EARTHQUAKE

Pakistanis are not extremists, they love humanity

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
 Oct 17 - 23, 2005

Figures about the death toll, ranging from 40,000 to 100,000, are being released from different quarters in the public and the private sector, however, the correct assessment of the total damage in terms of life and property caused by 7.7 magnitude earthquake is not possible at this point of time.

Damage to the life and property is so widespread in the hilly terrains, towns and villages of Azad Kashmir and NWFP that it was not possible for the rescue teams to reach in those areas where people were still looking for the rescue teams in many affected areas even after six days of the tragic incident.

The absence of any government machinery in Azad Kashmir added hardships of the people as no government organization remained in working order after the earthquake. Almost all government structures, offices and even the Prime Minister House caved in as a result of the powerful tremors hitting the area on Oct 8.

The loss caused by the earthquake is, no doubt, irreparable, however, the way the nation has risen to the occasion and responded to the call of the hour was also unforgettable. In fact the pain was felt in all corners of the country which is an indicator that the national fiber is still intact.

On one hand the tragedy was heartbreaking, while the spontaneous response given by the people from all walks of life to help out the victims without any discrimination of cast and creed disproved the propaganda or impression that Pakistanis are extremists.

The roadside relief camps were set up by all religious sects and political parties and the piling up of relief goods in front of the camps was enough to prove that the people of Pakistan have a true love for humanity without discrimination of color, cast and creed.

In fact, the earthquake has proved as a wake up call for the people as well as the government. It is the need of the hour and the responsibility of the present leadership to give a proper direction to the zeal and spirit generated by this natural calamity. The art of leadership is to keep alive this national spirit to face future challenges.

Pakistan will have to go through an emergency phase of crisis management for six months, yet another 10 years will be required for complete rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure in Azad Kashmir and in NWFP, which gives an idea of the devastation caused by the repeated tremors flattening a large number of small villages and towns in these areas.

According to initial reports, the massive October 8 earthquake killed at least 40,000 people while rendering more than 4 million homeless in the devastated areas of northern Pakistan.

The biggest problem was to reach people in affected areas as the earthquake destroyed more than 80 percent of structures and buildings in various parts of northern Pakistan, whereas strong aftershocks were threatening the buildings that have already been damaged by the first jolt.

Many cities and villages in Azad Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province - the most affected areas - have been wiped out. More than four million people are affected of whom one million are in acute need of assistance.

The relief workers are however struggling to get access to needy people in thousands of isolated communities. Actually, to get the relief to the devastated areas was a race against the clock, because the time was running short even for those who survived but looking helplessly for the assistance under the open sky and harsh chilly weather following thunderstorm and rains.

UN

The UN Under Secretary General and world body's Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, had an aerial view of the ruined city of Muzaffarabad close to the epicenter of the earth quake. His immediate remarks about the damage caused by the earthquake were: "The devastation is just a complete nightmare". More than four million people were affected of whom one million are in acute need of assistance.

"We are most concerned for the people stuck in small villages. It is a race against the clock," Egeland noted after a helicopter tour of the region around Muzaffarabad.

The UN humanitarian coordinator promised a 60-bed medical facility would be established in Muzaffarabad where most hospitals and clinics have been destroyed by the quake. He issued an urgent appeal for more helicopters, the only way to ferry aid to the many cut off settlements, saying many more were needed right now if thousands of lives are to be saved.

It may be recalled that UN on Tuesday last launched Flash Appeal for approximately $272 million for Pakistan, in response to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. The appeal aims at launching life saving and early recovery activities under a six-month emergency phase.

Egeland also asked donor countries to be generous in responding to the emergency. More than 30 countries have already pledged more than $300million to help the victims and play for reconstruction. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have given $100 million each.

It is expected that by next week the relief operation would grow bigger and better with the arrival of more tents, water purification systems, food and medicine.

The United Nations will be here for a long time and would assist Pakistan in setting up a disaster management system.

RELIEF OPERATION

Currently, the relief operation is being carried out by Pakistan Army, government agencies and the private sector at a massive scale through air and land routes.

Besides endless cue of trucks loaded with relief goods dispatched by the people within the country, Pakistan received more than 5,200 tons of relief goods from 42 countries.

During the relief operation in different parts of Kashmir and NWFP, 43 tons of medicines, 17,078 tons of ration, 26,486 blankets, 7,000 tents, and 54 tons of clean drinking water was dispatched in 362 sorties of army helicopters for distribution among affected people during last 5 days. So far about 1,500 tons of relief goods from domestic and foreign sources has been distributed among the affected people.

It may be mentioned here that more than 100 helicopters are busy in carrying out the rescue operation and distribution of relief goods. Actually, these helicopters are discharging dual responsibilities. They are carrying relief goods for distribution and bringing back the victims to the hospitals in Islamabad and other cities on their return.

Pakistan Army has established central points to receive the goods brought from Islamabad and other parts of the country. About 46 choppers are also working for the transportation purpose. Among these 6 were provided by the United States, 9 by Pakistan Army, 3 by Afghanistan, 2 by Germany, 2 by Pakistan Navy, 3 by Aga Khan Foundation and the rest are the small helicopters owned by the army.

The countries donated in the President Relief Fund are US, UK, Japan, China, India, Singapore, Thailand, Afghanistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, UAE, Uzbekistan, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Syria, Belgium, Iran, Libya and Qatar.

However, those made major contributions towards the relief of quake victims are UK, US, Japan, Turkey, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The US has sent rescue teams, helicopters, doctors and machinery required in rescue operations. These US experts contributed significantly to produce results in the rescue operations.

Rescue teams sent by the UK were the first foreign volunteers who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the local people and eased the work by the use of their latest life-saving equipment.

Turkey also made contribution by providing eight planes carrying hundreds of tons of relief goods. Turkey will provide one plane a day till 30th October.

Iran has also provided hundreds of tons of food, water, medicine, rice and oil as well. The medical teams equipped with surgery equipment and emergency treatment also served the affected people.

Ukraine is also sending a mobile hospital and relief goods worth $2 million for the earthquake victims. In fact medical assistance is highly valuable at this moment of time because eruption of epidemic diseases is feared due to stinking bodies in far flung areas. Medical charity Medicines Sans Frontiers has warned that there was a risk of an epidemic of water borne diseases in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Azad Kashmir.

Meanwhile, PM Shaukat Aziz has said that besides $300 million pledged by foreign companies and international donor agencies, donations from domestic sources totaled Rs600 million within first 48 hours of the earthquake.

He conceded that many areas were still inaccessible, adding two Army divisions had been moved into the quake-hit areas. They are helping out and coordinating with the solders present in the area.

The PM has identified five priority areas to face the challenge - provision of food, tents, blankets, medicine and construction material.

The government intends to carry out rehabilitation work along with the relief operations to achieve quick results. Main roads leading to Muzaffarabad, Mansehra and Balakot have been opened to traffic, but many small roads leading to villages remained blocked, however, army troops were working to restore all road links on war footings.

Meanwhile, Pakistan had to tender formal apology to the foreign rescue workers due to inefficiency and incapability of the relevant government functionaries. In this respect, visa fee charged by he concerned staff was returned with formal apology to the arriving foreign rescue workers. Interior ministry has launched an investigation against officials of the Immigration and Passport departments for charging visa fee from foreign rescue workers.

US MUSLIM

Various Muslim relief organizations have initiated relief efforts for the victims at a massive scale in the United States. These organizations include (in alphabetical order): Hidaya Foundation, Indian Muslim Relief Committee, Islamic Relief Worldwide, ICNA Relief, KindHearts, Life for Relief and Development, and the Zakat Foundation. Other professional foundations - the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) and the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) - are organizing American Muslim physicians to travel to the region and offer medical assistance.

Other task force members include: Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), Freedom and Justice Foundation, and National Council of Pakistani Americans (NCPA).

"A coordinated program between all Muslim organizations in North America will help improve the quality of service to provide immediate assistance to the affected people in the region," ISNA President Muhammad Nur Abdullah said.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

The Oct 8 natural calamity in the form of earthquake was, in fact, the first-ever of this magnitude that struck the northern parts of Pakistan. The death doll which is currently estimated around 40,000 is feared to rise even beyond 100,000 when the rescue operations come to an end.

People of Pakistan as well as of other countries have displayed a great deal of generosity and have come forward with all possible assistance. People in all corners of the country felt the pain of the disaster as they are linked together with a sense of being Pakistanis. This spirit is needed to be retained and utilised in a positive direction to tell the world that people of Pakistan are not extremists.

The loss of human lives and property should be taken as a wake up call by the authorities. Setting up of a National Disaster Management Cell is the need of the hour. It should be taken seriously for the sake of safety, security and protection of the people of this country.