Hundreds of families in Sharjah affected by the floods are in dire need of help and volunteers who have been aiding in flood relief for the past five days are now on the brink of burnout. They have worked tirelessly, continuously assisting those affected by Tuesday's (April 16) record-breaking rains.

Whether wading through sewage-contaminated waters or navigating with boats, hundreds of them have been reaching out to stranded residents, delivering essential supplies such as food, water, and medicines, despite putting their health at risk.

With the arduous conditions taking a toll, many volunteers are showing visible signs of exhaustion, while others have succumbed to illness due to prolonged exposure to contaminated waters.

Muneer Pandiyala, a volunteer at the Indian Cultural Forum (ICF), expressed concern, stating, "Already, a few of our heroes have fallen ill. Five were suffering from waterborne diseases, and one of them had to be admitted to the hospital. Thankfully, he is stable."

Muneer Al Wafaa, the founder of the Rainsupport WhatsApp group and its accompanying website, emphasised the importance of safety measures for volunteers. He said volunteers are now getting vaccinated for tetanus before entering the contaminated waters, as several have been infected, experiencing symptoms such as itching and nausea. With nearly 6,000 members, the group is actively involved in relief efforts. Al Wafaa encouraged all field volunteers to get vaccinated, noting, "Aster Pharmacy is providing free tetanus injections to them."

Additionally, Al Wafaa has organised a panel of 150 doctors offering free health checks and telemedicine services to ensure the well-being of volunteers and those affected by the floods.

Despite ongoing efforts to pump out the floodwaters, progress remains sluggish. The stagnant, dirty water poses a significant health risk, becoming a breeding ground for dangerous diseases and pathogens, including dengue, cholera, and diarrhoea.

Adding to the challenges, many volunteers have admitted that they do not have the energy to carry on. Rehan Ahmad, a member of the Rainsupport Whatsapp group, said: "I've been working for four straight days, from morning till night. I cannot continue any more. I'm done."

Another member, Sahil, who resides in Al Nahda Dubai, shared his experience, highlighting the initial enthusiasm when they were working from home and the adrenaline flowing. He said: "When a message pops up on our WhatsApp group from a family seeking urgent aid, you can't say no. Sometimes, it's an urgent request, but now everything has reached a breaking point."

Muneer Pandaliya himself joined the relief work physically for the first two days but now finds it difficult to continue daily.

Shahana Hasan, a school teacher at the American International School and mother of a 13-year-old boy, is among the most dedicated volunteers of the Rainsupport Group.

Her apartment in the Al Tawwun area serves as a collection point, where relief aid is packed, dispatched, and distributed to those affected.

"I am so blessed to be part of this amazing cause," she said, adding that she does not hit the bed until 3am when her son snatches the phone from my hand."

Efforts to alleviate the distress caused by the floods have also mobilised hundreds of volunteers from local organisations like Markaz Dubai. However, the dire situation in areas like Sharjah's industrial area, Al Majaz, Abu Shagara, Al Wahda, Jamal Abdul Naseer Street, and Al Qasimiya has exacerbated volunteers' challenges.

Many volunteers, including Nihla Anas, are sacrificing their personal time and comfort to support the relief efforts. As a mother of four children aged between 18 and four years, Nihla begins her day at 5:15 am, balancing the demands of responding to messages, coordinating with volunteers, and managing household chores.

"Despite experiencing physical exhaustion, my husband Anas and I have continued our relief work," said Nilha.

Yesterday, on April 21, the couple celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary. "It was one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives," added Nilha, who has been assisting people until 2am since the floods.

Concerns about burnout extend beyond those on the ground to include donors and individuals transporting relief materials.

A Dubai businessman who provided assistance over the weekend expressed hesitance to help again, citing fatigue and logistical difficulties. "It took me almost three hours to reach Sharjah from my place in Business Bay," he said. "I don't think I'll be making another trip any time soon."

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Mazhar Farooqui