Tragedy magnified

Published: September 27, 2013

Pakistani earthquake survivors prepare temporary huts for their family near their collapsed mud houses in the Dhall Bedi Peerander area. PHOTO: AFP

Three days on from the magnitude 7.7 earthquake that devastated a swathe of Balochistan, there is little relief for the survivors. The death toll is more than 500 with over 600 others injured but both numbers are likely to rise, there are ‘thousands’ of homeless and an estimated 300,000 people affected overall. Rescue workers are having difficulty reaching some of the worst affected areas and communications, never good, are said to be damaged beyond repair in some places. A measure of the difficulties faced by those bringing relief may be gauged by the attempt to shoot down a helicopter carrying the head of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and another senior military officer as it flew near Mashkey. Both men are lucky that the two missiles fired at them, missed. This event will have been noted by civilian aid agencies and NGOs that are wary of deploying in the region, in large part because of the insecurity that this incident exemplifies.

Though the decision to turn down international help which was quickly offered by, among others, the UN agencies that have significant resources pre-placed in-country, probably stemmed from the security situation in the region, which is clearly making relief difficult, we have to wonder at the wisdom of this decision. The head of the NDMA has said that it will use its own resources to mount rescue and relief operations and the army is in support, particularly using air assets to move people needing treatment to Karachi and elsewhere, as the medical facilities in the province are overwhelmed by the task. The virtues of self-sufficiency are all very well, but the humanitarian imperative must be the engine driving the operation. The people of Balochistan need all the help that they can get and if there are agencies willing to take the risk of giving it to them then now is not the time to be looking a gift horse in the mouth. This disaster must not be allowed to fade into the background, a fading familiar to the marginalised people of Balochistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th,  2013.

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