Thu, Jun 23, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Game app shows plight of survivors of Pakistan floods

‘RELIEF COPTER’:Epic floods last year submerged one-fifth of the country, killed nearly 2,000 and left 11 million homeless, but only about 30 percent of UN appeals for aid have been met

Reuters, NEW DELHI

A game application is trying to raise awareness of the now largely forgotten epic floods that inundated Pakistan almost a year ago, hoping to use social media and smartphones to reach an untapped group of people.

Relief Copter is an effort by a small, Islamabad-based media firm to highlight the plight of survivors of last year’s disaster, which decimated villages from the far north to the deep south, disrupting the lives of more than 18 million people and killing nearly 2,000.

The game, which features a relief helicopter that drops crates of aid items, which must be navigated to various points, is available free for Nokia, iPhone and Facebook, and has generated more than 90,000 downloads since its launch in October.

After each level is completed, along with a slideshow, the app displays a photograph and “flood fact” about the disaster, which is seen as one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times — even bigger than 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“When we were designing the app, it seemed like the floods had completely washed away the world’s conscience, no one seemed to take notice. So that’s where the idea came from,” said Mohsin Afzal, the 28-year-old CEO of Werplay, which developed the game.

“You have a captive audience that is engaged, and you can use games as a medium to raise awareness and funds for a good cause. For me, it was a no-brainer,” he told AlertNet by phone from Islamabad.

The impact of the floods — which submerged one-fifth of the country, destroyed millions of hectares of crops and left 11 million homeless — still lingers almost one year on, aid workers said.

Donor funding has been slow for recovery needs and about 30 percent of the almost US$2 billion appealed for by the UN and Pakistan government has not been met.

Aid workers say the lack of funding, as in many disasters, is down because of donor fatigue, the global financial crisis and a lack of awareness about the challenges faced by survivors.

Afzal, who returned to Pakistan in July last year after studying in the US, agreed.

“When the Haiti quake hit and it was all over the news in America, there was so much coverage and outpouring of sympathy and aid,” he said.

“In complete contrast, practically no one knows about Pakistan floods in America,” he said.

However, while Afzal’s intention to raise funds from the purchase of the game failed — the iPhone version generated about US$50 before the team decided to make it free — it has at least kept memory of the disaster alive.

“The mainstream media has nearly forgotten about the recent floods in Pakistan, although scores of people are still struggling,” one reviewer on the iPhone app store said.

“Downloading this app is a direct and fulfilling way to show that you still care,” the reviewer said.

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