Pakistan’s Catastrophe

Saturday morning I was awoken by a phone call from my parents. They told me there had been an earthquake in Pakistan, but they were fine. We have a lot of earthquakes in that region, so I didn’t think too much of it and I went right back to sleep. It was only after I woke up again and read about it that I realized how glad I was that my parents had survived to call me that morning.

This has been the worst earthquake in the history of the region. The earthquake measrued 7.6 on the richter scale, and my mother said that everything was shaking for six minutes after the initial shock. Six minutes is a very long time, long enough to destroy entire cities in the Azad Kashmir area of Pakistan. 20,000 people have been reported dead and 42,000 are injured. Some reports say such figures might double.

It has been an unreal weekend. It’s not the death tolls that have brought my spirits down, but the stories of those who have survived. The region of Azad Kashmir and the province of NWFP have been hit the worst. Azad Kashmir is by far the most gorgeous area in Pakistan, and it has been nick named “heaven on earth”. Now it more closely resembles a mass grave. Most of the deaths in the Azad Kashmir area have been children, who were attending school that Saturday morning. There aren’t many schools in the area, and when we were living in Azad Kashmir, I remember we had to drive at least a half an hour to reach the nearest school in the region.

There are very few schools in the region to start with because teachers don’t want to serve in the backward valleys of Azad Kashmir. The government is constantly giving incentives to teachers to move to those areas. Now, there are no more schools there. Hundreds of children were just buried in the ruins of their own school when the buildings collapsed on them Saturday morning. Only a few teachers have survived. In an area that was already lagging behind, an entire generation of children and educators has been wiped out.

Up until Sunday people could still hear cries of individuals buried under the debris, while some looked for survivors digging with their bare hands and other waited for help. Help that didn’t start arriving till Monday! And it wasn’t because the government was negligent; rather, they just didn’t have means to send help into the mountains. Nearly all the infrastructure had been destroyed as a result of landslides after the earthquakes. In Muzaffarabad (the capital of Azad Kashmir), almost the entire population has spent the past two days in the open as it rained and hailed on survivors of the earthquake. Lots of women and children are still braving cold weather waiting for food and medical assistance and it is reported that doctors are finding those who have survived critically sick with pneumonia because of the hail and the rain.

I am lucky to have heard about this terrible disaster through my parents, but many have not been so lucky. My entire weekend was spent trying to reach friends who I know live in these areas. Some of them have lost their homes, others are camping out on the streets because they are afraid their houses may fall down during one of the aftershocks. It is heart wrenching to talk to anyone at home. All schools have been closed because they cannot guarantee the safety of their students and do not want to repeat what happened to students in Azad Kashmir. My brother, who just started his first year at an engineering college in Pakistan, has been sent back home because the university has suspended their classes. Too many students at the college have lost loved ones and school officials cannot be sure that campus buildings are safe.

Sadly it will take a long time for life to get back to normal, because while rescue efforts have started, they are very slow. There is a dire need for money to fly food, medicine, clothing and tents to the hills of Kashmir. There is need for medical personnel who are already overwhelmed as city hospitals are overflow with victims and dead bodies. My grandmother went to the hospital Monday because she has been sick and the tragedy made her worse, but she had to come back without getting checked because there were so many dead bodies and no room in the waiting areas. All doctors were busy.

And as I sit here and write about this disaster that has hit my home, I realize I am so far away. There is so much to be done, andI wonder if I will be able to do my part to help out.

The relief effort is in dire need of money. Even a simple dollar can go a long way. A donation of one dollar can provide food to six people! Donations can be made online at