Nationality

Pakistan

Education

Master’s Degree in Environmental Planning & Management, University of Peshawar, Peshawar, Pakistan

Post-Graduate Diplomas in: Urban & Regional Planning, Public Administration, Industrialization, Trade & Economic Policy, International Human Rights Law, University of Peshawar, Peshawar, Pakistan

Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, Chemistry, & Statistics, University of Peshawar, Peshawar, Pakistan

International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance, Fordham University, New York, United States

Languages

English, Urdu

I slept on the office floor for my first two weeks when I was serving in Uganda. Heavy rains in 2007 caused severe country-wide flooding affecting over 300,000 people. There was no electricity, telephone service, food or basic amenities.

During the day, I sloshed through muddy knee-high water. I faced mangled huts, buried crops and displaced persons without food or clean water. Part of my duty with the Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was to assess the disaster and this sometimes required innovative approaches. The tarmac roads, for example, were all but washed away, so vehicles were no longer a reliable mode of transportation. Boats were our best bet, but sometimes arm-over-arm swimming in the still, murky water was most effective.

The flooding worsened. We watched more roads disappear and camps creep further and further apart. OCHA accounted for close to 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2005. By April 2008, however, almost 75 per cent of IDPs were in transit to, or had already returned to their homes. Serving in Uganda was my first international assignment with OCHA, and I was thrown in the thick of it.

Our OCHA team is 1,980 staff members strong. Our mission is to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies, advocate for the rights of people in need, promote preparedness and prevention and help facilitate sustainable solutions all over the world.

Experiences in my formative years prepared me to face the challenges of working in the field. I had a simple life growing up. My family lived in Bagra, a small Pakistani village in the district of Haripur, North West Frontier Province. I remember the community vividly. I enjoyed going to school, but without a proper schoolhouse, much of my education depended on the whims of the weather. Some days, I would leave with a sun-tanned nose and dusty bottom. Other days, students cheered as the rain fell; It meant we had a holiday.

My family moved around Pakistan frequently because my father worked for the Pakistani army. We lived in Karachi, Quetta, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. I left my family in 1982 to study at the University of Peshawar. My university sat on the Afghan border, and I watched refugees pour into my town. Three million came to Pakistan from Afghanistan, and 90 percent of them stayed near Peshawar. I encountered the United Nations response team on a regular basis, and their work inspired me to serve with the Organization.

After graduation, I spent 10 years in the private sector working for non-governmental organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2006, I started work with United Nations in OCHA responding to the earthquake disaster in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. The disaster left 3.5 million homeless and 2.3 million food-insecure. Around 600,000 homes, 6,000 schools and over 500 health facilities were destroyed or seriously damaged. Many displaced families were moved into IDP camps. Thanks to a collaborative effort, 250,000 internally displaced people returned home with safe transport, food, shelter and agricultural items between March and June 2006.

Creativity and level-headedness are important when working in the field. Planning humanitarian relief requires forward thinking, and it is always based on assumption and projection. Sometimes even the most well planned solutions need last minute alterations, so flexibility is immensely important when working at the United Nations.

Currently, I am in Zimbabwe with OCHA. We work to coordinate action to remedy suffering caused by lack of food, HIV and AIDS, decline in social services, and natural disasters. In October 2009, OCHA collaborated with partner organisations to provide 720,000 households with agricultural support, including cereal seed such as maize, sorghum and millet. My work is immensely rewarding. Seeing faces of the affected community instills a sense of urgency that drives my work and keeps me motivated when times get tough.

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