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South Asia earthquake: a race against time

13-11-2005 Feature

The generosity of ordinary Pakistanis in response to the 8th October earthquake is manifest everywhere in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Take the Karwan-e-Muhabbat for example. ICRC's Jessica Barry reports.

   

  ©ICRC/J. Barry/pk-e-00243    
 
Loading supplies onto the ICRC helicopters in Muzaffarabad for the flight to Chakothi    
    The Karwan-e-Muhabbat, dubbed the'Convoy of Love', was a train organized by Pakistan television and railways, that travelled from Karachi to Rawalpindi last month gathering donations of clothes, food and other supplies at every stop.
 
The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) will be distributing many of those items in and around Chakothi, together with other relief goods brought in by the ICRC. The town and surrounding villages, which lie close to the Line of Control on the route from Muzaffarabad and Srinigar, were devastated by the earthquake.
 
Until recently, the only way for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to reach this remote outpost was by helicopter, the road being blocked by landslides. With the way now open again the flow of aid will increase but it will be a race against time to bring in all that is needed before Chakothi is blanketed in snow.
 
A PRCS medical team has been running a health post on the site of the ruined health clinic for the last couple of weeks. Other PRCS staff have travelled on foot across the mountains assessing people's needs.
 
The peaks in this remote region are awesome, and for communities who are now living virtually in the open it will be a struggle to stay healthy throughout the bitter winter.
 
Up to 150 patients visit the PRCS medical facility daily.
 
" There are already a lot of colds and flu, " explains Provincial Programme Officer, Zubair Khan. " Luckily, we have been able to locate two of the medical staff from the old clinic, and hopefully they will come to help us. "    
  ©ICRC/J. Barry/pk-e-00244    
 
Zubair Khan talks with villagers about the distribution of relief supplies    
    Herders and farmers have frequented the mountains above Chakothi for generations, but what they are facing now goes beyond anything they have lived through before. Watching their stoicism as they get their lives back together puts you in awe of people's inner strength in the face of adversity.
 
Dotted over the steep slopes and along the valley floor are makeshift shelters which families have made for themselves out of corrugated iron sheeting and fallen beams and rubble. Over this they have laid maize stalks and straw, and a'roof'of tarpaulins. Others have pitched tents beside the ruins of their homes.
 
" They don't want to leave " says Zubair Khan who assessed the area over several days.
 
Chakothi was an important terminus for the'Friendship Bus'service that was launched earlier this year linking Muzaffarabad and Srinigar. Today, the walls of the waiting room are laced with cracks, lights dangle crazily from the ceiling, and debris clutters up the corners. A yellow advertising signboard hangs over the kitchen hatch in the adjoining cafeteria; it is not hard to imagine the room a-bustle with noise. Today, only the wind gusts through the smashed windows.
 
With no other building standing, it is at the bus terminal that the PRCS shelter-material, food and other supplies will be stored.
 
The medical team will dig in here over the winter, while other PRCS staff and a legion of volu nteers will handle the distribution of supplies to the 5,000 families who have been targeted for assistance.
 
With snow already visible up on the peaks, the much-needed aid cannot arrive a moment too soon.