The sun rose like any other day for the people of Kashmir & adjoining mountainous areas in Pakistan, on Oct 8, 2005.Little did they know that this dawn would unfold a day, memories of which would keep on haunting them for years to come, changing their lives in almost every dimension.
Minutes before 9 a.m, the Wrath of Nature got unleashed, rocking the earth with jolts as high as 7.6 on Richter scale, which lasted not in seconds but in minutes. It was like a Dooms day, with mountains getting torn apart, the roads & bridges getting washed away in slides. Houses, buildings & communication lines were destroyed & there was nowhere to go.More than 100,000 perished, millions became homeless and countless got injured becoming handicapped. Thousands got trapped beneath the rubble and died before any help could reach. There were many more whose bodies have never been found to this day.Such a catastrophic event had never been witnessed by this nation before. To begin with, no one could comprehend what a disaster of 7.6 on Richter scale meant. With communication lines getting swept away, the news of this calamitous happening trickled with delay.It took a while for the Govt. to realize the magnitude of this catastrophic debacle. I met a Turkish surgeon in Muzzaffarabad who told, that upon hearing the news of this gigantic Earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6, they rushed gathering aid & medicines to fly to Pakistan, but got stranded for 24 hrs as the Federal Information Minister of Pakistan commented that nothing much has happened, people are just making a mountain out of a mole hill, only few casualties have occurred& people need to stay calm. (This Information Minister later was removed from this portfolio!)As the news spread, the nation stood up to help the helpless caught up in this cataclysmic tragedy. International aid started flowing in with food, equipment, tents, blankets, medicines, & medical personnel. The response was tremendous. People from all walks of life contributed in every possible way they could. The emotional response to this human suffering was common all over.The Turks were the first to arrive with International aid & medicines. British, Americans, Germans, Japanese, Canadians, French, Koreans, Arabs, Ukrainians & people with aid from so many more countries, followed them. The human affliction was felt the same and response was incredible.It was not only the Foreign Governments who responded with aid from abroad, but people in individual capacity as well. Pakistani doctors living overseas, not only sent medical supplies, but also flew back home to treat their injured & needy brethren. Towards the end of second week after the Earthquake I happened to be at a village called ` Sakargah ` located at the junction of Allie valley & Kohistan. The road to this place was blocked due to landslides & one needed to walk to get there. To my utter surprise there was a tented medical facility managed by a German mountaineer named Christian Walter. There was no NGO behind him & he was all by himself with a local guide & a cook. Upon my inquiry he told that he had climbed Nanga Parbat 2 yrs ago & upon hearing the news of this massive Earthquake he felt as if he owes something to people of this domain which is their due right. Hats off to this German mountaineer, who was only a paramedic, and collecting funds on his own, he purchased medicines & before any Pakistani could reach these remote mountains, he flew in from Germany & was busy providing medical aid to the tragic stricken dwellers of that area.The people of Kohistan are harsh & crude. They never let go of their prayers, their fasts & likewise their rivalries & enmities. Due to the remoteness of the location & callous nature of locals very limited help could reach there. Deep into Kohistan corridor for weeks after the Earthquake there were patients with fractures & injuries lying unattended as no medical help could get there. Houses on the mountains are scattered and one has to walk for hours in the perfidious mountains to get to the patient. On the last day, I myself had to walk 2 hrs one way, to reach & treat a bed-ridden patient with injury to her back. I barely made it there, as the path had vanished in the landslide & I had to walk through the slide to get there. It was impossible to bring the patient down even on bed in traditional way, carried by 4 people, as there was no pathway at all. Such was the situation of most & there was nowhere to go.At certain places even the landscape changed in face of this catastrophic event. Close to the medical camp where I worked at Chikar in Kashmir, an entire mountain crashed down falling apart as its debris succumbed to its base. A village with a population of around 2000 that once resided on its surface was wiped off the face of the Earth, burying 2000 dwellers alive. It was as if Hell had broken loose upon them. A huge concavity with a width of over one kilometer & height of over 1000 feet now stands to where the mountain once stood. As per aftermath of this happening the debris of the shattered mountain blocked a big ravine flowing at its base making a catchment area for the incoming water. Consequently a huge lake has come up in the area with perhaps the most massive grave on Earth right in front!The Army helicopters that flew all day long, transferring the injured from the mountains to hospitals in Muzzaffarabad, Abbottabad and other places, carried out initial evacuations.It was an incredible task accomplished by these pilots. Most of the hospitals were established in tents as the buildings had been destroyed. The CMH at Muzzaffarabad was totally ruined killing patients & doctors alike.Time was running out with each passing day and chances for those getting buried under the debris & needing evacuation were diminishing. Few lucky ones were retrieved with help of trained sniff dogs. Thousands died before any help could be reached. At Pattika a place in Neelum valley, I was told that school children got trapped under the rubble of collapsed school. For 3 days their cries could be heard asking for help & calling their parents by shouting their names. After 3 days their cries could be heard no more!I also met an old man on way to my medical camp, who was in the outskirts of Balakot when the earthquake struck. Upon my inquiry he told with tears in his eyes, that he was in the fields with his daughter. Right in front of him the earth parted, engulfing his daughter & closed down again. He could not even retrieve her dead body!Such was the suffering of people facing this terrible disaster. Faith healing was the only paradigm providing them with some consolation, perceiving that whatever happened was the Will of God.This tragedy was so great that had it not been for International help & NGOs, countless more would have died. Foreign Helicopters transported much of the heavy machinery & equipment for rescue & clearing roads, along with relief goods high up on the mountains. The earth however did not stop shaking following the initial event and after shocks were felt for months terrifying people & bringing down huge boulders further injuring & killing the survivors & those engaged in relief work. One such person lost his legs when hit by a boulder trying to clear up the slide blocking the road on way to Banna. The fear factor did not let the survivors sleep inside whatever was left of their houses. There was shortage of tents, which were flown in from all over the world, & brunt of oncoming winters & snow was yet to follow. In face of after shocks, people sleeping outside in open, couple of days after the Earthquake, were hit by a terrible hailstorm & rains, bringing further casualties & landslides adding to their misery. There was simply nowhere to go!In such chaotic circumstances, on one hand the nation & the world were trying to reach & extend help to those in turmoil, while on the other end, there were those who found this as an opportunity to amass as much as they could, out of their sheer selfishness & greed. Transporters raised their fares for delivering relief supplies. Professional beggars virtually vanished from the streets of major cities & gathered in the earthquake stricken domains to accumulate relief goods.The dilemma of cunningness accompanied by fight for survival was seen when truckloads of relief goods on way to help those in need were looted & attacked upon, depriving very those who had come for help. In such circumstances there were others who hoarded the relief supplies delivered to them asking for more & portraying as if they received nothing at all in aid. The same people were later found selling relief goods in the market. The pilferage of relief goods took place to an extent that even food items marked as donation from overseas, like cans of cooking oil & bags of flour were out on sale at stores in cities like Lahore & Rawalpindi.In these wrecked & chaotic conditions there were yet others who looted shops & houses and robbed what was left behind. A man was found carrying a bag with human parts having articles of jewelry that he could not remove at site. There were episodes of abductions & kidnappings of women & children. The cunning side of human nature of some, paved way for them to gain from misery of others amidst this appalling disaster. Among such black sheep was even a Pakistani Chartered Accountant who tried to rob an Americanís NGO called CDRS (Comprehensive Disaster Response Services) of Fifty thousand U.S dollars that was collected through donations & sent to provide medical backup for the residents of Chikar in Kashmir.An American folk singer, had established this NGO only after the Earthquake, with sole purpose of providing medical help to residents of this area.Among NGOs there were those like Adventure Foundation (Pakistan) who in their own limited capacity provided aid & relief goods identifying the needy, by going to their houses, while there were others who would just throw packets of goods on the roadside out of their moving truck with people running after their vehicle & trying to catch what they could get.The Govt. was ill equipped to deal with such a calamity. Most of their ministers were more keen to show up their faces in the media rather than doing something materially for the benefit of grief stricken people. The local authorities were sick & tired of escorting them every other day, rather than devoting time for relief efforts. The city of Balakot got virtually destroyed in totality except for one single building that somehow stood the brunt of massive jolts. Most of the buildings & houses in Muzzaffarabad got destroyed & majority of those left behind got cracked & were not worth living anymore. The situation in Bagh was not much different. Not a single house remained intact in countless villages killing residents & the cattle alike.Such was the state of affairs & there was complete chaos all over.NGOs established their relief offices and Emergency & Medical camps in the devastated zones & each contributed as best as they could. Among national NGOs Jamat-ud-Dawa was at the forefront in rescue operations extending help & aid to the tormented people trapped in miserable circumstances.
However the remotest of areas & especially the Kohistan territory remained deprived till the very end as almost everyone was apprehensive to set foot in this hostile land of treacherous mountains & rough people.
Relief camps providing food, shelter & medicines were established around towns of Balakot, Muzzaffarabad, Bagh & other areas to provide refuge to shelterless & people moved down from the mountains to these camps in face of oncoming winters. Some preferred to stay back unless provided with a barn for their surviving animals upon which their livelihood depended. .
Foreign NGOs like Diakonnie (German) and Support to Life (Turkish) even more than a year after the earthquake were busy in uplift & rehabilitation of people in the calamity hit domains. Merlin & Save the Children both British NGOs are still busy in providing medical relief to the people in far-flung locations in Kashmir, where none exist. In addition Medicines sans Frontiers, ICRC and many others extended massive medical cover besides helping to rebuild the destroyed medical facilities.
The UN & its agencies established footing from the very beginning for uplift of the suffering lot.
It was only after a couple of months that things started getting streamlined as the aid continued to pour in.In face of massive aid & help, hundreds of locals, working in big cities abandoned their jobs & moved back to the calamity hit areas waiting all day long doing nothing, but to gather relief goods from the camps.
Inspite of enormous help & aid that poured in for these grief stricken people, the dilemma of ` Depression ` was rather overlooked. Families had been ripped apart, millions had become homeless, thousands were rendered orphans & countless got disabled both physically & mentally. In such nerve wrecking state of affairs there was vast element of depression that went untreated in these victims of disaster & episodes of suicides were reported, with few by ingesting some poisonous substance and some by jumping in the raging waters of the river to end their misery.
As for reconstruction & rehabilitation works, ERRA ( Earthquake Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Authority )was constituted which took months to approve of a safe building code & design for construction of houses of these domains.
Even though huge amounts of aid & donations were received, but on ground only a fragment of rehabilitation works by ERRA has been seen. International & National NGOs rehabilitated most of the schools including the destroyed Govt. schools.
Upon visiting Shogran in Kaghan valley, 9 months after the earthquake, I saw no sign of any rehabilitation work or activity. The two Govt. schools at Shogran were in ruins & some children were jumping up & down the school debris. A parent complained that their kids are going astray & they had no idea if & when their schools would be rebuilt, although by this time school activity in Kashmir had resumed to a great extent. They were in a fix whether to relocate for the education of their kids or start building their houses again with uncertain future of their children.
In certain areas like Balakot there is a tug of war between the Govt. & the locals. These locations got declared as red zones & people were asked to relocate to new areas close by, to which they are reluctant. Even sermons during Friday prayers are not devoid of this hot debate.
What got lost in this colossal tragedy can never be retrieved. However with sincerity, dedication & planning on positive footing, these distressed people could be helped, showing them a ray of hope to attain a better future.