Kashmir quake aid crosses communal and belief boundaries
Despite difficulties, the international aid effort in South Asia is crossing political, communal and religious boundaries to reach people in desperate need, agencies on the ground report.
The ecumenical US development organization, Church World Service, says that its emergency aid teams and other rescue groups are focussing on medical relief and support for the nearly five million made homeless in the Kashmiri earthquake.
Some 40,000 people are believed to have died overall. 'But this is going to be remembered as the earthquake that killed the children,' remarked Church World Service Pakistan-Afghanistan Director Marvin Parvez yesterday. He was speaking from Islamabad.
CWS will provide medical assistance to 100,000 people impacted by the quake, half in Azad Kashmir and half in the Northwest Frontier Province. The aid will go through two local health centres. Parvez said they will also provide immunization.
Meanwhile in Britain the news site Asians in Media has created a hub highlighting major donor agencies. It recommends donations 'to well known international charities [which] have experience in such relief efforts rather than Kashmir based organisations. Some have been known in the past to divert money to buying arms for their activities.'
AiM also says: 'We also advise that you donate to non-religious charities [which] help everyone such as the Disasters Emergency Committee and Oxfam.' The various church agencies who are members of DEC stress that they assist people without regard to creed.
At the height of the Asian tsunami crisis earlier this year concern was expressed about fringe religious groups exploiting suffering for sectarian purposes.
However mainstream church development agencies gathered together in the ACT network say they work on strongly inclusive principles.
CWS's Martin Parvez says: 'Our teams have been on the ground since day one.' The agency has had recognised operations in Pakistan for more than 25 years.
He adds: 'There is tremendous need right now for shelter for the earthquake survivorsÖ People are very scared and they can't afford to lose any more loved ones.'
Church World Service Pakistan chairs the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), a collaboration of international humanitarian and emergency response bodies.
Comments Parvez: 'Despite the fact that we are all responding as fast as we can, and that international aid is now coming in, survivors are in dire need. People are asking for clean drinking water, food, tents and medicines.'
Church World Service's office and health clinic in Mansehra were damaged by the quake but the clinic is now operative again.
CWS Pakistan-Afghanistan offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Mansehra and Murree are organizing relief efforts, assessing needs and determining longer-term response focus.
As more aid poured in yesterday after a slow start, aircraft loaded with supplies came from the United States, Britain, Japan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. India, Russia, China and Germany also offered assistance.
'This has been the most severe earthquake in this area for 120 years," says Mr Parvez. 'The worst hit place was Bagh, 40 kilometres southeast of Muzaffarabad There are no survivors in villages like Jaglari, Kufalgarh, Harigal and Baniyali in Bagh district.'
Church World Service Emergency Response Program Director Donna J. Derr adds that the capital of Azad Kashmir is devastated.
'In Abbottabad, a Girls High School of 1,100 students was destroyed," she said, and only a few students could be evacuated. At a primary school in Balakot only 25 of its 175 students could be saved. The grief here is enormous and demands particular care, now and in coming weeks,' she explained.
Pakistan has said it would accept assistance from long-time rival and neighbour India, and, in another sign of good will, the Associated Press news service reported that the largest rebel group in the disputed region of Kashmir ordered an end to violence in areas devastated by the quake.
[Contributions to CWS may also be sent to: Church World Service, Southern Asia Earthquake no. 6979, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515 - or by calling (USA) 800 2971516, ext 222.
AiM's donation page lists a variety of agencies. The DEC appeal is here. Individual donations can be made directly to Christian Aid and regular contributions are welcome to its emergencies and disasters fund. Tearfund donations can be made here. CAFOD contributions here.]