Relief efforts after earthquake in Pakistan lagging

By Syed Zubair  |  Dec. 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM
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QUETTA, Pakistan, Dec. 10 (UPI Next) --

Relief efforts in Pakistan following a Sept. 24 earthquake in Baluchistan province are lagging, with international aid organizations saying the government has refused their help.

The National Disaster Management Authority and army spokesmen say the earthquake killed as many as 386 people and injured 816. More than 30,000 families -- an estimated 200,000 people -- in Awaran district, 400 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Quetta, have been homeless since the temblor, which measured magnitude-7.7 on the Richter scale.

Awaran is considered the country's most backward district, receiving the least government aid to schools, health, potable water and other basic needs.

Villagers who lost their homes in the earthquake are worried about the coming winter and say they have not received sufficient help.

"We have just been provided tents made of low-quality material, which could not protect us even against the sun," Sabir Baloch, a laborer at a date farm and head of a family affected by the earthquake in Awaran district, told UPI Next by telephone. "How could these help us in approaching winter?"

In addition, residents say they are suffering from insufficient medical care, food and potable water.

Abdul Qudoos Ba zinjo, deputy speaker of the Baluchistan Assembly, who comes from Awaran district, told UPI Next that the earthquake caused $250 million in losses to property there.

"The government will soon announce a relief package for quake-hit people of the district," he said, adding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised during his recent visit to Awaran to launch efforts to help those affected and repair damaged infrastructure in areas hit by the earthquake.

Bazinjo said that assessment of property losses could not be completed because of resistance from militants and that rehabilitation efforts would be stepped up once assessment is completed.

Rashid Rakhsani, a nurse whose clinic in the town of Mashkey, Awaran's district headquarters, was destroyed, told UPI Next, "Malaria and typhoid are rife among quake survivors, while gastroenteritis patients have also been brought by their family members to Mashkey town because of lack of medical facilities, proper shelter and potable water."

He said all the medical facilities were concentrated in Mashkey, leaving the rest of the stricken areas deprived.

"It is reported in the media that all is going well in the quake-hit areas, which is not completely true," Rakhshani said. If a family has food, it lacks shelter, he added.

National and provincial disaster management authorities were given the task of conducting surveys to assess losses the earthquake caused to property and civic infrastructure in Awaran. In 2 1/2 months, these organizations have yet to finish assessing the damage.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees was repeatedly denied permission from the provincial government to take part in rescue and relief operations, a UNHCR official working in Quetta told UPI Next, speaking on condition of anonymity in view of militants' hostility to international humanitarian organizations.

A deputy secretary in Baluchistan's Home and Tribal Affairs Department, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, told UPI Next the government had refused international humanitarian organizations permission to go into earthquake-hit areas because of poor security after frequent attacks by militants.

Besides, he said, the scale of destruction was not so great that the government would have sought help.

"The National Disaster Management Authority, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, the Pakistan army and some local welfare organizations took part in relief and rescue efforts and ensured maximum relief to victims’ families," he said.

Local administrators stepped up relief and rescue operations in collaboration with army and Baluchistan Frontier Corps personnel, but official and independent media reported that the armed forces' relief efforts were attacked by the Baloch Liberation Front, a militant group seeking independence for the province. The BLF often hits security convoys passing through the area.

Helicopters carrying Baluchistan's chief minister, Abdul Malik Baloch, and other officials also came under rocket attack. The BLF claimed responsibility.

Abdul Latif Baloch, a primary school teacher and social worker in the Teertaj area of Awaran, told UPI Next that relief and rescue activities had not been well organized, leaving scores of families and injured in mountainous areas without help for weeks.

"Most of these families have not been assured relief yet," Baloch said.

He said relief goods, particularly tents, were of poorer quality than those from international humanitarian organizations, and that lack of clean drinking water and health facilities was spreading malaria, gastroenteritis and typhoid, particularly in children.

"Had the international humanitarian organizations been allowed to take part in relief activities in the quake-stricken areas of Baluchistan, the situation would not have been as bad as it is now," he said.

Baloch said he was astonished that the government entrusted relief and rescue activities only to public-sector emergency response agencies.

"The public sector emergency-response organizations intervened in the quake-stricken areas through influential people who ensured generous amount of relief goods to their favorites only, thus depriving a large number of quake-affected families with no political affiliation or tribal profile of the relief goods meant for them," he said.

"They were either ignored completely or given insufficient quantities of relief goods."

Khudaidad Rind, a former local councilor from the Jahoo area of Awaran district, told UPI Next there were still areas where no relief consignment had reached victims. In Non Dara village, 5,000 people have been living without shelter since the earthquake created deep cracks in the walls of their houses, Rind said.

He added that none of the victims in that area had so far received relief goods from the government.

"They were provided a small quantity of food items by welfare groups of religious organizations, but no tents," he said. "Several villages are still awaiting relief, but they are denied, given the alleged poor law-and-order situation in the district."


Topics: Nawaz Sharif
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