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Earthquake: Regime Fails
by Rizwan Atta

LAHORE (0CTOBER 14): No one exactly knows the exact earthquake toll in Kashmir and Pakistan.Estimates range between 50,000 to 100000. On October 13. The regional WHO director, Hussein A Gezairy, termed the earthquake a catastrophe bigger than that of tsunami in terms of destruction it caused to the infrastructure.

Children are worst hit since thousands of school buildings collapsed. Only in NWFP province, 8000 school buildings collapsed. Many children are missing their parents. There is no policy yet to take care of orphans. Syed Fazal ul Haq, executive director Pakistan Medical Institute of Medical Sciences, told the journalists: "The government has not announced any policy for the adoption of these children."

The Pakistani authorities estimate that four million people were directly hit by the earthquake while one million face an acute situation ( total loss of shelter and livelihood). According to authorities, nuclear facilities at Kahota and Chashma remained unhurt. One wonders what it could lead to in case nuclear facilities were hurt.

Relief still not reaching

There was no equipment; infrastructure or arrangements available to effectively launch rescue operations in Northern Areas of Pakistan and Kashmir. Policies of the successive governments aggravated the destruction as lack of rescue arrangements made rapid response impossible. Response was slow and on the first day, efforts were concentrated on posh Margalla Towers in capital Islamabad. Authorities were unable even to assess the scale of destruction outside of capital Islamabad. At the time of writing these lines, military rescue teams have not reached number of villages and towns in Pakistani-Held Kashmir (PHK) as well as NWFP province. Army teams reached many areas after 24 hours and only 12 helicopters were mobilized. NATO forces from neighbouring Afghanistan sent few helicopter when General Musharraf openly admitted ‘we do not have enough’.

Ironically, military regime accepted with thanks the NATO helicopters but refused an offer from India even when India had better access to Kashmir and could prove more useful.
Even the pro-regime politicians in Kashmir are complaining that no relief has reached the affected areas. A Reuters team on Thursday trekked up Jhelum Valley, crossing six big landslides and passing numerous rock falls on a 10-kilometre stretch of road to reach the small market town of Gharidupatta, 25 km east of Muzaffarabad. This team found that although army helicopters evacuated most of the injured, residents said they hadreceived no aid.

Profit not Need

Relief workers complain that transport companies have hiked their fare from Rs3,000 to Rs 6,000 for Kashmir and Balakot. Foreign journalists and rescue workers are, in particular, exploited as transporters charge double the fare. A truck driver who would normally charge Rs5,000 per trip to Kashmir, now asks Rs8,000-10,000. There are, however, some who have been transporting relief goods free of cost

There is an extreme shortage of tents, tarpaulin and other shelter items across the country. The tent prices are on the rise and traders are making their fortune. Market traders are out to fully cash on the situation. In Kashmir and Balakot, in the grip of cold, people are desperate for tents and blankets. The prices of Kafan (sheet to cover deadbody) have also increased. A company "donated" expired meat and now facing a case on charges of fraud. Also, blankets have become a rare item in the market as their stocks have already depleted owing to huge buying by the companies and people for donation purposes. Traders are charging 40-50 per cent more for blankets.


Regime is claiming and self-praising its ‘effective relief work’. The state.- controlled Pakistan Television (PTV) is airing press briefings and interviews by the government officials, ministers, prime minister and General Musharraf round the clock. The PTV is playing the mouth piece of the regime with absolutely no criticism of flawed relief efforts. In live programs, phone calls critical about aid activities are not welcomed. When journalists from government-controlled media talk to the survivors, they interview the survivors at Islamabad hospitals. The programme hosts at state tv channels keep insisting on maintaining "national unity" on this occasion. Officials, however, are not happy with the coverage by the private channels as private channels are showing live interviews and views of the survivors.

Regimes Priorities

Regime is right when it talks about the enormity of the devastation. But wrong about enormity of its relief work. No official ,however, explains or answers why state appratus absolutely lacked arrangements to mount rescue efforts. The successive governments in Pakistan have always completely neglected arrangements to cope with such disasters. Priority for Mushraff regime, for instance, was not to buy helicopters for relief purposes but to buy fighter jets F16s from the USA. Rescue operations are not possible from F16 jets bought from the USA. Pakistan paid $685 million for the first cache of 28 F-16s .

In earthquake-prone areas, there was no training imparted either to residents or rescue workers to deal with disaster situations. Even in capital Islamabad, rescue workers resorted to the use of heavy machinery to remove the rubble. It was the British rescue team that stopped them from using such machines.

When earthquake, with relatively low intensity, hit Lahore, people rushed outside of the houses. But only men. Women remained inside as they are preached in this extremely male dominated society to remain always inside homes.

Religious non sense

General Musharraf asked the people to pray for deliverance on Friday prayers. Officials, political leaders and host of columnists are attributing the earthquake to God’s wrath or declaring it a God-sent calamity to test our faith. The religious fundamentalists are going bit further and saying that it is due to obscenity and our sinful way of life. It therefore should not come as surprise that four individuals set television sets on fire after a local Imam (prayer leader) in Garhi Habibullah town, issued a call to destroy TV sets to put an end to ‘increasing obscenity’.

Writer is editor Weekly Workers Struggle (Pakistan).

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