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Desperation grows as Afghan-Pakistan quake victims wait 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."

Earthquake survivors in Pakistan and Afghanistan emerged from a third night without shelter Thursday, as village leaders warned they had nothing to protect children from the freezing conditions while rescuers struggle to reach isolated communities.

Desperate victims appealed for blankets, warm clothes and food after Monday's 7.5 magnitude quake ripped through the region, killing nearly 390 people while levelling thousands of homes and forcing many to camp out in the open.

Rugged terrain, severed communication lines and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts since the disaster, and local officials 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 so we were running out of stock during this earthquake," said Muhammad Bahadur, an official in the village of Darosh in Chitral, part of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The northwestern region, which has been hit hardest by Monday's earthquake, also saw thousands evacuated in July as floodwaters swept away dozens of roads and bridges in the district.

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?"

Hundreds of children are now sleeping under the open sky with little protection against sub-zero nighttime temperatures, he said. "We are trying to mobilise NGOs to help them because winter is approaching and it would be unbearable."

- 'Children won't survive' -

Pakistan's confirmed death toll so far stands at 272, with more than 1,800 people injured and 11,000 homes damaged.

Aid agencies have warned that shelter and hygiene will be the most pressing needs for survivors in the coming days, with the UN saying children in particular face deadly conditions.

The Pakistan Red Crescent said Wednesday that snow was already falling in some areas across the region, forcing them to wait for the weather to clear before being able to reach out to those communities.

"Winter is coming and soon there will be snow everywhere, the children won't survive the cold," Shahroon, a resident of Usiak village in Chitral, told AFP.

Shahroon, who goes by one name, said children in his family as young as four were sleeping outside.

"If we stay here the kids will die... we have lost everything already and can't afford to see these children die in front of us, they are the only valuables we have now."

Western charities said the Taliban presence in Afghanistan was hindering relief efforts.

The militants on Wednesday claimed to have overrun the remote district of Darqad in the quake-hit northern province of Takhar, underscoring the fragile security situation facing relief workers.

The insurgents have vowed their fighters would provide "complete help" in affected areas.

- 'We won't wait' -

Afghan officials said 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country's 34 provinces, and more than 7,600 homes reported damaged.

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 Taliban.

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.

The military has been leading Pakistan's rescue efforts, but residents in Chitral said that with the cold weather setting it, they could not afford to waste time.

"We won't wait for authorities to come," said 29-year-old driver Lal Jan.

"People here are helping each other... people whose houses survived in the quake provide food and shelter to those who are affected. We all are helping each other to clear rubble from our houses."

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

Shahroon in Chitral said if the government can help them rebuild before the snow comes they will stay, but "otherwise 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
Third night in the cold for Afghan-Pakistan quake survivors
Shangla, Pakistan (AFP) Oct 28, 2015
Entire communities of earthquake survivors in Afghanistan and Pakistan were spending a third night without shelter in plummeting temperatures Wednesday, with fears growing for children sleeping in the open as rescuers struggled to reach remote mountainous regions. Rugged terrain, severed communication lines and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts since Monday's 7.5 mag ... read more

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