10/10/2005, 00.00
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Christian organisations helping Pakistan

by Qaiser Felix
The Church World Service is bringing food and tents to the North West Frontier Province. Al-Jazeera laments the total absence of Islamic humanitarian organisations the government closed down in its campaign against terrorism.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Christian organisations are at work in Pakistan bringing aid to the victims of Saturday's earthquake. At the same time, Islamabad is allocating funds and is studying ways to overcome the crisis.

Rescue operations are hampered by communication links that in some areas are completely wiped out, and by the absence of Islamic humanitarian organisations which were closed recently as the government cracked down on terrorist groups.

The latest casualty figure puts the total number of dead at 19,136 with another 42.397 people injured. But Kashmir's Communications Minister Tariq Farooq warned that in his province alone there may be as many as 30,000 dead, mostly children and pupils.

"It is a whole generation that has been lost in the worst affected areas," said General Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's military spokesman.

"There are cities; there are towns which have been completely destroyed," Farooq said. "Muzaffarabad is devastated," he added, referring to the capital of Pakistan's sector of disputed Kashmir where some 3,000 people may have been killed. By his estimates, half of Kashmir's 2.4 million people have been affected by the quake.

"The worst-hit place was Bagh," the Minister noted. "There are no survivors in villages like Jaglari, Kufalgarh, Harigal and Baniyali in Bagh district".

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is in a no better situation. In one place, parents are digging in what is left of two state-run schools using their bare hands and pickaxes in an attempt to rescue some of the 850 children buried underneath.

Eyewitnesses said children's voices can still be heard calling for help: "Save me. Call my mum."

Rescue operations continue despite the huge difficulties created by impassable roads and blocked communications links.

In the capital Islamabad two people were brought out alive from the rubbles of the Margala Towers bringing to 80 the total number of those rescued.

The Church World Service of Pakistan and Afghanistan (CWS-P/A)—which is part of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) International—is providing assistance to some 1,600 families in the NWFP.

Its relief efforts so far include having moved shelter kits and family food packages to Murree. Relief packages for each family consist of wheat flour (40 kg), rice (15 kg), pulses (7 kg), cooking oil (5 litres), sugar (5 kg), tea leaves (1 kg), salt (1 packet) and a packet of matches.

Aid distribution is being coordinated by CWS-P/A's offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Mansehra and Murree. Three teams are currently assessing needs and determining what longer-terms response may be needed.

CWS P/A is also planning on setting up medical camps in the affected areas.

A Pakistani source involved in the rescue operations told Arabic-language satellite TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera that the total absence of Islamic humanitarian organisations is making the situation even more dramatic.  

The same source said that because of the government's anti-terrorist crackdown following the London bombings all of the country's 16 Islamic humanitarian organisations have been shut down.

Al-Jazeera's correspondent confirmed that the Musharraf government is relying exclusively on international aid and the army to conduct rescue operations.

Yesterday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced that the relief package for quake victims would be raised from one to five billion rupees.

Cabinet ministers also decided to donate one month salary to the relief fund and to hold a daily cabinet meeting till the crisis is over.

Abdul Sattar Edhi, founder and head of the Edhi Foundation, announced a donation of 10 million rupees in favour of quake victims.

Edhi's ambulances have been dispatched to the affected areas to carry the injured and dead to nearby hospitals. 

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See also
Balochistan: violent earthquake overnight, at least 160 dead
Helicopters and money to fly them are needed to help Kashmir
Hundreds of quake victims on Banyak Islands
Bad weather grounds quake relief helicopters
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims


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