BAGH — Since the October 8 earthquake that killed an estimated 73000-80000 people in northern Pakistan, there have been over 2000 aftershocks. Some have been significant. On Friday December 2, an aftershock strong enough to shake each of the few standing buildings hit Bagh city in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the part of the old princely state of Kashmir now in Pakistan. Then, just last week, a 6.7 magnitude quake in Afghanistan was felt across the entire affected region in northern Pakistan. There have been about 60 aftershocks between 5 and 6 on the Richter Scale. Strong enough to remind people of the first 7.6 magnitude quake, which left almost 3.5 million homeless, and anxiously wondering whether they would have enough of the right shelter to survive the winter. An already-traumatised people receive an almost-daily reminder of the thirteen second disaster that wreaked such destruction. Fear adds to fear, and compounds the worries generated by the winter which is already here. But at least nature can be blamed in its entirety for the destruction and massive loss of life caused by the quake. Or can it? As Kubilay Hilyilmaz, earthquake specialist engineer with GOAL says: “Earthquakes don’t kill people, engineers do. Or more precisely, poor engineering in building design and construction.”
BAGH — Tanveer Ariz runs the Awami Hardware store in Arja, 4800 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. Taking in the equivalent of €3300in the first day of the voucher scheme, he said “People are buying waterproof storage boxes, gas heaters, electric heaters. Elsewhere they are buying more food, as the roads up to their higher villages will be blocked in a few weeks.” With the vouchers, the same families have money and the discretion to purchase supplementary survival materials from 163 shops and stalls. The local economy – almost as devastated as the people it serves – receives a much-needed injection of hard cash. In Ireland, the Small Firms Association has predicted that consumer spending over the Christmas period will reach €4 billion, with up to €22m an hour being spent on Christmas Eve, representing an increase of 10% on last year. If the whole world spent €22 million an hour on earthquake-stricken Pakistan, ten hours outlay would generate more than enough to meet emergency survival needs. Most or all of the boxes on the shopping list could ticked off very quickly.
BAGH — As the Himalayan winter hits the three million left homeless after the October 8 south Asian earthquake, a vastly underfunded relief effort threatens to end 2005 with another humanitarian disaster. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Jan Egeland recently described 2005 as ‘the year of disaster’, as first the Indian Ocean tsunami, the food crisis in Niger, Hurricane Stan, Hurricane Katrina all left destruction and death in their wake. Egeland and his boss UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently launched the 2006 UN Consolidated Appeals for 2006, seeking $$US4.7 billion to alleviate suffering in 26 countries marked by disaster or conflict. “It’s not like we’re asking too much,” Egeland told reporters after the launch of the appeal in New York. “For the equivalent of two cups of coffee per person for the one billion affluent people in the world, we would cover all the needs of 31 million people in a desperate situation for a year.”
BAGH — The drive across Azad Jammu and Kashmir would ordinarily be a compelling experience for any traveller. The 10,000 foot-high Himalayan foothills provide a backdrop of stunning beauty. Pine trees cover the rocky slopes, and along the horizon, the snow-peaks of the Karakorum and Himalayas emerge between the lower peaks in this desolate area of northern Pakistan. But these snow-peaks are a harbinger of a different reality for northern Pakistan. What United Nations boss Kofi Annan terms ‘the merciless Himalayan winter’ has arrived – with snow already piling on densely-populated higher ground, hundreds of cases of pneumonia, and, children dying. Another harbinger: on Tuesday 6 last, the Pakistani Met Office forecast an even harsher-than-usual winter for Kashmir and the northern areas of the country.