Continuing coverage of the Pakistan floods
The flooding in Pakistan has caused hundreds of thousands of people to be in desperate need of food, shelter and water. Nazes Afroz, Regional Executive Editor for Asia & Pacific for the World Service, explains how they have been contacting us and how World Service and BBC Urdu are getting news and information to them.
It's been four weeks since we first reported the flood story in Pakistan. Very rarely, we carry on covering a disaster story like the way we are doing with this one.
In the case of the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, the 2006 Asian tsunami or Haiti's crisis early this year, the breaking and the unfolding nature of the story ended within a few days and the world media's attention moved away from reporting the disaster to the impact and recovery angles in a week or so.
But currently the disaster phase hasn't come to an end yet. As I write this, new areas are being submerged with more flood waters flowing in and hundred of thousands of people are still moving away from their homes to safety.
Close to a million people are completely dependent on supplies by helicopters, as roads and bridges to those areas have been washed away. Our coverage is still largely focussed to the ongoing disaster and the plight of the survivors.
When the disaster struck a month ago, it became apparent that the story would be very big, affecting millions of people. As the story became bigger within the first few days, we made the decision to start a "Lifeline" programme with essential life-saving information for the flood victims.
The broadcasts contain information like fresh flood alerts, weather reports, how to cope with diseases, how and where to get aid etc. From our past experience we have found that at the time of any major disaster, people tune in to radio for such essential information.
The BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international charity, quickly found the funding to carry out this humanitarian information service or "Infoasaid" for the victims. We also felt that we needed to broadcast in Pashtu alongside Urdu as the main language of the badly affected north-western part of the country was Pashtu.
When we approached our 34 FM partner stations, they readily agreed to take this "lifeline Pakistan" service on their airwaves ensuring an audience of 60 to 80 million across the country.
The Urdu service had to put together the editorial teams very quickly in Islamabad. They also decided to use a toll-free phone with voice recording facility and asked the flood victims to call and record their stories. This generated a huge number of calls across the length and the breadth of the country.
They recorded more than 800 calls within the first four hours after it was opened up. People were telling their stories of despair and utter hopelessness. They were trying to reach the world through these recordings, saying how desperately they needed urgent help - shelter, food and water. These voices are forming important segments of the BBC's overall coverage of the flood story.
"We are sitting in the Risalpur Centre and waiting for aid. We have been here five times but the administration is doing nothing. There are no arrangements for Sehri and Iftar during the month of Ramadan." Sakina, from Risalpur, Punjab
"We have been without food and water for three days. The devastating flood has damaged everything. People are suffering from diseases. We need medicine, water and food." Ahmed Ali from Kashmore, Sindh
"We are trapped in the flood water. We have nothing to eat or drink. Please rescue us. Our lives are in danger. For God's sake rescue us, otherwise we will die. Please help us, please!" Khyber Husain, Jacobabad, Sindh
Some of these messages are broadcast in Urdu, some in Pashtu and some are passed onto the Pakistani authorities and relief organisations.
After four weeks, the main question now being asked is how we are going to sustain interest in the story.
It needs no elaboration how important Pakistan is in terms of geo-politics. There are already discussions and debates as to what end this massive disaster will change Pakistan.
This is something we will be focussing on soon after the acute phase of the disaster is over, and once the country enters the reconstruction and rebuilding phase. So the story will not go away.