Paani event focuses on water sanitation crisis in Pakistan and Flint

Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 11:38pm

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former director of the Detroit Health Department, gives a speech on the importance of sanitation and public health at the Ripple Effect event hosted by Paani, in Blau Hall Thursday evening.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former director of the Detroit Health Department, gives a speech on the importance of sanitation and public health at the Ripple Effect event hosted by Paani, in Blau Hall Thursday evening. Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

On Thursday night, Paani at the University of Michigan, a non-profit organization, hosted “Ripple Effect,” its first annual banquet and largest event yet with around 180 people in attendance. The event focused on the water and sanitation crisis in Pakistan as well as the U.S., and included speeches from Dr. Mohammed Amjad Saqib and and Abdul El-Sayed.

The event brought in an equal mix of students and community members. Paani aimed to bring awareness to the water crisis, create a space to discuss innovative solutions and educate the attendees about how they can get involved with aiding the crisis from over 7,000 miles away.

Paani’s executive board began the banquet by discussing their past initiatives to draw attention to their club. Numerous fundraising events later, they secured over $2,000 to donate towards feminine hygiene and sanitation kits for Pakistani citizens. Since then, they’ve collaborated with several student organizations on campus to unite cultures and to expand the dialogue of their organization.

Paani members also mentioned their online journal dedicated to sharing Pakistani stories of water crisis experiences. To recognize the intersectionality of the issue, they also included stories about water sanitation issues from other countries to highlight the global emergency. Faraz Longi, Paani director of partnerships, also shared a story of his visit to Pakistan.

“We are no better than the people we’re helping,” Longi said. “We are here at the University of Michigan drinking clean water only by luck. Therefore, it’s our duty to help these people. That’s why Paani strives to through events like these.”

They proceeded to show a video that included clips of Pakistani men, women and children sharing their stories, which were broken up by statistics: “Two-thirds of households drink bacterially contaminated water” and “53,000 children die every year from diarrhea due to contaminated water.”

Following the video, Dr. Mohammed Amjad Saqib, a Pakistani philanthropist, TedX speaker and entrepreneur, appeared on a video call from Pakistan. Saqib wanted to transport the audience into the shoes of the Pakistani people.

“In Pakistan,” Saqib said. “Only one-fifth people living in poverty have access to clean water. 400 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases. Take a moment to understand the impact on the poor, and put yourself in their situation.”

Saqib emphasized the crisis in Pakistan is not a distant reality, and the focus should be to change the narrative of the water crisis in these areas. Not only did he urge the audience to join the movement, but also to feel a personal responsibility, as a global citizen, to push for a solution. Saqib suggested University students study Pakistani issues in a broader context, share solutions with local academia and try to push for financial and research support from outside organizations.

Next up was Abdul El-Sayed, former city of Detroit health director, Michigan gubernatorial candidate and University alum. He began by making a local connection to the Pakistan water crisis by explaining the story of Flint, Michigan. El-Sayed explained the scientific process of lead poisoning, and the neglect Flint and its community received from the Michigan government.

“The crux in public health is sanitation,”  El-Sayed said. “The ability to simply say that water is going to be clean and pure so that you’re protecting kids from diarrheal illness, and the second part is that people are not living on top of each other, so they’re not breathing the same air.”

El-Sayed stressed the importance of water as a human right, and the human responsibility to advocate this right for those who are unable to. During his question and answer session, he spoke directly to the minorities in the audience about dedicating their privilege to their homeland communities.

After El-Sayed’s speech, the executive board closed with statements about what Paani meant to them, as members of various identities and backgrounds. Divya Gumudavelly, a Paani member not of Pakistani descent and an LSA junior, described why she was involved in a Pakistani organization.

“The water crisis is not just a Pakistani problem,” Gumudavelly said. “It’s a human problem.”

After the speakers, the audience enjoyed a traditional Pakistani meal while engaging with other attendees about the event.

LSA sophomore Hafsa Mahmood said Abdul El-Sayed was her favorite part of the night.

“He mobilizes people to make a change,” Mahmood said. “This is the first event I’ve gone to. I want to see how else I can contribute, since this is a really important cause.”

Engineering sophomore Maryam Younus discussed her future intended involvement in Paani and said she was excited to help raise awareness, education and support for Pakistan.

“This is my first semester here,” Younus said. “And a few organizations that really caught my eye when I first came here, and Paani was one of them. At my previous school, we didn’t have many Pakistani student organizations that weren’t just social. So, seeing Pakistani people go back to their roots and care about their homeland was really important to me.”