Sunday, November 27, 2005

Deepening crisis in Kashmir

As an earthquake hit China today--and another earthquake hit Iran, it seemed important to check-up on the relief-efforts relating to the enormous disaster in Kashmir. Over 86 000 have died so far--and experts are bracing for thousands more unless efforts are stepped-up to provide shelter and aid to the millions of homeless who are living in the isolated mountain villages.

From the CBC:
More than 40,000 Pakistani earthquake survivors could soon be flooding into the city of Muzaffarabad from their mountain villages, a top United Nations official warned Thursday. [...] Many of the injured were living in remote Himalayan villages cut off from aid supply routes and help has been slow to reach them. Local officials have told Guterres [UNHCR] they expect a mass migration from the communities within weeks. Aid workers are building more tent camps to accommodate them near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
As many as three million people lost their homes in the disaster, which came just weeks before deep winter snows were expected to cut off transportation routes.
The UK Observer: describes the nature & pace of relief (hint: not nearly good enough!):

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
...a senior Nato official on the ground warned that half of the 70,000 seriously injured in October's earthquake that hit Pakistan and Kashmir may not survive the winter. 'The extent of the catastrophe we found there is unimaginable,' said Portuguese Lieutenant-Colonel Mario Lemos Pires, who is responsible for the Nato rescue operation. According to Lemos Pires, the Nato Reaction Force of 1,000 soldiers has completed 135 helicopter missions in the areas most affected by the quake and transported some 2,000 tonnes of food and other aid to the victims of the disaster. 'If the level of aid to the population is kept up and if media coverage continues', the 2.8 million to 3.2 million people without shelter may survive, with some difficulty, the harsh winter weather,' he said.
The warnings were echoed by top UN official Jan Vandemoortele, who called on the international community not to neglect the millions affected by the 8 October earthquake. There is concern that focus is shifting away to long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation. 'It is important to start building new hospitals and schools as soon as possible, but it's most urgent to save the lives of thousands of children who could then make use of these schools,' he said. Though the UN and humanitarian agencies have appealed for $550m to help the quake survivors, less than half this has been raised and many lives remain at risk.
Here is a valuable first-person account of the scene on the ground--including life in the 'camps'--from Dublin's Simon Roughneen, media officer for the humanitarian organisation GOAL:
During a three-hour drive from Bagh, a city where 75 percent of buildings were destroyed, to Muzafferabad, scene of 90 percent destruction, we saw countryside of almost ethereal beauty. But just about every building within view has been ruined. This same countryside will be a solid white landscape in two or three weeks. Temperatures will drop to minus 10 degrees or maybe minus 15 degrees Celsius (5-14 degrees Fareinheit). Many roads will be impassable. [...] The snow promises imminent death to those who cannot get adequate shelter. People are constantly telling us about their attachment to this area, to their home place, their land and their livestock. We delivered a variety of shelter materials to village areas at heights of 7,200 feet (2,200 meters), part of an overall programme to feed and shelter over 100,000 people.
The idea is to allow people to remain in their home area if possible, if they wish to do so. If people congregate in camps, though some are organised and well-run, the challenges posed by the winter will be compounded by communicable disease, social tensions, and domestic and sexual violence. Life will be tough enough for these people as things are. As Mohammed Iqbal, who lost his wife and two daughters in the earthquake, said: “If we have enough shelter, tents, blankets, tin sheets, we can manage.” Timber is available on the tree-covered slopes, and people have access to home-grown foodstuffs to complement the flour, oil, pulses that they receive from agencies. But that “if” applies to so many people, and with the slow response and continued lack of funding of the relief effort generally, it really is a big “if” for many of the vulnerable.
You can find regular updates on the state-of-relief from Reuters' Alertnet "South Asia Earthquake" page. It appears that Reuters has a South Iran Earthquake page as well.

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