| by Rizwan
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
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
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.
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).