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November 9, 2005
Column #1,263

                           Earthquake Victims Freeze in Pakistan

The worst earthquake in decades killed 87,000 people in Pakistan, and left 50,000 severely injured. What's more devastating is that 3 million people lost their homes in 2,775 villages. A half million people are utterly without shelter as winter approaches. 

The UN Flash Appeal sought $550 million but a month after the disaster, donors have met only 15 percent of its appeal. Contributors are understandably disaster weary. They gave generously to the Tsunami victims. Months later U.S. donors unstintingly poured out $2 billion to Katrina victims.

However, landslides have blocked roads isolating Pakistani villages perched high on distant mountain ranges or deep in remote valleys cutting off hundreds of thousands from any relief. Area  hospitals, schools and government buildings were destroyed along with homes.

Even in Muzaffarabad, the destroyed capital of Pakistani Kashmir, many survivors do not have tents. Tariq Eqbal, an engineer who lived in a wealthy area of the city that is now a tangle of devastation, sleeps outside next to the ruins of his house. He says, "We've no tent and there's not enough drinking water. We have to travel 5 kilometers to a mountain spring for water."

However, the worst situations are high in the mountains, where temperatures are already far below freezing. The Pakistani government is creating a number of tent cities in the warmer valleys. However, many want to remain behind. A man named Atiqullah, is quoted by The Washington Post, as being afraid to leave his makeshift shelter of plastic and wood, though snows will soon come in drifts as tall as a man.

Why? He is not willing to trade his family's self-reliant life with his cattle for a future with destitute refugees. "I will stay here with my cattle. I will die here," he says.

There are 200,000 people like Atiqullah clinging to hillsides with little more than hope and dignity. They deserve help as much as those who go to tent cities.

What are the strategies of major relief organizations?

Catholic Relief Services (800 736-3467)) secured 8,000 tents and is using local materials to create a more permanent homes for people with plastic tubing that makes a barrel vault winterized shelter covered by a plastic tarp, which is easy for a family to build. Another version uses wooden or steel frames, plus local stone or brick for walls. These cost $350 and $500 respectively. Catholic Relief's goal is to serve 75,000 people, at a cost of $10 million - $15 million.

World Vision (88-56-CHILD) has 120 staffers providing relief that has included distributing 42,000 tons of food and 10,000 tents. However, there is a worldwide shortage of winterized tents. Therefore, World Vision is also creating more permanent homes with a steel arc of 20-foot pipes to form a tunnel and corrugated iron roofing. The ends of these tunnel homes are covered with quilted canvas and a small stove installed with a stove pipe.

World Vision is also creating large shelters for child-friendly spaces to bring school children in from the cold, offering their parents an opportunity to build housing from the rubble. The children are fed, provided supervised play and trauma counseling.  Three shelters have been built so far and 20 more are planned if World Vision is able to raise the $15 million it seeks.

No organization is doing more than the Red Cross and its international affiliates, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which works with the Red Crescent, a Muslim counterpart. It has already helped 50,000 people and aims to reach 200,000, most of whom will be served in their own villages, preventing the need for them to leave their communities.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger visited Pakistan last week and reported that Pakistan will be the agency's second biggest operation after Sudan. It has deployed seven helicopters, soon to be increased to ten, which carry relief supplies to remote areas, and then bring the wounded back for care in a 120-bed field hospital it built on a Muzaffarabad soccer field.

Kellenberger was particularly concerned about the number of people who are losing limbs, and pledged to create a specialized orthopedic clinic to reconstruct hands and feet crushed by falling roofs and to aid amputees. To contribute, call 800 HELP NOW.

Without major infusions of relief, there could be more deaths this winter from the cold and from diseases such as cholera in poorly sanitized tent cities than were caused by the earthquake.

As Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Let us not become weary in doing good."

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