Aid slow to arrive in quake zone
Food, blankets and other supplies poured into northern Pakistan
BATA MORA, Pakistan – Food, blankets and other supplies poured into northern Pakistan on Wednesday as the mission in the Kashmir earthquake turned from rescue and toward relief for the 3.3 million people affected by the disaster.
But four days after the quake that government officials believe may have claimed more than 40,000 lives in Pakistan and India, many of those worst affected had yet to see any aid, despite huge pledges from around the world.
«Our resources are very stretched — every time we rush to one place we hear of another place that is worse,» said army Colonel Y.P. Sayyaj in the mountain town of Bata Mora in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.
«I know people are suffering but we have to prioritize. Everyone will get help in the end.»
In an address to the nation late on Wednesday, President Pervez Musharraf asked his countrymen to show forbearance for delays and reminded them of the remote, mountainous location of the worst affected areas.
«This tragedy is much bigger than the capacity and capability of the government as a whole. We have to face this challenge,» he said.
The official toll from Saturday’s quake remains at 23,000 dead and 51,000 injured in Pakistan, and 1,200 dead on the Indian side of the disputed region.
The situation on the ground in both countries appeared to be mostly marked by chaos, anger, desperation and undiluted grief. Quake victims and international relief officials alike expressed frustration at the slow pace of relief.
«The world has forgotten we exist. You are the first people here asking about us besides some soldiers who pulled out bodies on the first day,» a villager in the Indian hamlet of Pingla Haridal told a Reuters team.
People complained that even when supplies are sent, looters steal them before they can reach the right communities.
Outside Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir and among the worst-hit cities, a crowd of men battled each other to grab boxes of bottled water, blankets and biscuits from a truck.
«We only see things coming and going, we need food, we need water,» said one man.
Amanullah Khan, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which seeks an independent state of Kashmir, told Reuters inadequate relief was breeding resentment against the Pakistani government.
«Definitely people here feel a sense of alienation when they hear that residents of Margala Tower were rescued within 36 hours,» he said referring to an apartment collapse in Islamabad that was the only significant damage in the Pakistan capital.
Saturday morning’s 7.6 magnitude earthquake was the strongest to hit the region in a century and has severely stretched the resources of the Pakistani army.
Military spokesman Shaukat Sultan estimated earlier on Wednesday that 3.3 million people had suffered in the disaster, which affected a 20,000 sq-kilometre (7,700 sq-mile) area.
A federal relief commissioner has been appointed to oversee the relief operation, reporting directly to the prime minister, and some 55,000 troops have been deployed in the region.
Officials were talking less about finding anyone alive, but the possibility of miraculous rescues still hung in the air.
Rescue workers still had hopes for finding survivors among some 39 people unaccounted for from Margala Tower, where two people were pulled out alive on Tuesday night. A woman was found alive at a site in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday.
Authorities are now most concerned about the weather and the onset of winter, which usually comes in mid- to late-October.
Weather officials in Pakistan and India said they expected isolated rains throughout Kashmir and the Hazara area of the North West Frontier Province over the next couple of days.
Night-time temperatures are already falling to as low as 6-7 degrees Celsius (43-46 degrees Fahrenheit) and will drop even further by the end of the week, one official said.
The news is a nightmare to hundreds of thousands who are sleeping out in the open either because their homes have been destroyed or because they fear the aftershocks that continue to rock the region.
U.N. officials have warned of a risk of cholera and pneumonia and Muzaffarabad’s health director Khawaja Shabir said malaria and other diseases were already breaking out there, with hospitals wrecked and many doctors dead.
In his speech on Wednesday, Musharraf asked for donations, both from Pakistanis and from overseas, to a special fund set up to pay for the cost of rescue, relief and reconstruction, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
So far, Pakistan has received pledges of $350 million from abroad for Saturday’s quake, and the relief fund has raised $16.6 million domestically.
Musharraf singled out India’s offer to help for special praise, a significant gesture between the nuclear-armed rivals.
A planeload of relief supplies arrived from India on Wednesday but Islamabad has politely declined an offer of helicopters, which strays into the sensitive military arena.
U.S. helicopters have been very visible, however, and on Wednesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice posed for photos next to one that had just evacuated patients from the quake zone to Islamabad. Rice visited Islamabad to pledge U.S. support.
«I just want to tell the people of Pakistan, know that our thoughts are with you. That we will be with you not just today but also tomorrow as you try to rebuild,» she said after meeting Musharraf.