11/09/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Non-stop aid needed in Kashmir

by Verenia Keet

Four weeks after the Kashmir quake, there is still a shortage of tents, medical help and transport means. A Caritas worker gives his account.

Mansehra (AsiaNews) – Human resources and other means available for quake survivors in Indo-Pakistani Kashmir are "still only a few". The cold, health needs, lack of transport means, as well as the inefficiency of some NGOs "make it difficult to conduct first aid operations" for people who survived the 8 October earthquake. Tom ten Boer is a member of Cordaid, the Dutch Caritas, and he is leading the first aid team in Pakistani Kashmir. His account outlines the development of aid and shortcomings which must be overcome if human lives are to be saved. We reproduce his testimony below.

Four weeks after the disaster, a realistic look at the situation gives a negative and a positive feel. The positive side is that now we can understand what is more useful to help survivors and we are able to reach more difficult areas. We have reached villages which waited 25 days for first aid.

The absolute priority continues to be warmth, shelters for displaced people, however skilled medical personnel are also a main concern: we need surgeons who can work in critical conditions because even hospitals are semi-destroyed here and we have very little equipment. Doctors must go where people are gathered together, because they cannot come to us themselves, and to operate even in a tent if necessary. Caritas has a group of very highly skilled doctors who face this situation daily, but others are needed to vaccinate against tetanus, polio and measles.

The negative side is that we do not have enough tents, we cannot carry out a child vaccination campaign and we cannot make doctors work 24 hours a day. The number of patients in rural areas who need medical intervention is beyond our control.

Streets are fragile and aftershocks have left the territory vulnerable. At times, we cannot send tents and enough medical and food aid to a given village because a large truck would be unable to travel on the road due to the risk of landslides. So we must send smaller trucks, already knowing that this will trigger stampedes and possible division among village residents because of the scarcity of supplies.

Transport is not guaranteed: at times we agree with local drivers with decent means to take material, but they do not turn up on the agreed day because someone else would have offered them more money.  

People are not coming down from the mountains because they are afraid: before 8 October, they had a house in Balakot where to spend the winter but now Balakot no longer exists. Whoever is in the mountains is holding firmly onto the land he owns there, because he is afraid it may be stolen in the winter. Mountain property has an ancestral value here. People had stashed away winter provisions underground, which now have been swallowed up by the earth. Grain was not protected from the rains and it is now unusable, but all the same, they will not come down. We must go to them.

Caritas Pakistan has a wealth of experience in development of local projects, but not in such large-scale disasters. It is the first time I have seen them at work. The strength of Caritas lies in its qualified personnel. It sends the right people to the right places. Unfortunately, not many associations work this way and they move only when there is need for immediate action, without preparation.

The most important thing is the humanity with which we treat everyone: if a person is not satisfied with what we have done to help him, then it means we have not done enough.

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