We have lost an entire generation, Pakistan army sources told news agencies. "It's worse than media report," says Greg Mortenson who has set up schools in remote mountain villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1993. Image of a climbers' porter's son, ExplorersWeb.

Image by ExplorersWeb courtesy Explorersweb, SOURCE
"During this month is the Muslim season of Ramadhan, the holiest of Islamic times, when people fast from about 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. with no food or water, and also a time for prayer, charity and forgiveness. This could be our finest hour to begin healing and mend America's faltering credibility and reputation overseas," writes Greg. Image of a local truck, ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).

Greg Mortenson on Pakistan Earthquake: Important to not rely on media wires

Posted: Oct 10, 2005 08:24 pm EDT
Among the earthquake victims, Pakistan authorities fear there will be a huge number of children: Most were at school when the earthquake struck, turning the buildings into rubble. We have lost an entire generation, army sources said.

Few westerners know the area more intimately than Greg Mortenson. Since his 1993 climb on K2, Greg has established the Central Asia Institute and done over 30 trips to set up schools in remote mountain villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg is a no nonsense, hands on man. Little has been known about his work, compared to more famous establishments such as the Hillary fund in Nepal.

Greg just wrote up a first hand report on the current situation in Pakistan, and an urgent plea for help to the nation.

Pakistan Earthquake
By Greg Mortenson

"Pakistan's 7.6 Richter scale earthquake is one of the largest, most catastrophic in the last century in SW Asia.

I talked with over a dozen people in different parts of northern Pakistan, and the first hand reports sound much disastrous than any media reports. Just an hour ago, I spoke with a friend, Abdul, who went through the Kohistan area over the weekend. Kohistan is the volatile tribal region in the Diamir region southwest of Nanga Parbat. He said the 9 a.m. earthquake rocked the whole
valley, and 'kakas' (old men) says it's the worst earthquake they remember.

10 Katrinas

Abdul told me that the worst damage in Kohistan were landslides, which followed the earthquake and wiped out entire villages.

I've heard that in the epi-center of Azad Kashmir, hundreds of thousands of mountain villagers are homeless, out in the rain, and cold, without blankets, food or shelter, and thousands of children who used to be in school, don't know if they will ever get that chance again, as it will take a decade to get impoverished areas back to where they were. From what I've heard, the fatalities and consequences of this disaster add up to about 10 Katrinas.

Mudslides and rock falls

Ghulam Parvi, our Pakistan manager, based in Skardu, told me there are hundreds of remote mountain villages not accessed yet - and the first few helicopters on site report dozens of entire villages wiped out, but in Baltistan's K2 area, only reports about five people killed so far.

Sarfraz Khan, one of our field managers who works in the Wakhan corridor or Afghanistan, and extreme northern Pakistan's remote villages, told me via satellite phone that just as bad as the earthquake damage were all the subsequent mudslides and rock falls which came tumbling down from the mountains, unleashed by the earthquake.

Although significant telecommunications are out, the verbal messages coming in from Hushe, Braldu - Askole, Shegar valley etc. are that there are - so far - only a handful of deaths in the Baltistan area, which is the K2 Karakoram area.

Far from over

So far, no reports of any of our Pakistani friends who are porters, guides and affiliated with climbers or tourism that are killed, or any Central Asia Institute (CAI) schools destroyed.

Generally, an earthquake in the remote Karakoram / Hindu Kush villages do not level the earthen houses as much as urban concrete and rebar buildings, but the later mudslides, and subsequent rockslides can be devastating.

Earthquakes also make for precarious later rockslides - example Khanday (Hushe valley) - where earlier 1990's earthquakes probably weakened the slopes about Khanday, which broke with snowmelt and rainfall and subsequent massive 1999 landslide. I learned about this in a 2001 conference with FOCUS humanitarian that helps to predict landslides etc.

"I'm afraid this will soon be forgotten"

In Pakistan, the worst hit area is in Balakot, near Abbattobad, around 80-100 miles north of Islamabad, in the Azad Kashmir foothills where whole villages and towns have been destroyed. At one girls' school near Balakot more than 250 girls are either dead or trapped inside a school (earthquake struck just before 9 AM), where they have so far rescued 40 girls.

But there also is significant damage in Kohistan, Peshawar, Islamabad, Jhelum and just about everywhere. The damage, destruction and deaths are catastrophic, and I'm afraid with all the issues in Iraq and Katrina, this will soon be forgotten.

The Pakistan Army and Red Crescent most reliable

It's important to get first hand field reports, and not rely on media wires. Last year, and in 2003, there were earthquakes in the Nanga Parbat, Diamir and Kohistan area, the media only reported a few deaths, and later we found out it was in the hundreds and thousands of villagers displaced etc. Since last winter 2004-2005 was the highest snowfall in 40 + years in the Karakoram / Hindu Kush, this also contributed to the devastation now.

The most effective, reliable, on the ground agency ready to deal with this is the Pakistan Army, and in a smaller capacity the Red Crescent Society, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

Our finest hour: This month of the Ramadhan

As far as I am concerned, its payback time for USA to support Pakistan in a big way. I would encourage everyone to contact their government leaders and demand that hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid be sent immediately to Pakistan, which can render assistance through their military.

The U.S. government puts over $ 90 billion annually in Iraq for our military expenditures, and about $ 12 billion in Afghanistan, so our government could easily cut a check for $ 1 billion and give it to the Pakistan, which has a population of 149 million, and help their military immediately get relief on the ground.

The impact would be huge, during this month is the Muslim season of Ramadhan, the holiest of Islamic times, when people fast from about 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. with no food or water, and also a time for prayer, charity and forgiveness.

This could be our finest hour to begin healing and mend America's faltering credibility and reputation overseas.

Pakistan one of America's closest ally

What I am afraid of, is with the tsunami, Katrina, and Iraq, this disaster, one of the biggest in the last century, will be forgotten within a week or two, and in the wake, terrorist groups will use that to their advantage.

Pakistan has been one of America's closest ally in the 'war on terror'. Last November, against public demand, President Musharraf deployed 70,000 troops into Waziristan to flush out insurgents, and lost 468 soldiers in that campaign.

This year, Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled on August 29th that madrassa certificates (called 'sanas') are invalid. Even though USA is dealing with the Katrina disaster, I am aware of huge stockpiles of blankets, medicine etc. at Ramstein Air base in Germany, and in Qattar and Kuwait that could immediately get to Pakistan.

Media stays at five star hotels

Most of the western media stays at five star hotels in Islamabad, and go out for an hour or two for a dispatch and back to the hotel, or uses stringers to get information, which is not a reliable, accurate depiction of the true scale of this.

I have great admiration and respect for the people of Pakistan. Although media reports suggest it is increasingly more extremist, that view only represents less than 5% of the people. The great majority of moderate Muslims in this country of 149 million are greatest allies in a region of fragmented peace.

Pakistan and USA have a decades long relationship, it was Pakistan that first helped broker d├ętente between USA and China during the Nixon years, helped USA funnel personnel and arms into Afghanistan in the 1980's to overthrow the Russians, and Pakistan who has been America's closest ally in the 'war on terror'.

President Musharraf has had two assassination attempts by al Qaeda

Pakistan has given tens of thousands of troops and police to the United Nations peacekeeping forces to be deployed in some of the world's most volatile hotspots like Congo, Burundi, Sri Lanka, and Zaire.

Pakistan President Musharraf is often accused of giving terrorists refuge, but that is not a fair statement as one could say the same about President Bush, since there are an estimated 200 plus al Qaeda residing and hiding in USA, which he can't seem to round up.

Pakistan has killed or captured more al Qaeda and Taliban-types than any other country except USA, and in the last year lost 453 troops in fighting terrorists. Last year, with only a week's request, Pakistan deployed 70,000 troops into the very rugged mountains of Waziristan, part of the Northwest Frontier Province, NWFP, where Osama is currently believed to be hiding.

President Musharraf has had two assassination attempts by al Qaeda, and personally taken a huge risk to crack down on extremists."

Greg Mortenson, founder and Executive Director of Bozeman-based Central Asia Institute (www.ikat.org) has worked for 12 years in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan to set up schools and education, especially for girls.

In the last decade, Mortenson has spent more than 60 months over 30 trips to northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has spent more time in the region than any other American.

Mortenson's effort to build schools, that began with a 1993 climb on K2, are profiled by Mark Jenkins, writer for OUTSIDEmagazine, who recently visited Afghanistan's remote Wakhan corridor with alpinist and avalanche expert Doug Chabot, in the current November 2005 OUTSIDE magazine ("A Short Walk In The Wakhan").

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