Thursday, October 20, 2005


Pakistani Earthquake Unleashes Can of Worms

I started to write on "Bin Laden Killed in Himalayan Earthquake". Who knows? If we don't receive any more video speaches for seven years, we'll need to give it serious consideration. But I think it wrong to make light of the situation in Pakistan just to speculate on conspiracy theories and how well the fear-mongers in D.C. would keep momentum should Bin Laden disappear. To be more constructive, I had a look at how well relief is being provided. Did the U.S. send the 91 000 tons of ice left over from Katrina, for instance?

How soon we lose interest. The quake (a 7.6) was 8 October, less than two weeks ago. I looked at various online news providers for yesterday's stats on the victims of the quake, and found (not surprisingly) several stories on the Pakistani English-language news, but almost none in my regular diet of English and French news services...

Dawn com --

Independent co uk -- India and Pakistan unite as death toll approaches 80,000
Guardian co uk -- no mention found on front page
New York Times -- no mention found on front page
Los Angeles Times -- no mention found on front page
Le Monde fr -- Pakistan : les secours et les ONG à pied d'œuvre (video), and "New tally in Pakistan: 47 700 dead".
Liberation fr -- no mention found initially, but the "breaking story" scrolled up announcing
Séisme au Pakistan: le "pire cauchemar" qu'ait connu l'Onu
L'Onu connaît au Pakistan le "pire cauchemar" que l'organisation ait vécu, "pire" que le tsunami de l'an dernier, en raison de la faiblesse de l'aide, a affirmé jeudi Jan Egeland, le coordinateur de l'aide humanitaire d'urgence des Nations unies.
Evidently, that the tsunami hit during the holidays triggered a lot more generosity. That and many of the areas damaged being places tourists visit and others dream of visiting. Kashmir doesn't have beaches and sunshine, like Thailand or Sri Lanka; it has mountains and it is getting very cold.

Today the story is off Libération and Le Monde, but the New York Times has it in among the top stories, with a link to "How to Help" (a page with names and addresses of charities and NGOs, and a disclaimer "The Times does not certify charities’ fund allocations or administrative costs.").

And yet, what is the situation? The great, nay almost insurmountable, challenge is how to provide shelter for the estimated three million homeless in a remote mountainous region. There are seemingly not enough cold-weather tents in the world, and it would take until mid-winter to manufacture the balance. For perspective, this is about triple the number of Katrina evacuees, with only two-three weeks remaining before freezing, snowy weather, and no trailer makers or roads. According to a statement made today, however, India promises to provide all the need shelter and without need for international aid.

Pakistan says international aid is still needed, and nixed co-operation with India, opening the line of control (LoC):
ISLAMABAD, Oct 20: Pakistan has ruled out a joint relief operation with India in Kashmir as proposed by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. “This would be tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of the people of Kashmir” Chief Relief Commissioner Maj-Gen Farooq Ahmad Khan said, pointing to the heavy presence of Indian forces in the occupied Kashmir and actions of the occupation troops.

While I hope the Indian tents will be accepted (and adequate), maybe it is just as well that the LoC stays closed
SRINAGAR, Oct 20: The devastating Oct 8 earthquake may have shifted thousands of landmines planted by Indian and Pakistani troops along their Kashmir border, a group warned on Thursday.

“We are very much concerned,” said Shafat Hussain of Global Green Peace, a non-government organization that has worked since 1998 to persuade India and Pakistan to demine the region.

“There are thousands of mines out there threatening to take human lives.”

Mr Hussain said areas along the Line of Control (LoC), are “heavily mined” on both the sides.

“As the earthquake triggered massive landslides along the LoC, it must have surely relocated these mines,” he said.

Is international aid forthcoming? The Times story revolves around "Even in the face of the epic destruction, foreign donors have so far pledged less than $90 million, or barely a quarter of the $312 million that the United Nations estimates it will need for immediate relief." Is this only about the U.N. budget for the operation, or is it inclusive of all NGO expenses? That is not at all obvious. The "contributions to date" are mostly countries (France is not listed--is this true?) plus a line for "Private". Does this count all pledges? Those made to Action Contre la Faim (AAH) or Medecins Sans Frontieres last week?

Clearly it does not include the World Bank commitment noted by Dawn. This commitment hasn't made it onto the World Bank's website yet, either; on what schedule are these designed houses deliverable?

Some relief agencies are now pushing for evacuation to somewhere more clement and logistically friendly. Why do so many people live in such a remote (and hostile) place? Where else could they, should they, live?

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