Over thirty thousand casualties in devastated region
Rescue work following last weekend’s devastating earthquake, is proceeding at a snail’s pace and the death toll is rising far too quickly. The weak infrastructure of Pakistan and Pakistani Administrative Kashmir has been fully exposed by this disaster. The main roads in Hazara division [district], in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) province, and in Kashmir, are still blocked by almost continuous landslides.
On Saturday, an injured Socialist Movement member phoned us in Lahore, from his hospital bed, using a mobile phone borrowed from a doctor. He told us dreadful news. Initial reports are that the entire branch of the Socialist Movement members and many of their relatives, in the village of Kalam, North West Frontier Province, died in the earthquake. This news is not confirmed. Other Kashmiri members of the Socialist Movement, now living in Pakistan, have possibly lost all their relatives in their home villages.
Pakistani Occupied Kashmir has been terribly affected from this devastating quake. At least 21,000 deaths, so far, are reported, and the figure is rising as body counting continues. The worst affected areas in Kashmir are the capital city, Muzafarrabad, Rawalakot and Bagh, including its surrounding districts.
According to official sources, more than 10, 000 deaths are recorded in Bagh. The whole city and surrounding villages are completely destroyed. No rescue operation has yet started in this whole area. Members of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, who visited the area to see if their local members were safe, said there were many more dead bodies than live people in the area. Local commentators say that up to 30,000 people could have perished in this district alone.
The military say they have not been able to reach these areas because there are no helicopters available for rescue operations. People are still under the rubble of destroyed houses waiting for rescue. Schools and hospitals are destroyed. There is no water, electricity, shelter and food available to the injured and the few survivors. Looting is taking place in the area. Government representatives state that the rescue operation will start tomorrow!
Profiteering from people’s misery
The most disgusting thing in this terrible situation is the profiteering out of peoples’ misery that is going on. This fills people with rage. No normal transport is running between the federal capital city, Islamabad, and Bagh. The usual fare is Rs120.00 (£1.20). However, because people are desperate to try to get to their home villages, vehicles are available for hire. But a single fare now costs between Rs600 - 800 (£6 - £8). This represents a 600% increase in costs!
A representative of the Edi Foundation, which provides ambulance and emergency medical aid, was interviewed on television and he said Edi managed to get its two helicopters operational in the first day of the earthquake, while the army generals dragged their feet over the question of providing military helicopters for emergency medical use. In the interview, he ironically attacked the big pharmaceutical companies when he said, "We know the drug companies are desperate to help the injured but we don’t need their normal type of ’aid’ - which are drugs whose expiry date has gone. We need drugs which can be used for a few months".
The earthquake victims are mostly women, children and young people, as many men were out at work. If the rescue work is delayed further, many injured will die. People desperately need help, which the authorities have, so far, failed to deliver.
Rawalakot city is also been severely affected by the disaster. Sardar Khalid Mehmood, President of the Paramedic Staff Association Kashmir, reported from Rawalakot that 95% of houses were completely destroyed. All the schools and hospitals were damaged.
"I am the only survivor in the hospital staff colony. I never saw such devastation in my whole life. We are without food, medicines, water and electricity. We desperately need medicines, warm clothes and tents. Please help us otherwise we all will die," Sardar Khalid Mehmood said.
This important political center of Kashmir is completely destroyed. According to reports we received from this area, thousands of people are waiting on the roads for food and help.
People are trying to help each other but there are very few people who really can help the injured. The main task is to provide medical treatment to the injured, to clear housing rubble and to collect the dead bodies to bury them.
The government has started a rescue operation in Muzafarrabad. Eighty per cent of the houses in the city were destroyed. Four hundred young women died in a school when the roof collapsed. There is no road link between Muzafarrabad and the rest of Kashmir and Pakistan because of landslides. Military helicopters that are available are used to rescue the most seriously injured people. But the army has still not been able to reach many areas, so far. More than one million people in Kashmir spent last night in the open without shelter. Many people became ill after forced to sleep in the open in hailstorms and rain. Many will also spend their second night without any shelter.
These people need immediate help to save their lives. The government should take immediate steps to start the rescue operation now, in all areas, not just the capital of Occupied Kashmir. Further delay will put thousands more lives in danger. The government should mobilise all state resources to help the victims of the earthquake. There is no shortage of resources but they must be fully utilised and should be used for the needs of the quake victims.
The mountainous region of Hazara (Hazara Division of North West Frontier Province) was also been badly damaged by the earthquake. The historic city of Bala Kot is completely destroyed. This was a city with a population of one hundred thousand. It is has disappeared. There is no house to seen standing. Seven hundred children died in three different schools because of school roofs collapsing. These children are still under the rubble. Whole villages are wiped out.
The government response in these areas is very slow. One of the main reasons for this is that successive governments have never prepared for such disasters, even though earthquakes are not uncommon in the region. Previous governments cut funding to civil organisations, which are responsible for providing emergency help and rescue in these situations. This negligence created a situation in which no government department or organisation is in a position to provide any sort of help. Civil defence, fire brigade and health departments are not in a position to do any thing without the help of the military. There are no emergency centres at local level which can provide help and rescue immediately.
Socialist Movement organises aid
The Socialist Movement (CWI in Pakistan), the Trade Union Rights Campaign (in Pakistan and Kashmir) and the Socialist Liberation (CWI in Kashmir) have started a campaign to collect medicines, food, clothes, blankets and tents. We were able to collect and buy material worth up to Rs800, 000 rupees [£800 sterling], in just one day, which shows the practical solidarity of working class people. We have also launched an appeal inside trade unions to donate generously in the campaign. Tomorrow, we plan to send the first lorry load of aid to Bagh and Rawalakot. Of course, this is only a drop in the ocean, given what is needed. We will continue this campaign and will expand it to the schools and colleges.
There is growing anger at the government and its failure to provide funding over the years for civil defence agencies and emergency services. There is also tremendous bitterness against the Western imperialist powers that have provided peanuts worth of aid. For example, the US and British governments have pledged $100, 000 and £100, 000 respectively in aid, so far. And yet Bush has spent over $66 billion on military operations in Afghanistan - also in the earthquake affected region. Following an appeal by the Pakistani authorities, the US administration has agreed to send a miserly ten helicopters to help out in the affected region. But they must have many more at their disposal for military operations against the Taliban.
It is facts like these which make a response from socialists, activists and trade unionists vital.
Socialist Movement members active in the Trade Union Rights Campaign will be launching an international campaign to provide direct help to workers, trade unionists and their families affected by the earthquake. This aid will also be used to help strengthen, build and rebuild trade unions in the affected areas, which can campaign for a proper response from the authorities and against profiteering and corruption, which is so often the hallmark of international capitalist aid appeals.
This terrible disaster has overwhelmingly made victims of working class people and the poor. But it has also shown the spirit of the working class, with help and solidarity provided by working people to the devastated areas. The earthquake also demonstrates clearly the callous disregard for the lives of the majority by the ruling class and the imperialist powers. If ever there were an argument to get rid of the system we live under this it!