As the bad weather clears in Kashmir after the earthquake that struck this past weekend the situation on the ground is becoming clearer. Hard rains, hail, and cold temperatures have prevented what little aid there is from getting to the hardest-hit areas and the most remote regions affected. The UN has admitted that the aid coming through is not sufficient, and that they are trying to secure more international commitments. More than 80 percent of the buildings in northern Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province have been destroyed. Strong aftershocks continue to threaten the buildings that remained standing after the initial earthquake.
Four million people have been affected by the disaster, with one million in acute need of humanitarian aid and relief. Two million people have been left homeless. There is massive need for winterized tents, food, and medicine for millions of people left to face the cold. To make matters worse, transporting these goods and supplies has proven to be extraordinarily difficult because many of the transport and trucking companies in Islamabad and in Peshwar (the capital of the North-West Frontier Province) are price gouging and demanding extremely high prices for their services. Charity and Aid groups have revealed that many trucking companies are demanding prices that are three times the normal rate.
We are receiving reports by the hour that reveal that the number of casualties and damage caused by the earthquake are much higher than what was previously declared. There are fears that the death toll may exceed 100,000 and that there will be an even greater number of injured. Of course, those most affected by the earthquake are the people from the oppressed classes whose dwellings were already fragile and unsafe. The people who have suffered the most are the workers and the urban and rural poor who have lost everything, and are being forgotten as the aid begins to arrive.
The main towns of Azad Kashmir that have been devastated are Muzafferabad, Rawlakot and Bagh. With the mounting death toll and lack of aid and relief the threat of the spread of contagious diseases is increasing. The scale of the disaster is unimaginable, and there is the serious possibility of a massive outbreak of the measles, cholera, and diarrhea amongst the millions of survivors. More than 50 percent of those who perished in this disaster were children. The survivors have been left sitting on the debris of their homes without shelter in the rain and in temperatures between 5 and 7 degrees centigrade.
The roads to Muzafferabad are still blocked after the huge landslides. The bridges have been badly damaged and there is hardly a building in the area that has not been damaged. There are reports of hundreds of people still trapped in the debris three days after the earthquake. People are shelterless and are becoming more and more desperate.
There are also reports of rising crime, looting and arson. Aid is scarce and has been slow to reach the vast majority of the victims, who are mainly from poor backgrounds. What the media calls “looting” is simply a struggle to survive. In the absence of aid, food, and shelter, and with no one to help, people are doing what they can to survive.
Sadly we have received reports that three comrades have died. Because of the state of communications the picture is unclear, and we are not sure of the total number of comrades who are missing or who have lost their lives.
The PTUDC and YFIS are not only playing an important role in the rescue and relief efforts but also are trying to boost the morale of the people affected. The comrades are also trying to maintain social services in order to provide food, and shelter in the areas where the official administration has collapsed.
The PTUDC is sending tents and medical supplies to the affected areas. The PTUDC is also organizing a solidarity caravan of 20 trucks full of supplies that will leave next Monday from Manzoor Ahmed’s constituency in Kasur through northern Punjab to Kashmir. A team of 12 doctors has also gone to the hardest-hit areas of Kashmir on a voluntary basis from the southern city of Multan. This initiative was also organized by the PTUDC and five of the doctors, who are members of the PTUDC.
Our countrywide campaign in Pakistan to help those in need has done an excellent job in extremely difficult conditions. We have launched an international appeal to raise money around the world to help us organize our relief effort. The appeal thus far has been a success, raising several hundred pounds from around the world. We thank everyone who has made a donation.
This is only the beginning. We need to raise more money to get the necessary supplies, such as tents and medicines, to help those who need it most. Any amount of financial assistance you could offer will be directly used to help the workers and poor in Pakistan and Kashmir. We appeal to all our brothers and sisters, the trade unionists, workers, and citizens of Britain, Europe and internationally to help us in our campaign. Anything you can give will help us greatly in our efforts.
National Coordinator Earth Quake Relief Committee
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