Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pakistan Scrambles to Aid Earthquake Survivors in Balochistan

Kids in Pakistan quake zone beg for food
By Ashraf Khan, AP, October 30, 2008

WAM, Pakistan – Children begged for food from trucks passing through Pakistan's quake zone Thursday as the death toll rose to 215 and survivors prepared for another frigid night camped out amid wrecked mountain villages.

Provincial government minister Zamrak Khan said 215 people died and hospitals were still treating dozens of people who were seriously injured in the 6.4-magnitude quake that struck before dawn Wednesday.

Soldiers and foreign aid groups distributed blankets, warm clothes and tents, in Baluchistan province, near the Afghan border, but many among the estimated 15,000 homeless complained of receiving little help.

"The earthquake destroyed our houses, but now the government's slow response is killing us," said Moosa Kaleem, sitting with his wife and four children in the town of Ziarat. "We cannot spend another night in this chilling weather, especially the kids."

A poorly managed aid effort in Baluchistan could add to anti-government sentiment as the country's new leaders battle violence by Islamist extremists and try to fix mounting economic problems.

The region is home to a separatist movement but has been spared the level of militant influence and violence seen in other tribal areas along the Afghan border.

Members of hard-line Islamist political parties and groups, including one listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, were among the first to aid quake victims.

The same groups helped out in the aftermath of a quake that killed 80,000 people in Kashmir and northern Pakistan in 2005, something analysts say gave them added legitimacy.

Aid groups said emergency shelter and warm clothing were urgently needed. Temperatures are close to freezing in the worst-affected areas more than 6,561 feet above sea level.

Dozens of children lined main roads in the region running after trucks in the hope of being thrown food.

"I am hungry, my mother is hungry," said 9-year-old Zarin Gull. "We must get food. We last ate yesterday evening."

The need for shelter was specially acute because many people, whose homes were untouched or only partially damaged, were choosing to sleep outdoors for fear of aftershocks.

Local officials and lawmakers repeatedly called on the central government and international community to provide more help.

"It is a complete emergency here. Nobody has anything to eat and drink," said Ziarat Mayor Dilawar Kakar. "We need a lot of resources to reconstruct, and stabilize these trauma stricken people."

The U.N. World Food Program pledged to supply two months worth of emergency rations for those displaced by the disaster, while the Red Cross was distributing 2,500 tents.

In the hillside hamlet of Kawas, soldiers distributed blankets, tents and sleeping bags to an impatient crowd of 500 people and helped load two dozen trucks with supplies destined for other areas.

In the capital Islamabad, Farooq Ahmad Khan, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said Pakistan had not issued an appeal for foreign assistance, but any help would be accepted.

Pakistan is prone to seismic upheavals since it sits atop an area of collision between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, the same force responsible for the birth of the Himalayan mountains.

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Pakistan Scrambles to Aid Earthquake Survivors
WSJ, October 30, 2008

WAM, Pakistan -- Authorities scrambled to help earthquake survivors in the frigid mountains of southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, as the death toll from the temblor rose to 215.

The 6.4-magnitude quake hit an area of Pakistan's Baluchistan province near the Afghan border before dawn Wednesday, demolishing an estimated 2,000 homes in a string of villages.

"Oh God, what have you done?" wailed one woman as she surveyed the ruins of hard-hit Wam village. The woman, who didn't give her name, said she had lost two brothers, two sons and a sister-in-law.

More than 24 hours after the quake struck the impoverished region, residents and emergency workers mounted a final search for survivors or bodies buried in the rubble.

With reports still coming in from outlying areas, provincial government minister Zamrak Khan said the number of dead had risen to 215 and that hospitals were still treating dozens of seriously injured people.

The army airlifted supplies and medical teams into the hard-hit Ziarat district, where an estimated 15,000 people were left homeless in the region, which is some 26,561 feet above sea level.

Officials said several thousand people spent Wednesday night in tent camps erected by the military. But soldiers were unable to reach all outlying areas before temperatures plunged to around the freezing.

In the hillside hamlet of Kawas, soldiers distributed blankets, tents, jackets and sleeping bags to an impatient crowd of 500 people and helped load two dozen trucks with supplies destined for other areas.

Dozens of people had slept in the open near the rubble of their simple mud and stone houses. "We passed the night shivering and with the children crying. There were five of us wrapped in one blanket," said Ala Uddin, a 30-year-old farmer camped with about 15 relatives in an apple orchard.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was distributing some 2,500 tents while a medical team with one ton of supplies was helping at overcrowded hospitals.

"Overall, we think the situation is under control though there is urgent need for shelter and blankets because it is freezing up there," Red Cross spokesman Marco Succi said. The need for shelter was high because many people were too scared to sleep even in undamaged homes as aftershocks continued to rattle the region, he said.

The latest earthquake comes at a precarious time for Pakistan, with the civilian government battling al Qaeda and Taliban attacks as well as a looming economic crisis.

At least three hard-line Islamic organizations were quick to aid quake survivors, according to an Associated Press reporter who toured the area. Among them was Jamaat-ud-Dawa, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government for links to Muslim separatists fighting in India's portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

In October 2005, the group set up relief camps for survivors of a 7.6-magnitude quake that devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan, killing about 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

Countries including the U.S. and Germany have offered to help with the latest disaster. However, officials say they can cope without a big international aid effort.

- AP

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