Friday, November 25, 2005

Dr Farhan Rabbani (UK)

Dr Farhan Rabbani is a Senior House Officer in Accident and Emergency at Nelson Hospital in London.



Dear all,

Thank you all for your emails and correspondance offering assisstance to our group (Emergency Aid Uk) which has just returned from affected areas in NWFP

Thought I'd give you a short field report to update you on the situation. You may of course pass this on to others travelling out to affected areas.

The situation out in Pakistan is more dire than the worst field reports you may have read on the net. Although the earthquake occurred over 5 weeks ago, the medium to long term problems are becoming more and more apparent - shelter, sanitation, communicable diseases.

We operated with the assisstance of the Pakistan Army to try to reach more remote villages. We set up base in Balakot, where we treated the local population. we also trekked upto 3hrs each way to nearby villages. Here we found mostly women and children as well as the elderly and frail who were unable/unwilling to descend to the relief camps in Balakot. Even though we were there 4 weeks post event, there were still people who had not seen a single medic! We had two critically ill patients airlifted to Islamabad for further treatment. We also operated in Guri Dupatta under Operation Heartbeat which is being run by a Canadian called Todd Shea - amazing guy...he will put you to good use!!! Any new teams going out..I suggest you contact him...he has the means and the resources to fly you out to the remotest regions where you are needed most.

Most of our patients were suffering from psychsomatic symptoms indicative of post traumatic stress, i.e. general aches and pains, inability to focus, inability to sleep, loss of appetite. What 85% of the patients needed was good long term counselling. They will never get that.

It is easy to see the complete physical devastation of towns and villages. What is more difficult to see is that the society that existed has been ripped apart. In a culture which thrives on identified individual roles in family household (i.e man is breadwinner, female is mother and housemaker etc) there is disarray...families are incomplete, generations are mssing. I met so many 'families' where the oldest was 15 y.o...looking after numerous younger siblings....both parents dead. The support they would have had from extended families has gone. They are literally on thier own...at the complete mercy of aid workers. If we do not feed them they will die of hunger. If we do not treat them they will die of disease. If we dont shelter them they will die of the cold. It's as simple as that. They are totally DEPENDENT on our help.

PLease keep up the good work you are all doing. The priorities now are the supply of WINTERISED TENTS...the ones theyv'e got are NO GOOD...I slept in one....I know. Blankets are essential. More docs are needed...not just specialists...I means GPs and junior doctors who have a wide range of skills. The relief effort is far from over...it is not too late. People with REAL problems need you.

Inshallah, i may be flying back out in 4 weeks, anyone is welcome to join me / my team.

Get in touch.

Farhan

US volunteers find Pakistan more friendly than feared

An intersting article from the Christian Science Monitor about the experiences of American volunteers in Pakistan.

Wesley Olson, quoted in the article, worked with the same team that Imran Saithna (see post) further below worked with, building shelters in the Surul Valley.


US volunteers find Pakistan more friendly than feared

By David Montero | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

BATTAL, PAKISTAN – Doctor Mary Burry has seen ethnic strife in Kosovo, war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But she still had apprehensions about volunteering in Pakistan, a country she often equated with terrorists and violence.
"Like most Americans, I had the idea that this is a pretty dangerous place to be," she says, adding that she had never known any Pakistanis. What she discovered, however, is a country whose beauty and hospitality she is now reluctant to leave. "This totally changed my concept of Pakistan."


Her Pakistani colleagues, who have never known any Americans, candidly admit the same. "We had a feeling before that Americans are selfish and too proud," says a smiling Rezwana Ahsan, a doctor working with Mercy Corps, a relief organization. "But they are not so. They came here with an open mind and an open heart."

Their small tent among the rubble in Battal is hope that healing of a different kind is taking place in the earthquake zone. US volunteers throughout Pakistan say that, despite initial concerns, relief work has fostered a welcome forum of exchange with Pakistanis, helping to dispel misconceptions held on both sides.

No one knows exactly how many Americans are volunteering in the earthquake relief, since neither the US Embassy nor Pakistan's Foreign Ministry is keeping track. But their presence is widely felt throughout the affected areas, from tent hospitals like Dr. Burry's, to mountainside villages where volunteers are building shelters before the winter arrives.

These efforts are part of the larger outpouring of American aid that includes 1,200 US military personnel, $510 million in official US relief, as well as $22 million raised by charitable organizations and $35 million in cash and kind committed by the US corporate sector. (The international community increased its total aid pledge to $5.8 billion over the weekend.)

Only 23 percent of Pakistanis have favorable view of US

While Washington has been a longtime ally of Islamabad, Americans often hear more about the trouble spots in the relationship, including nuclear proliferation by Pakistani scientists and the possibility that top Al Qaeda members like Osama bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan. For their part, many Pakistanis harbor grievances common in the Muslim world about US foreign policy. In spring of 2005, just 23 percent of Pakistanis expressed a favorable opinion of the US, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

Pakistani officials hope the goodwill wrought by the tragedy can bring the two nations closer together.

"This tragedy has helped on both sides because people in Pakistan have had some misconceptions, but they've been greatly touched by Americans," says Tasnim Aslam, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry. "And the Americans who have come here and worked side by side with Pakistanis, their attitude must have undergone a change as well."

For some, volunteering means working for no money; for others, it has meant going beyond the normal call of duty. What they share in common, after working alongside Pakistanis, is a newfound appreciation for a country they never knew and therefore deeply misunderstood. Many say they don't want to leave anytime soon; most hope to come back.

Many Americans here are seasoned volunteers sent by organized missions, as in the case of Burry, a neuroradiologist who came through North West Medical Teams and Mercy Corps, both based in Portland, Oregon. Burry decided long ago, after witnessing the ravages of famine in Somalia, that this would be her calling. A picture she once saw of a medic in Iraq reminds her why it is important.

"The look on the medic's face, holding this child. It reminds people....," she says, fighting off an unexpected burst of tears. "Once you start to do this, you can't ignore the whole thing. You just want to be a part of it, even a small part."

Other Americans have come on their own, with no volunteer experience, only a wish to apply whatever skills they can in these hours of need. Wesley Olson, originally from Los Angeles, is something of an accidental volunteer. He was traveling around the world, and had applied for a visa to Pakistan the day before the quake struck.

"I decided if they gave me a visa, I'd go and volunteer," Mr. Olson says, adding that he'd never volunteered before. The visa eventually came through, and Olson has spent the last three weeks building shelters up in the mountain town of Surul, with a team including Pakistani doctors and volunteers from New Zealand, Australia, and India. He says he lives off his savings, paying when necessary for food and transportation. But it's all money well spent. "We're going around taking from these countries as tourists. And now it's time to give back in their hour of need."

Olson says that misconceptions were a common topic of conversation among his team. But like him, they've all come to think of Pakistan as a place they love. "All we hear about in the Western media is that Afghanistan is nearby, Al Qaeda is here. I don't want to say I had a negative concept, but I didn't know what to think." Now he lauds Pakistan as one of the highlights of his travels. "I've been to eight or nine countries by now - and by far the nicest people I've met have been here," he says.

Antiforeigner attacks occurred here in the past

It is an equation that seems to be working both ways, with Pakistani villagers saying their attitudes have also changed.

"There were some people, for political reasons, who had the wrong impression about Americans," says Ahmed Nawaz, a villager in Balakot. "But the people have seen you working with them in their hour of need and there is a great change in perception."

Some Americans, however, offer a more cautious view.

"I suspect this is a honeymoon period that may pass," says Dr. Luke Cutherell, the chief executive officer of Bach Christian Hospital in Qalandarabad, founded 50 years ago by a US missionary group. Dr. Cutherell, although American, was born in Pakistan, and has dedicated most of his life to working here. When the quake struck, he and other doctors, including eight Americans, went to 12-hour shifts, providing free treatment, medicine, and food for the patients.

Cutherell, who lost close friends in the earthquake, knows well that violent animosity toward Americans is limited to fringe groups in Pakistan. But those fringe elements also attacked a nearby Christian school for foreigners in 2002, killing six Pakistani employees. "It will take more than one period of goodwill to erase the deep animosity that some people have."

Burry hopes that efforts like hers can help erase that animosity one interaction at a time. "We always evaluate every program: Do we really want to send the next team?" She says the possibility to change perceptions on both sides alone would be worth it. "The more people who meet, the better it is," she says. "I want to come back in the winter."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Afshan Bokhari (USA)


Afshan Bokhari is an Assistant Professor at Wellesley college

Dear friends,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying the great weather. I wanted to update you on my progress in Pakistan towards the relief efforts. What started out as a fundraiser for 50 tents or $5000 became a $16,000 success!! Because of this large sum, I took the personal responsibility and charge of its expenditure and delivery of goods. I realized later that the fundraising was the easy part.

I left for Pakistan on Sunday Nov. 6th and returned on Sunday Nov. 13th. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind experience. I arrived early Tuesday morning and hit the ground running or the military helicopter flying to Muzzufarabad- the epicenter of the earthquake. My cousin encouraged me to see the conditions of the site and the victims before purchasing the tents from a local tent manufacturer. Though the trip was indeed disheartening, to see so much destruction and despair, it was also very enlightening and hopeful. I soon realized that no tent would survive the impending 12' snow falls in the region. This knowledge combined with the fact that most villagers are unwilling to leave their homes, their only prized possession, led me to the decision to buy building materials instead of tents.

The next few days were spent negotiating and purchasing 1500 corrugated metal sheets or CGI (corrugated galvanized iron) from a supplier in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. This 'vernacular' material is used throughout the region. Each 10' x 3' sheet cost approx. $10 each. We estimated for a 10' x 10' shed, we would distribute 10 sheets to each household. This would provide 150 households the means to reconstruct their homes to the extent where they could survive the winter safely until March. The rest of the funds were used for nails, hammers and transportation.

Thanks to my connections in high places my two female cousins (who work for the UNDP) and the Pakistani army and I delivered these sheets to two villages: Rawalakot and Bagh. We were driven by a military escort and our 3 jeeps with the metal sheets followed us 4 hours north of Islamabad.

The next two days (Thursday and Friday) were spent personally distributing these materials to heads of villages and to heads of households in Rawalakot and Bagh. We were quite a sight-three lone women in an area largely dominated by a male public presence. We were treated with the utmost respect and gratitude. There is no time for social norms in times of desperation.

Along the way, I did various interviews with locals and the international community helping the relief efforts. These interviews were taped for WBUR/NPR for the 'On Point' and 'Radio Diaries' series. After the producer listened to the tapes, the emotional narratives moved her to consider a longer broadcast on 'All Things Considered'. The tapes will be broadcast in December, I will keep you posted to the exact dates/times.

Most importantly, my deepest heartfelt thanks and undying gratitude to all of you who immediately contributed to this cause. It was a tremendous outpouring of affection, sensitivity and trust without which I could not have made this relief effort. It means a great deal to me knowing that I can count on my 'village' to at least save a piece of the world. I don't consider my efforts heroic but simply a resonse to a call for help. The heroes are in Pakistan who wake up daily and continue their lives knowing all they had was destroyed including innocent and defenseless loved ones. The Kashmiris do this everyday with a smile and a prayer. I sleep knowing that 150 people may also find some dignity and peace in the place where they sleep at night.

My love to you all and my prayers,
Afshan Bokhari

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Imran Saithna (London, UK)


I've been back in the UK a few days now and yet I still can't seem to focus my thoughts on anything other than the people affected by the recent earthquake in Pakistan. The faces of those who were affected, those who survived and those who didn't, seem to plague not only my sleep but also my daily thoughts. The roll-call of names runs constantly through my head as I find myself flicking through my photographs over and over again.

What I have seen over the last three weeks will undoubtedly remain with me forever. I do not regret my trip at all, it may sound cliché but for me it was truly a life-changing journey.

Immediately after the quake I had wanted to fly out to be with the people of Pakistan and to try and help them in any way that I could. However, I was afraid that I wouldn't be of any use and that I would only get in the way, so I kept delaying and delaying.

Slowly reports began to land on my desk from friends and family who were out there working on the ground, and it was on hearing these touching, sad and very real accounts that I made firm my intention to go and do whatever I could, however little it may be, to contribute to the international relief effort.

It all seemed to happen so quickly, within two days I had booked my annual leave from work, purchased my flight tickets, obtained my visa, notified my contacts in the field and finally packed my bags ready to go.

I was nervous to say the least, I tried not to show it too much in the fear that those closest to me would see how truly petrified I was. My loved ones were incredibly supportive and I believe that it is only with their blessings that I was able to achieve even the little that I did.

Upon landing in Islamabad the work started almost immediately, I arranged to meet my various contacts that evening and we talked, discussed, planned, ate and drank late into the evening and finally made a decision to leave for the field at 6am that morning.

Being fully aware of the incredible number of NGO's and Charities working out of areas such as Muzafarabad and Balakot, we chose our geographical targets very carefully. Many of the Kashmiri workers in Islamabad were quick to remind us of the hundreds of hidden villages in remote mountainous areas that had received no aid at all.

So we decided to go where no man had gone before! Teaming up with the Joint Action Committee for NGO's (JAC) meant that we were able to take not only extra volunteers with us but also a large amount of aid including extensive food rations, tents and medical supplies.

Just after Fajr that morning the team met up at the JAC offices in Islamabad, loaded up the hired trucks and set off knowing that we had a long, hard day ahead of us. After a bumpy 6 hour drive and a physically draining 3 hour uphill walk we finally reached the village of Surul, our final destination.

It's difficult for me to articulate the things I saw without getting overly emotional, but it should suffice to say that not a single building remained standing and that up until the day we left (3 weeks later) we were still pulling out dead bodies from under the rubble.

One of the things that struck me the most from my trip was the amazing faith these people have in Allah. I didn't come across a single man, woman or child that complained of their plight; in fact they all said the same thing:

'This is a test from Allah, and if we hold fast to our Deen then He will provide for us'

The work in these regions must continue, even the tents we have distributed in these areas will not last these people through the winter. In the village of Surul the locals warned us that the winter rarely brings with it less than 6-8 ft of snow.

Many of the villagers have pneumonia already and without the proper medication, warm clothes and shelter they will not last through the winter. The vast majority of children are completely traumatised, to the extent that they don't even feel the pain of their often very serious injuries. The injured continue to stream in to our medical camps caked in blood from 4-week old open wounds.

The stories I can tell from my short trip could fill books, but that is not my intention here. This piece is solely to remind you all, that just because the media has given up on Pakistan as a good story, it does not mean that the people there do not need your help.

The last figures that were presented by the media here in the UK, were still hovering around the 70-80,000 dead mark. From my work on the ground I would estimate that this figure will be closer to 400,000 dead by the end of the winter.

I was lucky enough to have worked with a team consisting of Medics, Lawyers, Reporters and Architects. We as a team gave all that we physically could during the short time we were there. Now I am back all I can do is ask that you give whatever you can from within your means.

I will never forget the people of Kashmir, the elders who treated us as their own children and the children who treated us as their playmates and peers. Their faces will remain engrained in my memory forever.

The shelters that we designed and have begun to build have now been approved by the United Nations as the best type of shelter to see the Pakistani people through the winter. However my heart quivers at the thought of how many more will die before these shelters are paid for and built in these remote areas.

I wonder that if Allah ever blesses me with the opportunity to return to these areas, how many of the faces I remember will still be alive. I wonder if the orphaned children will have found peace with their new families, I wonder if the village elders will have made it through what will be their hardest winter yet.

I know my work is not over, and even though I am back in the UK my heart is constantly with these people, and I will continue to publicise their plight, and raise awareness of the dire situation in Pakistan.

To see some of the photos from my trip, please click here.

Imran Saithna

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Charlotte Way (Oxfordshire Search & Rescue, UK)


My trip to Pakistan to help earthquake victims – October 2005

This was one of the most amazing weeks of my life, which started with a call from OSAR (Oxfordshire Search and Rescue) on Thursday, 13 October, asking me to go to Pakistan that weekend for a week. There was much to be done – we needed to take all our food, water, warm clothing and as much medical equipment as possible.

On Sunday, we arrived in Islamabad. After general mayhem at the airport (we had to constantly protect our baggage – other rescue teams had been attacked for their supplies), we had a hair-raising journey (Pakistan doesn’t do safe driving) to a “Teaching Hospital”. This had been three storeys, but the third floor had been damaged in the earthquake – there was fallen masonry in the corridors with holes in the walls, and every time there was a tremor (several times an hour), the building shook.

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The hospital, prior to the earthquake had been in a state of poverty – all the beds, such as they were, were rusty - no sheets; and the bathrooms – I will leave to your imagination – suffice to say, there was no running water. I did some dressings while we were waiting to go to the epicentre in the mountains – at first people didn’t want help because they thought they would have to pay. The injuries and wounds were horrendous – so many amputations – and nearly all were horribly infected – most having happened over a week ago. There were only mild pain killers such as paracetamol and diclofenac. A doctor from England, and another doctor, whose family had been injured in the earthquake, joined our group – the former hopes to become a permanent member of OSAR (Oxfordshire Search and Rescue).

The following day, after a 4 hour drive, we “caught” a helicopter, and after cutting through the politics, the army escorted us to a very remote town, where few buildings were still standing. This was unknown territory for the ‘copters – which with that and the unpredictable weather, caused two of them to go down in one week (no survivors). Amazingly, most of us were enthralled by both the helicopter rides and the
breathtaking scenery.

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Within about one hour of landing, we were seeing people who had travelled for miles – some walked with fractures, others were carried on makeshift stretchers. There were hundreds and hundreds of homeless, desperate people – the blank look in their eyes told us of the utter devastation in their lives. We treated many crush and de-gloving injuries, and fractures and two miscarriages. We gave courses of antibiotics, but it was Ramadan, so an interpreter explained what to do (he had lost both his children in the earthquake, but miraculously found them at the end of the week – such a happy moment for us all!)

All the people were so grateful – such gentle people, with still an amazing pride. They were also incredibly tough – some hardly cried, and when they did, we knew it must have been agony for them – the screams of children were heart-rending.

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The “operating theatre” was a tent – no sterile instruments, only a bowl of iodine on the floor. The two Pakistani surgeons were fantastic – masterful – and we were truly privileged to work with them. There were no general anaesthetics – only ketamine (used to tranquillise horses!). Amazingly, we didn’t lose one patient on the table – although post-op care consisted of lying them on the grass and keeping their airway clear.

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A few people with internal bleeding, we managed to get air-lifted, but there were fresh injuries after the second earthquake while we were there. Another frightening thought was that we wouldn’t get out – our water was running low (30 degrees + in the day, and minus 5 at night) and some places had massive rain – helicopters wouldn’t have been an option, and all the roads were impassable. I was so cold at night in our tent – we had sleeping bags, storm anoraks, double thickness everything, foil blankets and I felt frozen. Many of those poor people had nothing – and in the impending winter, even with tents, vast numbers will perish – too awful to contemplate.

Probably my worst and saddest moment was leaving behind an unconscious child who lay unattended in the sun – I keep getting flashbacks of that and so many images – it is very distressing, but nothing to what those poor people are going through.

I am so glad that I went to Pakistan – our team helped many people. I sometimes feel inadequate, in that I could have done more.

I hope this hasn’t been too harrowing – it’s been quite cathartic just writing this. I hope to do more work with OSAR (Oxfordshire Search and Rescue), particularly working on medical protocols, as well as more training in field medicine . I had only joined in August – my partner joked that he thought we might be searching for missing cats! It has got to be one of the best things I have ever done. Anyone who is interested visit OSAR website.

Charlotte Way, Registered General Nurse

Khurram Husain

Khurram Husain is an academic at Lahore University of Management Sciences in Lahore. He also heads the adventure/outdoor group at LUMS.

Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 13:21:20 +0500

Dear Friends,

We have just returned from our second trip to the village of Surul in Bagh district, Kashmir. This is to bring you up on what we have found from our work in the field so far.

Surul suffered 100 percent destruction during the quake. Not a single structure was left standing or without substantial damage. Thevillage covers a large area from the mountaintops to the road below. Mountain villages tend to be far more spread out than villages in theplains, which are clustered close together. The population of the village is reported between 3000-3500, with 1800 registered voters. The average household size is between 8-10 members and there were a reported 300 houses in the village according to 1998 census data,corroborated by the locals. There were 3 primary schools in the village, all destroyed. A lot of families have grazing fields high upon the slopes where they move during summer time with their livestock, and agricultural plots of less than 3 acres where they arrive byAugust for the harvest. The main crop is corn, harvested in August,dried on rooftops, and ground into a fine flour for winter storage.

We had planned a modest distribution exercise for about 50 families in the village, funded from private donations sent in by friends andrelatives. Combined with other amounts donated we managed a budget of Rs376,000 for this activity alone. More money is currently in thepipeline, including the sums that many of you have donated.

With these resources, we were able to accumulate supplies far in excess of what we had originally planned, including flour, lentils,cooking oil, salt, and tents. We also received donated blankets,bedding, and warm clothing for women and children in quantities sufficient to provide for 100 families.

We arrived in Surul the evening of Friday, November 4th, whichhappened to be Eid day. We set up our campsite on the grounds of thepeople we had made contact with on our previous visit. Our team consisted of 16 people (including 3 women): 3 doctors to staff and run the clinic, 5 mountaineers to conduct door-to-door assessments, andmiscellaneous volunteers to staff and run the distribution point.

On the morning of the 5th, our assessment team left with notepads anda walkie talkie to assess the households on the slopes above. Theystarted from the most remote houses and worked their way down theslope. The medical team opened the clinic, and the rest of us arranged and inventoried all the relief goods for distribution.

Within an hour or so, people started arriving with chits issued by ourassessment team and relief items were issued to them according to whatwas stated on the chits. Food rations and tents were in high demand. Soon groups of women began arriving, upon hearing the news that thereare women at the distribution point. Distribution tends to be alargely male affair, so it was good to have women on our team. Men seem primarily interested in marketable items such as tents, whereas the women were more in tune with the domestic needs of theirhouseholds, and asked for blankets, warm clothing for their children,and food. Wherever women showed up for collection, we decided to allocate additional items since one could be very sure that relief items issued to women will go directly to the needs of the family,whereas with men one was unsure whether the items will be sold on themarket. Women also showed a greater tendency to share with neighbors and relatives in need whereas men tended to think primarily of themselves. One of the great successes of our trip, in fact, was theextent to which we were able to reach out to the women of the village.

At one point, I took a small walk up the slope with the villagers. Their hospitality and manners were unscathed by their circumstances,and everywhere I went offers of tea and biscuits were in abundancefrom people living in shelters stitched from flour sacks. It was virtually impossible to turn these offers down. I was showed the rubble of house after house and the stories that went with each pileof rubble. "Here is where my brother was buried for six hours, thisis the hole we dug to pull him out." "This is where my mother and 3 children were crushed, they were in the kitchen at the time."

I was taken to a shed atop a hill. The tin roof was still intact and standing on 6 wooden beams, while the walls had all fallen in. Theplace was strewn with rubble and rocks. On the day of the earthquake,the houses all collapsed within a matter of seconds. Following thecollapse, landslides began from the mountain slopes above us and huge boulders rained down on the village, destroying whatever was left and crushing everyone in their path. Landslides of mud, gravel and rockfalls made the area treacherous for those who were not buried underthe rubble. Some ran to their houses to pull out family members. Others ran to the school to look for their children. All day, rescue and excavations were carried out with bare hands, amidst the rockfalls and landslides constantly thundering down the slopes.

At night the rains began. Many of those surviving were severelywounded, with multiple compound fractures. As darkness fell, the rain turned to hail and in their desperation for shelter, the rescueefforts had to be abandoned. The only structure which could provide any shelter was the shed I was standing in. Close to 400 peoplehuddled underneath its roof, standing only on 6 beams, while hailstorms lashed the darkness all around them.

And then the aftershocks started.

They told me of how the earth began to shake once again, and the roofof the shed began to wobble. For a long time, they said, it seemed like the shed was going to collapse on top of the 400 people huddled beneath it. Amongst them were the severely wounded, and at least 4dead bodies. Someone from amRichter scaleongst them started to pray out loud, andthen everybody joined in. They sat there all night, praying in desperate unison for the shed to hold, with hailstorms all around them, and the earth shaking beneath them. Over 900 aftershocks havebeen recorded since the earthquake, some of them measuring 5.6 andabove on the Richter scale.

I ended my tour of the devastation over a cup of tea and biscuits with a nearby family and walked back down to the distribution point. Morepeople had showed up to collect their relief items. Our team was busy up on the slopes above. Outside the tent clinic, a large crowd hadgathered, children with bandages on their arms, legs, heads. Ourmedical team was busy vaccinating anyone who had not received atetanus shot yet. Children cried and threw tantrums before their injections, to the amusement of the adults standing around, but were quickly cheered up afterward by juice and candy as reward for theirbravery. We had an excellent medical team -- sensitive, professional,dedicated.

In all, we distributed enough relief supplies to provide shelter, rations, and medical aid for over 100 households over two days. Onthe evening of November 6th, we packed up our campsite and loaded our trucks for the journey back. Our hosts showed up to bid us farewell."It's sad to see you all leave, we wish we could have given you morehospitality." It was futile to explain to them that we had not come to enjoy their hospitality, but to fulfill our obligations. Evenafter all they had been through, their culture, manners and basicnorms of civilized conduct were intact.

It's incredible to think that there are hundreds of thousands of such stories strewn across the villages of this mountainous region. In every village of every valley, in the towns and cities, one hearsstories of the most incredible tests of human endurance. Onecolleague, on a visit to a hospital in Muzaffarabad, saw an old man desperately pleading with doctors to not amputate his 7 year old son's leg. "You cut off my other son's leg yesterday, please spare thisone, how will I make it through life with two disabled sons?" The doctors insisted there was no other way, the gangrene would spread to the entire body otherwise, and carted the boy off to the surgical ward.

Another friend, who is a correspondent for BBC, writes in a personal email:

"A 78-year-old blind man - holding on to his ageing wife climbing 5300-ft up a hill from his village, descending5300-ft on the other side, getting two bottles of water (with his wifegetting a kilo of sugar and five packets of biscuits), climbing 5300-ft back to the top of the hill, descending the same distance to get back to his village. All for the only survivor in his family - afive year old child who is left in the care of a neighbour all thistime. This couple will do the same routine every second day till the snow cuts off their only topsy turvy and at places exceedingly dangerous route to life. After that, all they can do is wait to die."

The stories of survival and endurance are in their tens of thousands. On our way up we passed a truck full to the brim with prosthetic limbs. The papers speak of an entire generation that has been wipedout with the collapse of schools and colleges. UNICEF confirms thathalf of the 84,000 plus casualties as per the official numbers are schoolchildren and college going kids. The scale of the disaster is difficult to comprehend. In Surul, they pointed me towards a bluetarpaulin high up on a mountain slope, visible only as a dot. "Wepulled out 16 dead bodies from the rubble of that house." Surul alone suffered between 200-250 dead. The last of these bodies was excavatedon the last day of our visit. And the winter has only just begun.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Dr Asad Khan (London, UK)

Dr Asad Khan is a doctor based in London. He is the founder and editor of LondonPakistan, from which the following account is taken.

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.

For further details and pictures see LondonPakistani

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Matt Gulland

I am Matt Gulland, I am 36, I am married with a 1 year old son. I am a management consultant, and have volunteered to work with VSO in Peshawar, Pakistan for 2 years. My wife Rowena and John and myself live in University Town, I am working as a business advisor to the DOST Foundation, a local NGO who work with drug addicts, street children and women in conflict with the law. I went to Balakot and Shogran on 22nd October.


Matt’s story

However well deserving my clients are, the needs of people North of here are far more. I know you have seen all this on TV, but I thought you might want to read a first hand account.

I had been meaning to write and say about the earthquake. A rather weird experience for us in Peshawar, our concrete floor turning to rubber for several minutes, but there was almost no damage in Peshawar and absolutely no sign of damage here. Anyway R and J are in Hong Kong for 2 weeks so I decided to go on an adventure.

On Saturday I rather selfishly decided not to give all the money I could to the relief fund, but rather to go and see for myself the effect of the earth quake to Balakot and the Khagan valley. I bought as many blankets as I could afford and as many bananas and biscuits as I could carry. The road to Balakot was very good and clear, with only a short wait 5km before the town where a small land slide had reduced the road to one lane. Although I had passed many destroyed buildings in the towns on the way up, nothing could prepare me for Balakot. Like everyone else I had seen pictures on TV of the devastation, but seeing it in real was horrible and very different.

Every single house, shop and building had been totally destroyed. There was really absolute NOTHING there. I spend a few minutes walking around and met Ali outside a pile of rubble. This was his shop, he then showed me his house where 6 of his family had been killed. It had taken 36 hours before the first helicopter had arrived. Exactly 2 weeks on, aid was now arriving, (relief stations had opened and were giving out food and blankets, helicopters were coming and going)

There was nothing I could do there, Ali told me about the villages further north, I gave him a couple of blankets and some money and moved on. By some miracle the bridge had survived so drove on.

I picked up a couple hitch hikers, Mumtaz and Ur Rabzeb, who were headed for Shogran. Mumtaz's father had been killed, his mother injured. On the third day the only helicopter arrived and had taken them to hospital in Islamabad. Ur Rabzeb, a relation, was taking him back to the village. About 15km out of Balakot the road ended and so we walked for 4 hours up to their village. We carried all the blankets and food we could carry. The road was so land slid out we could not even walk along it, even the path higher up was difficult to walk along. All the way we were walking past and in places over destroyed houses. Nothing was standing. Everyone we met had the same story, 3-6 of the family killed, everything lost, and absolutely no help had arrived.

I saw no signs of injured or dead; everyone by now burried or left. Loads of new graves around the place. Some girls were tending a grave. Families desperately trying to dig what ever positions they had from the rubble

I spend 20 minutes with these people just trying to dig out a plastic floor mat, with no success. As the soil was disturbed, the awful smell came though.

Eventually we came to the next town on the road. The road was completely destroyed

It is not a case of clearing it; rather it has to be re-built. The town of Kawai had a population of 5000, an estimated 2000 were killed. Again nothing standing, but here no aid had arrived, nothing.

Amazingly the people seemed so happy, greeting each other, smiling treating everything so matter of fact. The attitude of Gods Will seemed to pervade when talking about how many of their family had been killed. Even in 2 weeks with no outside help people had managed to re-build something.

4 families here all their houses had collapsed, they were now sheltering in a shack they had put together.

The story in Shogran was the same, school destroyed, but luckily the kids and teachers had managed to escape. It must be around 10000 feet up they were desperate for tents, one helicopter had come on day 3 but nothing else, except for a helicopter two days previously with nothing, asking what they wanted! I spent a night in my tent in a sleeping bad and blanket and froze.

These are the people I left my tent and blankets to who desperately tried to feed me with their meager supplies.

This was just 10km and two villages up a road that continues over 80km more. Ironically it is the most beautiful place, spectacular views of snow clad mountains and lovely forests. I had been thought the area twice before on holiday.

Aid is slowly coming though. Balakot will clearly need to be abandoned and a large tent city is being built just south of it. I am convinced that only large centralized relief will work, and it is being done efficiently considering the situation. Everyone there is in need, and I saw no real sign of waste. Large amounts of money are needed for a long time.

I know you can read the same stuff as this on the web and see better taken pictures of similar sights, but I do hope that me sending this note might persuade some of you to give, and justify my rather self indulgent trip.

[pictures to follow]