant beyond Pakistan. He cited the power outage following a hurricane in Puerto Rico, noting that floods exacerbated by climate change are impacting the U.S. as well.
“What I would really urge is that since Cornell is very well placed, its reputation, its impact and its vast alumni network are a great opportunity. If we get together, raise consciousness, maybe we can make our little contribution to improving the situation,” Ahmad said. “As MLK said, injustice anywhere is injustice to us as well.”
Organizers are actively trying to reach a larger audience on campus.
“A lot of people don’t generally know about Pakistan — there is a biased outlook in viewing a third world country. They still don’t know that one-thirds of the country is underwater,” Makhdoom said.
Rashid stated that a statement from the administration recognizing the dire situation would be a helpful step towards solidarity and awareness.
Bhatti said that despite the lack of reaction from the University, she will not stop creating awareness regarding the floods and the relief efforts.
“More people need to know that things are happening,” Bhatti said. “It’s important to me because it’s my home — I don’t want people at my home to not feel like they have a home.”