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'Are we not Pakistanis?' Quake survivors appeal for aid
By Gohar ABBAS
Chitral, Pakistan (AFP) Oct 29, 2015

'How would your kids survive?' Fears for quake-hit children of Chitral
In the village of Charun Ovir in Pakistan's Chitral district, one of the worst hit by a powerful earthquake this week, children are sleeping on the frosty mountainside, surrounded by the rubble of their flattened homes.

With winter fast approaching, temperatures are already plummeting below zero at night, and the anguished adults of the village are asking painful questions.

"After November 15 there will be three to four feet of snow here," said 50-year-old farmer Mir Wali.

"How long would you or your kids survive under such conditions... 10 hours, 12 hours, 24?"

Monday's powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing nearly 390 people and levelling thousands of homes, forcing many to camp out in the open.

The army has led the rescue effort in Pakistan while the government has promised aid and compensation, but with many of the affected communities isolated by rugged terrain, help may not arrive before the snow does.

Charun Ovir is perched 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) up the mountainside in the northwestern district of Chitral, in Pakistan's worst-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The village has around 150 homes -- some 140 of which were destroyed in the quake. There is no electricity, no basic health facility, and no clean drinking water.

Dust is still rising from the mountainside after the earthquake left cracks in it, leaving villagers fearing a landslide that could bury what is left of their homes.

The government has handed out 49 tents, Wali said. He also received flour -- but had no water and nothing to make food out of it with. "My children fell asleep crying of hunger."

"I appeal to the world to do something for our kids," he told AFP tearfully.

- 'Helpless, hopeless, crippled people' -

Aid agencies have warned that children in particular are in peril after the quake.

"Children in earthquake-hit areas... are facing further deadly threats as extreme conditions and insecurity cut off communities from aid," the UN children's agency UNICEF warned in the days after the tremor.

Some communities in northwestern Chitral are already trying to rebuild themselves.

But for others, the quake -- coming just three months after floods devastated the district -- may have been the breaking point.

"If we stay here the kids will die," Shahroon, a resident of the Chitral village of Usiak, told AFP.

Shahroon, who goes by one name, said he felt the ground in Usiak begin to shake shortly after 2:00 pm Monday.

"I told the kids to run out and then there was a brief pause. What came after the pause was horrible," the 33-year-old said.

A loud bang was followed by falling rocks -- then, to his terror, he heard the sound of his house cracking.

"I ran out... stones were rolling down the mountains and it was smoke and dust and sounds of falling rocks. There were screams of children, elderly men and women."

When the shaking stopped, his house was rubble.

The first night, the men and boys of his family slept under the stars, while the women and girls were housed by a neighbour who had one room left undamaged.

By the second night, they had managed to pull some of their belongings from the rubble -- including two tents, where the men and boys are now living, shivering through sub-zero nights on the hard, frosty ground.

Some of the children, he said, are as young as four.

Local authorities in the region say even the supplies they had to hand were used up during July's floods.

"Winter is coming and soon there will be snow everywhere, the children won't survive the cold," Shahroon said.

"We have received no aid from the government.

"We can't even complain to them, for who are we -- just a bunch of helpless, hopeless, crippled people."

Desperate survivors bracing for a fourth freezing night in the rubble of their earthquake-flattened homes appealed for aid Thursday as the Pakistan government said thousands more houses had been damaged than previously thought.

Rugged terrain, severed communication lines and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts since Monday's 7.5 magnitude quake killed more than 390 people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and levelled thousands of homes.

With winter fast approaching in Pakistan's worst-hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, survivors said they and their children were running out of time.

"After November 15 there will be three to four feet of snow here and we have nothing to protect us," said Mir Wali, whose village Charun Ovir is 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) up in mountainous terrain in the northwestern district of Chitral.

Dust is still rising from the mountain after the earthquake caused cracks in it, leaving villagers fearing a landslide or collapse.

"Are we not Pakistanis?" he said. "Today we need Pakistan."

The government must act before the snow falls, he said. "After that the roads will be blocked and we won't be able to save our children."

On Thursday Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) announced on its website a spike in the number of houses damaged in the quake, from nearly 14,000 to more than 25,000.

More than 15,000 of those were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone.

For days authorities had been struggling to reach the most isolated communities in the mountainous region, but the NDMA said Thursday it believes it has reached "most of the affected area".

Pakistan's confirmed death toll so far stands at 272, with more than 2,000 people injured, but a spokesman said the NDMA was still in the process of estimating a final toll.

- Taliban hindering access -

In Afghanistan, authorities have put the death toll at 121 with some 8,000 houses damaged -- but there are fears the number of dead could still spike, with charities warning that the Taliban presence was hindering access to many of the affected areas.

UNAMA official Mark Bowden said it appeared NGOs had the capacity to help after the quake, but that access to the areas "varies from one (insurgent) commander after another".

Desperate survivors were left marooned on mountaintops in Badakhshan, the remote province where the epicentre of the earthquake was located and where much of the territory is controlled by the insurgents.

In Sawkay district in the badly-hit Afghan province of Kunar, residents said Wednesday that no officials had yet appeared.

"The government has not asked what happened to us," said resident Mohammad Akram. "No government official visited us."

The quake was centred near Jurm in northeast Afghanistan, 250 kilometres (160 miles) from the capital Kabul and at a depth of 213.5 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Aid agencies have stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in war-torn Afghanistan -- but it has been a low priority for the nation as it struggles to end a 14-year war against the Taliban insurgents.

- First floods, then quake -

Local officials in Chitral district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said they had few supplies to hand after the region was devastated by floods just three months ago.

"We usually have our own stock but we already consumed it during the floods," said Muhammad Bahadur, an official in the village of Darosh.

Bahadur's village had just 70 tents on hand when the quake struck, he said.

"Around 2,500 houses have been completely destroyed... Imagine how we can satisfy the need with only 70 tents?"

Mir Wali in Charun Ovir said the village had no electricity, no clean drinking water, and no medical facility.

Officials had handed out 49 tents to share between 150 to 200 households, he said.

Other survivors are already planning to leave if they do not receive help soon.

Shahroon, a Chitral villager who goes by one name, said if the government can help them rebuild before the snow comes they will stay.

If not, he said, "we will go to Rawalpindi or Peshawar or any other city and spend our lives begging on the roads".


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Previous Report
Desperation grows as Afghan-Pakistan quake victims wait for aid
Chitral, Pakistan (AFP) Oct 29, 2015
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