The Trials and Tribulations of Alastair Cook - Webisode 1

02 September 2010

At three a.m. a very weary, but excited Logistics Cluster Officer made his way through throngs of passengers that filled the arrivals hall of Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad.

At least four major international flights have arrived and the passengers on this occasion can easily be divided into two very distinct categories. One group are Pakistani nationals, most of whom are carrying jerry cans of holy water as they return from Mecca; we are currently in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan so this comes as no surprise. The other category is the influx of humanitarian aid workers arriving to assist with the flood response. Already, I am recognising the odd friendly face from previous missions, friends from WHO, UNICEF and at least five from WFP who have arrived from all corners of the world… it looks like it is going to be a huge operation.

During the summer months of June, July and August the Indian Ocean heats up and huge monsoon rains fall across South Asia. However, this year Pakistan received far more rain than normal and far more than the Indus River could cope with. This has resulted in devastating floods that have affected almost 20 million people and this number may well increase.

Since I was last here a little over a year ago the security situation has changed considerably. The Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar was bombed soon after I had departed and a suicide bomber was able to enter the WFP Country Office in Islamabad, killing five colleagues and seriously injuring an additional five. Sadly these events foreshadowed a general degradation of the security situation across all of Pakistan. Due to the increased security constraints options for secure places to stay are seriously limited, however WFP’s dedicated security personnel have identified a number of guesthouses. It is at one of these, where finally at five a.m. I crashed in a heap on the bed … the alarm set for 8am.

Islamabad is an unusual town, well certainly unusual for Pakistan. It is a planned city, laid out in a grid format and then blessed with passionate names such as Area F, Area G and so on. These areas are then numerically sub-divided so you end up with F8-1, F8-2, F8-3 etc. Surely Pakistan has enough cricketing heroes to lend their names to the streets. However, it sounds as though the Army was tasked with street nomenclature of Islamabad. As one drives around the city the benefit of having a grid layout has been lost due to the concrete security chicanes installed to prevent potential terrorist acts, drivers are constantly forced to pull U-turns and slow manoeuvres to make relatively simple journeys across town.

My colleagues in Pakistan have done an extraordinary job, we are facilitated into the operation simply, effectively and without delay… building pass, local cell phone and SIM card, a handout of the who’s who in the Pakistan operation, a security briefing and finally my own briefing on what is expected of me. I then make a quick visit to our GIS mapping unit to request a few maps specific to where I shall be based… organise a driver for tomorrow, read my emails and the day is over… so it’s back to the guestroom for some much needed sleep, today has been long and interesting and I expect tomorrow will be more of the same.

 

To be continued…

 

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Alastair Cook is a Logistics Cluster Officer based at the Global Logistics Cluster Support Cell in Rome. He has been deployed to Ghazi, Pakistan to support the emergency air operation for the delivery of life-saving relief items.