Crisis continues in Pakistan as the world forgets
This Friday marks six months since a 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed 88,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless in northern Pakistan and Kashmir.On behalf of the American Alpine Club’s effort to respond in partnership with the Alpine Club of Pakistan, I was in Pakistan for eight weeks helping with the distribution of aid. Pakistanis are some of the kindest people I have met. They have an incredible ability to laugh, most especially at themselves, in spite of the ruin around them. The entire town of Balakot, which is within Pakistan and home to 300,000 people, has been declared too seismically unstable for reconstruction. Pakistani authorities announced that the entire city of Balakot will be moved to a yet to be disclosed location.The city of Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, has a bleaker future. Fully two-thirds of the city – home to 600,000 people – has been declared unsuitable for reconstruction.
It, too, will likely need to be relocated. But given the region’s tumultuous geopolitical history, torn between the competing political ambitions of Pakistan and India, the prospects of moving people out of Kashmir will certainly be problematic.When I woke up yesterday morning, I learned the family of Mumtaz Alam is among those whose land has been declared “red zone” of Muzzafarabad. It was Mumtaz Alam’s family whose tent village I lived in while working in the region. They cared for me when I was sick, fed me and, in collaboration with the 11 Pakistani men I was working with, threw a surprise birthday party for me. It was by no means the only horror he’s lived through.After hours of digging in the rubble immediately after the earthquake, Mumtaz sat and cried on top of the school his daughter attended. He heard his 4-year old daughter, Anie, calling, “Daddy, why are you crying? I need some water.”Anie was the only child in the class of 30 to survive the collapse of her school. All 7,669 schools in this region collapsed, killing 40,000 children. The 300,000 children who survived are still out of school.
Life in the villages is difficult. The earthquake shifted water supplies, forcing people to walk 30 minutes or more for water. There are more than 200 national and 56 registered international nongovernmental organizations, such as Oxfam, working hard to help in this crisis.The senior media officer of Oxfam is an old friend. Through him I came to know the work of Oxfam International. I was impressed with their dedication, the obscenely long hours they work and the scope of their programs. Oxfam has provided water and sanitation facilities for over 540,000 men, women and children in Pakistan. The organization has distributed winterized tents and transitional shelter kits for more than 350,000 people and reached over 60,000 people already with its livelihood programmed.There is still so much work to be done, and so few resources to do it with.
Two thousand aftershocks have rocked the area since Oct. 8, 2005. In the past three weeks, five tremors rated between 5.2 and 5.4 have caused more destruction and killed at least 12 more people.Roads to remote areas are still closed and aren’t expected to be open until July. Helicopters are the only source of aid for these areas, and funding issues just cut the fleet from 70 helicopters to 30. Food distribution provided by two key international agencies stopped April 1. The camps started closing March 10, in hopes of completing the return of internally displaced people by the end of the month in time for April’s planting season. The mountain economy is dependent on agriculture and livestock, much of which the earthquake destroyed. Terraced fields were also destroyed, however, making the prospects of planting this month impossible.Unfortunately, international media quickly lost interest in the earthquake that rocked Pakistan last fall. Aid was slow to come. And international donors were sluggish in their response. Billions are still needed for relief, recovery and reconstruction.Sallie Dean Shatz will present a slide show and talk on Pakistan at 7 p.m. today at the Aspen Youth Center, located inside the Aspen Recreation Center. Visit salliedeanshatz.com or call 948-2901 for more information.
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