A Relief Effort in Pakistan
Dr Asad Khan
12 November 2005
I recently returned from an ‘eye-opening’ visit to Pakistan. Our Medical team travelled to Islamabad and Muzuffarabad (The Capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir) where I had an opportunity to experience, first hand, the contributions made by individuals who had made an effort to travel and provide relief at their own expense.
During the two week relief effort our small group of Doctors and Nurses had an opportunity to aid in the management and care of many survivors injured in the earthquake the majority of which, in our case, were children ranging form the ages of a few months to ten years
Rather than give you a day to day diary of our daily activities in Pakistan I feel that it would be more appropriate to give you a summary of the work undertaken by our team, experiences when out ‘in the field’ and the institutions through which we conducted most of our work.
Below are a few photos I took from my phone which hopefully highlight some of the beautiful views of Kashmir and the ways in which many of the non-government organisations (NGO’s) were pooling their resources to help many of the 70,000 injured survivors as well as the 3 million people who have now been made homeless.
Our team operated on patients (mainly children) by day at the Al Shifah Eye hospital complex (Rawalpindi) and by night in the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Islamabad). The majority of our work took place in Rawalpindi and Islamabad however, as shown by the photos below, some of the most remarkable pictures came from our visit to a town close to the epicenter of the earthquake, Muzuffarabad.
Here the devastating effect of the earthquake was seen in its full...some of the buildings still standing (with no damage to even the windows), but the vast majority of buildings were brought to rubble. These buildings included the ‘main’ hospital, one of the local schools and the University, and these were to name but a few as explained by one of the locals. The town itself, however, attempted to function as best it could three weeks on from the initial tremor, with many shops ‘open for business’ as usual.
One of the most 'striking' pictures I took was that of one of a tent with a ‘pearly white mountain’ backdrop. Why was this mountain so special? We were told by one of the locals that the mountainous regions of this area were by in large forest-covered and would therefore normally appear as green and brown. However, a massive landslide occurred on the day of the earthquake that removed an entire mountain face on one side. ‘For those that had died in the earthquake they must have thought that they were experiencing judgement day!’ she said.
It was pleasing to see the efforts made by many of the NGO’s in Muzuffarabad, however, there was one charity that really captured my attention. For along time I had heard that the Edhi foundation had worked hard to support ‘Pakistanis in need’. But it was only when I saw the number of ambulances with ‘Edhi’ written on it's side, and the ‘Edhi Free Kitchen’ stationed outside the hospital (providing free food for the injured and homeless) that I began to appreciate how important this organisation was to the welfare of the people of this country.
We went on to see small make-shift ‘tent villages’ where victims would reside awaiting the next lorry of relief material in a hope that there may be something useful like a blanket, quilt or if they were lucky a soft mattress.
In our vein attempt to help the refugees of the ‘tent villages’ we handed out clothes and food supplies but found an unexpected response. The ‘tent-villagers’ weren’t hoarding around, waiting to pounce on the relief goods we had brought them, instead they remained by their tents watching us as we handed out the clothes and food. It was then that our guide had explained that many of the ‘tent-villagers’ were observing a fast during the month of Ramadhan.
She explained that many of these individuals were a local 'working-class' population that prior to the earthquake had been entirely self dependant. It had occurred to us that these people were not looking for charity hand outs of old clothing rejected by people living in the developed world, they were a group of individuals who had tragically lost their homes in a massive earthquake and were now looking for a means by which they could rebuild their lives, in some cases with fewer family members.
We met one young teenager who had lost both his parents but we weren’t able to appreciate the full extent of his loss until we saw his three younger sisters ‘huddled up’ together in their tent. We realized this young teenage boy would have to suddenly grow up very fast to take care of his little sisters, something others his age did not have to concern themselves about as they had the reassurance of their parents protection & care.
The most disturbing feedback I got during my the stay in Pakistan was that the UK based media coverage surrounding the disaster had in fact stopped and this at a time when the population needs to appreciate most the after effects of one of natures most destructive wonders. It is my hope that the victims of this earthquake are not forgotten because of the lack of television coverage showing their suffering, or that this is just thought of as being ‘one of many’ earthquakes that has hit this planet.
The effect that this earthquake has had on the lives of many Pakistanis is yet to be determined, the death toll still being counted six weeks on, but it is our hope that any contribution made by the overseas Pakistani reaches those that need it the most, Inshahllah.