Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

On 8 October an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The earthquake has so far claimed more than 90,000 lives and if the relief effort is not stepped up the death toll will be far greater. This terrible disaster has worsened the suffering for the people of the area already divided by India and Pakistan’s dispute over territorial control of Kashmir.

On 11 October, India responded to the relief operation by supplying medicine and other supplies. They have also opened up the Line of Control with Pakistan to make rescue work easier.

Pakistan is internally divided by language, class and social conflict. All forms of democracy have failed in Pakistan and military dictatorship is entrenched. Following the 1947 partition, Pakistan has repeatedly been involved in direct conflict with India. Its brutal politics led to the civil war of 1971 resulting in the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Under the leadership of General Musharraff, Pakistan plays the role of US lackey in South East Asia. He provided the US administration with a naval base during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. He systematically oppresses both radical and reformist political groups and is a great supporter of globalisation.

While hunger and underdevelopment affect growing numbers in Pakistan, the government continues to increase spending on arms. It owns 460 to 780 kilograms of enriched uranium, enough to produce more than 25 nuclear warheads. Despite the need for billions of dollars for the earthquake relief effort, General Musharraff has declared there will be no cuts in military spending.

As usual it is the poorest people who have suffered the most in this earthquake tragedy. The most devastated areas are hidden by the extreme mountainous terrain and it is difficult for the rescue teams to reach them due to the many landslides. With the bitter Himalayan winter on the way, there will be even more deaths from hypothermia and malnutrition. The survivors are reluctant to leave behind their livestock and belongings, saying ‘We have lost loved ones and are not ready to lose our future’. Survivors claim that government officials involved in the rescue effort are corrupt and that aid is being stolen.

While rich countries like Belgium, France and Spain have given no aid, Cuba has sent more than 200 doctors to the affected regions and plans to send more. The United Nations has stated that Cuba is playing a significant and efficient role in the relief operation. The Pakistan government has urged the global community to make more generous donations, pointing out how much more ready rich nations are to respond to disasters in the western world.
The UN estimates that over US$5bn is needed immediately to prevent another wave of deaths in the quake-affected regions. The food and shelter of 800,000 people who are living in horrific conditions now depends on the response of the rich world. Without immediate help further deaths are inevitable.
Khalid Mukerjee

FRFI 188 December 2005 / January 2006


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