Saturday, October 15, 2005

Kashmiri earthquake aid: updates on progress, problems

As the official death toll rises > 38 000 in Pakistan, bad weather is threatening to bring further suffering and ground relief flights. Aftershocks are also continuing to threaten relief efforts; one aftershock was recorded at magnitude 5.6, >130 km north of Islamabad. Most ominously, thunderstorms and colder weather are forecast for the region and many affected villages are still inaccessible, due to "giant landslides"; a recipe for a secondary disaster, considering the shortage of tents and at least 2M people homeless (Guardian):
"Pakistan's federal relief commissioner, Major General Farooq Ahmad Khan, said he needed 100,000 tents and 2m blankets for refugee villages the government plans to build around Islamabad and Rawalpindi. "All tents have been bought and all factories are running round the clock," he said."

The capital of the Kashmiri region controlled by Pakistan, Muzafarrabad, bore the brunt of the casualties. The TorStar's Martin Regg Cohn described it as "a graveyard and a ghost town". Here is last night's dispatch from Muzafarrabad by the CBC's Patrick Brown (Quicktime).

While the Guardian reports that Pakistani military, NGO, and foreign relief is ongoing:
"Private groups also handed out assistance, although there was a serious lack of coordination. Some also lacked sensitivity, such as the young men who tossed packets of milk and biscuits as they sped past in trucks. "They are making fools of us," fumed Muhammad Amjad. "It's like they are throwing meat to a dog.""

WaPo reports similar scenes of humiliating "scrambles" for food, tents and supplies. There is something dehumanizing about this kind of slap-dash distribution:
"Every time relief trucks loaded with supplies pull up, there is a chaotic, unseemly scramble, and the piles of tents vanish. "We're respectable people. We can't run after trucks like that," said Mohammed Ismail, 52"

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading] Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N. resident coordinator in the region says that authorities "are considering the designation of distribution sites for women, to protect them from the aggressive crush of men converging on arriving convoys"

The UN emergency relief co-ordinator Jan England is growing frustrated over the lack of relief-coordination:
"The UN warns that the relief bottleneck must be eliminated soon or tens of thousands more may die. "They will now have their sixth, seventh night out in the cold, perhaps even without a tent. They will also not have water because their spring is gone," Egeland said. "They are in a desperate situation. We need more helicopters to reach them. We need more helicopters soon. Those who have given helicopters, thank you. Others, give us more.""

Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is en route, bringing potable drinking water, purification supplies, medical assistance and helping to erect "makeshift villages for survivors as winter approaches." Canada's full contribution is detailed on CIDA's South Asia Earthquake site (e.g. NGOs, UN agencies, military etc.).

Much has been made of India's offers of assistance to Pakistan--10s of thousands of Indians and Pakistanis have died in the last 50+ years, and mostly over Kashmir (1947/48, 1965, and 2002 wars). And then there's that nuclear problem. Although there have been peace overtures as recently as this past spring, both countries remain armed with deployable nuclear weapons. Given their troubled history, I suppose it comes as no surprise that Pakistani officials feel embarrased by help from India. In fact, Pakistan is denying that Indian soldiers have assisted, despite insistence to that effect from Indian officials:
"On Wednesday Indian army officials expressed frustration that they could not help more with the relief effort. One soldier pointed towards Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir and said Indian helicopters could reach it with supplies within 15 minutes." [...] "there is growing demand for easier access across the divided valley, allowing people to cross over to try to help loved ones on the other side."

And in India itself, where approximately 1000 people have died, efforts to distribute relief are being described as a "cruel joke":
""The administration fails, the army rescues, and civil society follows." The problem with the great Indian relief rush is that a lot of it is badly organized, distribution is skewed and some supplies simply go to waste." [...] "On the rocky road to Uri, a little-known political party sets up a small camp and loads a smelly dump of old, donated clothes in the open. It rains that night. Next day shivering survivors are gleefully presented with wet clothes."

And if these reports aren't dispiriting enough, the LA Times is reporting that all of these recent disasters are taxing global-aid capacity. Spokespeople from the U.N. humanitarian relief agency, the W.H.O, the World Food Program, Save the Children, and Oxfam all attest to being stretched to the limit in the face of so many emergencies. Some important phone-numbers: Red Cross 1-800-418-1111; Unicef 1-877-955-3111; Oxfam Canada 1-800-466-9326.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home