Today, Pakistan dramatically increased the official death toll to 73,276. Greg Mortenson, who has worked and lived in the Karakoram since a 1993 climb on K2 is now headed back to Pakistan, and sent over a new report on the situation to ExplorersWeb.
There are good news and bad news. The bad news: With 978 aftershocks, and winter just a few weeks away, only 20% of promised aid has reached Pakistan. As the temperatures drop, helicopters could soon stand frozen on the ground due to lack of fuel. Silence will bury Pakistan.
Lives will not have been lost in vain
The good news are a bit surprising. November 7, the Pakistan - India disputed border that has been closed since their 1965 war will re-open for relief and medical assistance, uniting thousands of divided families: "If this earthquake brings peace for our countries, then the earthquake martyrs lives will not have been lost in vain," says a CAI worker. In addition, several Islamic militant groups were the first to provide significant assistance within hours of the earthquake. One of them, Dr. Amer Aziz, a British-trained orthopedic surgeon, who once was Osama bin Laden's physician.
Through Greg's efforts over 30 trips to the region, 53 schools have been set up in remote mountain villages, providing education to over 22,000 children. Greg sent this dispatch as he prepares for his upcoming two-month trip to Pakistan, where part of his effort will be devoted the rehabilitation of schools and education destroyed by the earthquake. Here goes Greg's latest:
30% of the earthquake areas are still not accessible
In the wake of Pakistan's October 8th earthquake that killed 54,197 (Pakistan government 10/27/05 estimate), the international response to Pakistan's disaster continues to be minimal, and a second round of thousands of deaths has hit the devastated region.
On October 27th, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that 30% of the earthquake areas are still not accessible, and over 200,000 of the 2.8 million displaced victims remain without adequate shelter, health care or food. Each day several hundred more children and adults die from exposure, starvation, typhoid, tetanus, scabies, measles, diphtheria, and the epidemic diseases that have swept through temporary camps for the homeless.
People moving to caves
Sunday, Ghulam Parvi, our Pakistan manager, told me that in some remote mountain hamlets where little or no aid has yet to arrive, villagers are forced to live a stone-age type existence in caves, eating their remaining livestock, and digging out grubs and roots in the dirt with their hands.
Winter in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains begins in less than a month. In some villages above 10,000 ft., snow is already on the ground. Unless more aid, shelter, food, health care and relief immediately arrives, those still exposed to the brutal elements will quickly begin to die and the total casualties could easily double by years' end.
The real enemy is time
Vice Admiral John Stufflebeem, NATO commander of the 500 (so far) deployed NATO disaster relief team, said a few days ago, "That's what the real enemy is here - time."
The United Nations has called the aftermath of SW Asia's worst earthquake the world's toughest relief operation, worse than last year's tsunami, or this year's Hurricane Katrina. In Urdu, the lingua franca of Pakistan, the word for earthquake is zalzala, but according to Sarfraz Khan, one of our workers in the field, he says locals refer to this disaster as Qayamat: the Apocalypse.
A travesty of humanity
In the face of this catastrophy, the dismal response from wealthy countries is a travesty of humanity.
Despite a U.S. pledge of $ 156 million last week to help Pakistan, the paltry U.S. government response is particularly embarrassing. Only 20% of that pledge has reached Pakistan. Just imagine, the U.S. government spends roughly the same money in three hours ($30 million) in Iraq as the total aid funds delivered to Pakistan ($31 million).
Robert Smith, a U.N. spokesperson said at a recent Geneva press conference, When the money runs out, the choppers stay on the ground and that's what will happen in the next couple of days", after a major conference failed to produce significant cash. Of the U.N. estimated $ 550 million budget to handle the disaster through next spring, only 20% of that has been received in cash to date.
The Red Cross received over $ 1.2 billion for the Katrina disaster, $500 million for the Indian Ocean Tsunami, but less than $2 million to date for Pakistan's disaster relief work.
In the quake-devastated town of Balakot, Sarfraz Khan, one of our Pakistan coordinators told me he saw tent camp residents burning donated western clothing on fires for warmth and cooking due to a lack of fuel, and he saw goats and sheep dressed in the donated items to keep them warm at night against the frigid air.
According to Dr Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry, chief of Pakistan's seismological department, as of October 27th, there have been 978 aftershocks since the giant 7.6-magnitude quake. Aftershocks or earthquakes of higher than 5.0 Richter scale generally triggers off rockfall and landslides, which destroy roads, irrigation channels, and precious crops which are harvested and stockpiled for winter reserves.
Alpine paradise a lunar landscape
The Pakistan Army and Forward Works Organization (FWO) have worked round the clock to clear landslides and rockfall to open the strategic road linking Balakot with the 154 km. long Kaghan valley's sixty villages to the outside world. Continued landslides, rain and aftershocks have killed dozens of construction workers in the process. Opening roads to the Kaghan valley is a Herculean feat. Roads = Relief.
The Kaghan valley leading up to Lake Saif-ul-Muluk and the 4,148-meter Babusar Pass, and is an alpine paradise visited by trekkers for decades. Today, its' many flattened hamlets resemble a lunar landscape. Villages like Kawai, Kaghan and Naran, along the Kunhar River, are totally dependent on helicopter airdrops for aid. Even thirteen large NGO's and six Pakistan Army battalions based out of Najaf Shawal (six kilometers from the Balakot epicenter), under the command of Brig. General Qadoos, are barely making headway with the immensity of relief operations.
Al Qaeda and terrorist groups setting up field hospitals
Several Islamic militant groups, mostly with an agenda to 'liberate' India controlled Kashmir, are active in Azad Kashmir. In some places, the militants provided the first significant assistance within hours of the earthquake. Two groups are the Al-Rasheed Trust (assets frozen by U.S. for links with al Qaeda), and Jamaat ud-Dawaa (JuD), an affiliate of the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT has set up three field hospitals, and sent dozens of trucks with blankets, tents and food to Azad Kashmir. JuD's field office in Muzaffarabad is headed by
Dr. Amer Aziz, a British-trained orthopaedic surgeon, who once was Osama bin Laden's physician.
One bright spot in the earthquake disaster will be the November 7th opening of Zero Zone on the Line of Control (LOC) at five points areas along the Pakistan - India disputed border that has been closed since their 1965 war. According to the Pakistan's government, 3,274 divided families in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Azad Kashmir will be able to cross the border for relief and medical assistance.
Perhaps this significant step of détente will help bring a permanent cease-fire on the LOC area, where over 65,000 civilians (almost equal to the earthquake fatalities) have been killed in the last fifteen years from cross-border artillery duels and attacks.
The biggest event in 78 years of life
Cha Cha Abdul Razak, one of CAI's Pakistan managers, has been separated from his family on the LOC in Dras, India Kashmir, since the 1947 partition. He says the border opening is the biggest event in his 78 years of life. For him, opening the LOC is like the Berlin Wall coming down. He is determined to visit his India birthplace before he dies and says, "If by the grace of Allah Almighty this earthquake brings peace for our countries, then the earthquake shaheeds' (martyr) lives will not have been lost in vain".
Childrens learning stopped on October 8th
The long-term consequences of Pakistan's earthquake are daunting. Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that 3,991 schools were destroyed in the areas of Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot and Bagh, and UNICEF estimates the earthquake destroyed 10,000 schools in total.
The future looks dismal for hundreds of thousands of children whose 'hearts and minds' were given hope through an education. It will take at least a decade or more for Pakistan's government to restore the schools. These impoverished children, whose learning stopped on October 8th, could become easy targets for extremist groups with duplicitous agendas and ideology. Capital Hill should be keenly aware of how much compassion, and a small investment in Pakistan's educational rehabilitation could pay off, versus the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on the war on terror.
Give with heart - and smarts
Some outdoor organizations and companies plan to send western-style sleeping bags and tents used on mountaineering and trekking expeditions to Pakistan. This is well intended and not to be discouraged, but with all due respect, one should heed a word of caution: the villagers who would get these items are not aware of the flammable nature of these high-tech items. In the refugee camps, each tent houses a dozen or more people in close quarters with kerosene stoves, spilled fuel, cinders and a lack of ventilation. In 1997, a child in the Diamir region of Nanga Parbat was severely burned when a sleeping bag given to her father by a well-intended climber caught on fire.
A little money goes a long ways in Pakistan: A woolen, winter pair of Shalwar Kameez (local pajama-type clothes) cost $ 2 - 4. Chinese or Iranian winter blankets cost $8 - 12 in the bazaar (2 - 3 people can sleep under one). Large, heavy-duty canvas, winterized tents used extensively in refugee camps, are available in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar for 6,000 - 10,000 PK Rupees ($ 100 - $ 160).
You know how cold it can get
Perhaps 1,500 - 2,000 American climbers and trekkers have been in Pakistan's mountains in the last fifty years. If each of those climbers or trekkers contributed $ 100 to a charity working in the region, that would equate to $ 150,000 - $ 200,000!
Some well-equipped climbers barely survive a one-night bivvy in the freezing elements; in Azad Kashmir's mountains, a starving child without shelter has no chance when winter sets in. Let's not let this happen to our dear mountain friends in Pakistan.
(Find Greg's list of some other charitable organizations on the ground in Pakistan in the links section)
Gregs CAI has twelve years experience in northern Pakistan mountain villages. The organization is small, but effective on the ground, and works mostly in remote mountain regions, with focus on girls education. Disaster aid is focused on long term support of schoolchildren impacted by earthquake with temporary tents and supplies to continue education
Central Asia Institute
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Phone 406 585 7841
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