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Approval in Pakistan and Off to Sri Lanka

Today the pressure is really on. 

Our partnership with AmeriCares and PSI, and excellent work by our local ER and plant folks, have given us the confidence to book a plane that will be filled to the gunnels with only PUR. 

One_of_84_pallets_of_purThe enormity of the disaster and the need for immediate deployment has required the extreme logistical feat of us.  Our partners are asking for sachets urgently in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  We already have millions of sachets in Indonesia, but will need some more there soon. 

So, AmeriCares has booked a plane that will start in Sri Lanka and fly to meet us in Karachi to fill up with 4,540,800 sachets. They will then drop the sachets in Singapore for later deployment in Indonesia.  The plan will then circle back the 6 hour trip to Karachi and be crammed even fuller, with 4,994,880 sachets before flying back the 5 ½ hour journey to Sri Lanka.

The plan starts its journey to meet us in Karachi prior to our having all the necessary paperwork for this mission.  With the cost of the plane air time and even more importantly, the need for these tsunami survivors, we cannot afford to keep them waiting.  While Syed Masood of Pakistan ER and I are dealing with some of the paperwork, a Herculean effort by our plant and ship-forwarding agent kicks in gear.

Monte_auchenbach_and_syed_masood_1A team works through the night starting at 7:00 PM through mid-day of the next day to begin the movement of the nearly 10 million sachets.  Not only do they have to be moved, but they have to be put on different size pallets in order to fit on the plane. 

Syed and I go to the airport for some of the paperwork and we stop by the staging area where the first 4.5 million sachets are being shrink-wrapped on the new pallets.  It’s impossible to get all the pallets into the frame of my digital camera so let me give you some idea of the numbers.  Every single pallet contains enough PUR to meet the minimum drinking water needs of more than 10,000 people for 100 days.  And, there are 84 pallets to be loaded! 

While they continue their work, Syed and I go for the final paperwork we need to board the plane later in the day.  I was not prepared for what awaited us.  We’ve become entangled in a nightmare of paperwork. 

I begin keeping a log of each of the steps to preserve my sanity and prevent my big mouth from saying something totally culturally inappropriate (for any culture).  We start the process at 9:00 AM and by 8:00 PM, I’m frustrated and anxious that the plane may have finished loading without us.  It’s clear that no one in the bureaucracy wants to make a decision. 

Syed_massod_gets_approvalFinally, Syed’s persistence pays off and we get our paperwork stamped “approved." Elation quickly turns into depression as I then learn we need 3 more approvals and another hour of waiting. 

This saga makes very real for me the work of Hernando de Soto (no not the conqueror, the modern scholar), author of The Mystery of Capital, who has shown how the developing world is forced into an informal economy outside of the legal system because of the unnecessary bureaucracy.  It’s certainly not a problem limited to Pakistan, but it is a problem and a big part of what prevents the developing world from overcoming poverty.  Imagine if we have such problems how an illiterate person would cope.  They simply don’t cope with the legal system and are forced into an informal economy.  Unfortunately, an informal economy means you can’t get loans and finance purchases and so the poverty cycle continues.

By 9:00 PM we finally head to the plane.  It appears that we haven’t missed anything.  We arrive with the crew of the AmeriCares Volgor Dnepr.  They have not done any better and we arrive at the same time.  It’s marvelous to begin the loading process. 

But after a while, we wonder if it’s all going to fit.  Syed and I ponder this with the local ground crew.  Not to worry, the big Russian flight manager muscles in and single handedly pushes the pallet into place and explains that we will stack the pallets 3 abreast. 

Cool, we’re loading up. 

I leave with enormous gratitude for the P&G Pakistan organization.  They have contributed immeasurably to this disaster relief.  My time with them has been very special and above anything else, I’ve learned how much pride they have for their country. 

Despite all the nightmares of the bureaucratic morass, I’ve learned that this is a country of wisdom and compassion.  A brief time visiting Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla in Zia Colony really makes this point.  Dr. Mubina has been the principle investigator of one of our most important clinical studies with PUR.  She runs a hospital, school, vocational training center, and gender empowerment program, as well as conducting clinical studies out of Project HOPE. 

We talk about the disaster relief and she expresses the desire to help us.  I’m so humbled by this desire of someone who has devoted her life to helping the destitute of Pakistan.  I do the best I can to explain that she has already helped enormously.  Her research proving PUR sachets dramatically reduce diarrhea in children is one of the reasons P&G has decided to continue with PUR.  She understands this and tells us something that I’m still trying to think about.

Every year in Pakistan, 250,000 children die from diarrhea mostly caused by unsafe drinking water.  It doesn’t get the headlines of the tsunami because it’s not as dramatic.  Diarrheal illness is usually a silent killer.  It’s particularly so among the smallest children who succumb to the dehydration very quickly.  So I guess the point is that our work is critical, not only for the tsunami survivors, but for other social markets as well.

And now, the sachets and I are heading to Sri Lanka.  I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

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