Quake survivors left out in the cold

Indian quake survivor Altaf Hussein’s patience has worn thin. Every day for the past 10 days he has queued for kerosene from government trucks, and every day he has gone back empty-handed.

As winter closes in, villagers like Hussein say little or no relief has reached this devastated mountain region—which accounted for more than half of the 1 300 deaths from an earthquake in Indian Kashmir on October 8.

Tens of thousands more died in the Pakistani sector of divided Kashmir.

“In this town, people are talking about non-availability of blankets and food,” said Hussein, wearing old woollen clothes against the bitterly cold winds sweeping across the Himalayan peaks.

“Look at this long line of people waiting for days to get basic kerosene to cook food and burn firewood to keep us warm.”

In this town, where 90% of houses were levelled, Hussein was one of more than 100 men with empty cans lining up near a government fuel truck, hoping that luck would favour them.

Though the trucks began arriving 10 days ago, they have only brought a limited supply of kerosene.

Water and food are also in short supply, but fuel is an especially pressing issue here, at 3 000m altitude, where most villagers now sleep in fields or tents often crowded with more than 10 people.

“I have a ration card,” Hussein shouted, as other villagers joined in.

“I am not one of those people who want something which is not legal… It has been 10 long days. Where is the administration? What are they doing?”

The government acknowledges the scale of the disaster in the worst-hit districts of Uri and Tangdhar, in Indian Kashmir’s northwest, where it says 90% of the 40 720 homes were destroyed.

The state government has promised 100 000 rupees ($2 200) to the families of those killed by the killer quake, and 60 000 rupees to those who lost their homes.

Bashir Runyal, Urri’s relief commissioner, dismissed the villagers’ allegations as “totally baseless” and said “relief has reached the nook and corner of the mountains”.

“Those areas which were not reachable earlier have also been reached,” he told Agence France Presse.

“More than 30-million rupees have been disbursed in Uri for relief along with 2 000 tents and 70 000 blankets.”

The government was now in the process of constructing 31 large community halls to accommodate the survivors in the harsh winter days ahead, he said.

“We are doing that on a war-footing, and by November 15 all the monetary disbursements will be complete.”

But despite the promises, villagers say they have seen little aid so far.

“Except for the 11kg of rice which we got a week ago, not a single penny has reached us,” said shoe dealer Mohammad Baig, whose house was destroyed by the quake that measured 7,6 on the Richter scale.

“Not one government official came here to assess the damage and to rebuild the houses,” said Baig, who now shares a tent with his six brothers.
“In this area all my brothers’ houses were also flattened.”

Many villagers have taken matters into their own hands. Children, sitting on wooden beams recovered from the debris, were watching their uncles dismantling windows and hammering down damaged walls to gain materials for new homes.

But for now, most live in tents, if they can get them.

“We got the tent just because my brother is a soldier and the army was engaged in the relief operations,” Baig said. “Most others are unlucky.

“In this small tent, 10 members of my family cannot sleep,” he added.

“So we are awake the whole night braving the cold.”

Villager Fareed Ahmedar said he feared the worst was yet to come.

“Look at the mountain peaks,” he said.

“Snowfall has started there.

“We are just weeks from another disaster as people are living in makeshift tents, in fields and without proper food, sanitation or medical facilities.

“The poor will perish.” - AFP

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