ABU DHABI // Organisers of the national telethon to raise money for the victims of Pakistan's floods said last night they were optimistic they would beat the Dh100 million target, as the appeal entered its final hours. As telephone lines opened at 9.30pm for the final session, the collection had raised more than Dh54 million, after a flurry of large donations in the closing hours.
The Emirati Al Fahim group donated Dh5 million just hours before proceedings began, while Dh1 million was donated by the Nael and Bin Harmal company. A group of 350 individual donors pledged Dh6 million earlier in the day. "We didn't even expect to raise Dh1,000 from this event," said Abdulraheem al Bateeh, director of news at Abu Dhabi TV, part of the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns The National.
"It's Ramadan and we were broadcasting our first shows between 4pm and 6pm when everyone is in the kitchen preparing food, so we're really surprised and very pleased. "Inshallah, we will reach the Dh100 million target," he added as the three-day campaign drew to a close. The project, called Awnkum, which means "your help" in Arabic, raised Dh25million on the first day. It was organised by the UAE's Red Crescent Authority on the directive of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, in order to help the 20 million people displaced by the flash floods.
A host of celebrities offered their support to the campaign with the Tunisian pop star Latifa joining the programme by satellite link to urge viewers to make a donation. The religious consultant at the Presidential Palace, Dr Hassan al Hafnawi, opened last night's broadcast by urging the Muslim community to pledge money. "In Islam, we have to support our brothers and the people who really need help. People must give zakat to Pakistan. Our religion is the religion of brothers. We must share everything; our money, food and homes."
There was also a phone message from the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, thanking the UAE for its support. "It's very difficult for Pakistan to take care of this alone," he said. "We are appealing for everyone to help us. It's a huge disaster. We are very grateful for what the UAE is doing for us, especially civil society. We are also grateful for the equipment and manpower being sent by the UAE military on the ground in Pakistan."
Ten television channels across the country, including Sama Dubai and Dunia al Fujairah, broadcast the appeal, which was also aired on the Noor Dubai and Abu Dhabi Radio stations. Donors of all ages, including a 12-year-old boy who phoned in a Dh40,000 pledge, called the phone lines to give their support. Celebrities including Wafaa al Mosali, the Syrian star of the popular Ramadan soap opera Bab el Hara, and the Emirati actor Ahmed al Jissmi have lent their support to the event, in addition to diplomats such as Khurshid Ahmed Junejo, the Pakistani ambassador to the UAE, and representatives from the World Health Organisation.
Unicef estimates that 1.2 million houses were destroyed by the floods and about 6.5 million children were affected. Some of the largest donations over the three days included Dh5 million each from Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the widow of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, and Darwish bin Ahmed and Sons Group, an Emirati company. The UAE is sending between six and nine aid planes a day to Pakistan, and has so far delivered 180 tonnes of humanitarian assistance, according to news reports.
Dr Saleh al Taee, director of relief and emergency at the Red Crescent Authority (RCA), said that whatever money is raised, it is still not enough for the depth of catastrophe that has hit Pakistan. "This is worse than both the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina put together," he said. "No one country can cope with this alone and we must all play our role to help. "More than 20 million people are suffering, homeless, hungry and at risk of disease. However little the amount, everyone must give. Even five dollars can save a baby, give it a vaccine or a bottle of milk."
The RCA has three aid teams in Pakistan, but Mr al Taee said they need more support. People can donate in supermarkets and banks or at any of the RCA's seven offices around the country. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org