Faith groups respond rapidly to South Asia quake tragedy
Christian Aid teams on the spot are among the many international NGO and government organisations planning a swift emergency response to the devastating earthquake that killed and injured thousands today in the Himalayan region across the Pakistan - India border.
The quake measured a 7.6-magnitude, with its epicentre 80 kilometres (50 miles) north-east of Islamabad. It wiped out several entire villages. Current estimates of fatalities are around 4,000, and are likely to rise.
Many homes, schools, mosques and government buildings have been damaged or destroyed in Pakistan, where six aftershocks (the worst at a magnitude of 6.3) have been felt.
Members of Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of churches and related agencies that respond to disasters, have been urgently assessing damages and planning a response.
Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan (CWS-P/A) is monitoring the situation there through its offices in Kabul and Jalalabad. CWS-P/A works in close coordination with international and local organizations, and with local authorities responding in the affected areas.
CWS-P/A offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Mansehra and Murree were organizing relief efforts and planning to address needs on the ground.
The organisation says its immediate intentions are to provide 950 families with emergency food packages in the most affected and remote areas. CWS then plans to expand its relief efforts to provide 10,000 families with relief supplies and shelter construction materials.
In Britain the agency Muslim Aid has already allocated £100,000 and the UK government is preparing to release up to £500,000 in immediate assistance - having been criticised for the slowness of its response to the tsunami at the beginning of 2005.
As part of a growing global effort, rescue workers left Heathrow airport for Pakistan earlier in the day to help in the search for victims.
Ishfaq Ahmed, chief executive of the Kashmir International Relief Fund, based in London, told the BBC that the feeling among Kashmiri communities in Britain was 'one of total devastation'. Up to 1.5 million UK residents have relatives and friends in the region.
Christian Aid's Asia head, Robin Greenwood, said that in disasters such as these communications networks were often knocked out. 'It's difficult to find out what's happening in the first hours of an emergency - but our staff on the ground are rapidly assessing the situation.'
He added: 'We are on the phone to our staff and local partners in Kabul and Delhi and are also trying to contact our sister agencies working in Pakistan.'
Mr Greenwood said 'It is clear that this situation is serious. Our staff in Kabul felt a severe tremor lasting around three minutes.'
Apart from aftershocks, he explained, 'there are further complications. South-east Afghanistan is a conflict zone. US forces are fighting Al Qaeda and Kashmir is an area of dispute, tension and military activity between the Pakistani and Indian forces. It is vital in both these areas that relief work takes precedence over conflict.'