Chitral earthquake relief: Aid may be expensive but lives are priceless
Floods in Chitral became the reason for the first introduction of our team at Elaj Trust and this beautiful valley. We are in the area again, this time due to earthquake relief. Nature has not been kind, government aid has not been effective. But the people are resilient. Victims who are still looking for compensation announced at the time of floods have not lost faith.
Sorlaspur village, at 10,000 feet above sea level, is the last stop before Shandur, home of the world’s highest polo ground.
Nearly 70 houses are completely destroyed here and nearly 350 in the surrounding area. In winters, temperatures drop to -20 degrees centigrade. The homes cannot be reconstructed before winter ends and the ration people save up for the cold months is buried under the rubble. No media channels arrived here. A handful of tents have been given by the government and a local NGO but they are not fit for the harsh weather.
To quote a senior government official,
“The tents, to be honest, are only good for storing belongings not for living.”
Another senior local government official said that although he is a representative of the government, he will admit that the aid provided is inadequate and the government in turn is responding that we have sent enough already. Local officials appear sincere but helpless.
The people still remain positive. Mehboobullah, a resident of Sorlaspur who had just built a new home with his earning from his job in Karachi, was happy to learn that someone even bothered to make the journey to check up on them. He, with his 13-month-old daughter, Minahil, while standing on the rubble of the same house, said
“App Pakistan kay ek konay say dosray konay ham say hamdardi karnay aye ho, hamaray liye yahi kaafi hai.”
(You have come from one corner of Pakistan to the other to sympathise with us. That’s enough for us.)
I have rarely seen calamity hit victims exhibit such grace and patience but this dignified attitude is the norm in Chitral. Our guide, Deenar Khan, is also living in a government provided tent, which is not fit for the weather, since his house got destroyed. He commented,
“Main complain nahi karon ga, par gila toh ker sakta hon. Main bhi is mulq ka shehri hon. Mujhay apnay mulq pay yaqeen hai kay woh hamari madad karay ga.”
(I won’t complain. I just want to say that I’m a citizen of this country too. I have faith in my countrymen that they would help us out.)
The irony is that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) specified tents which are winterised and would amount as appropriate relief are manufactured in Pakistan and exported all around the world to cater to refugees and victims. Yet we are providing sub standard tents to our people and are leaving them at the mercy of the harsh weather.
I urge the government to reconsider their priorities. I am not going to indulge in redundant criticism or allegations. No one should be forced to migrate. Stop creating IDPs out of every situation. Get them the help they need.
Appropriate aid may be expensive but the people whose lives are at risk are priceless.
The hospitality and warmth of the people of Chitral is unparalleled. Yesterday, Siraj, a resident of Mastuj City and a former government employee whose house fell down gifted us a big bag of delicious pears which he grows in his garden, while we were assessing the damage.
The victims of Harcheen Village came out to the roads with garlands to welcome us when they learned about our arrival in the area. These are people who have been left helpless and homeless. Their demeanour is as beautiful as the beauty nature has surrounded them with, and our response as a nation to their need has been below par.
Everywhere in Chitral you come across school girls and boys. Children travel on foot and in some areas up to two hours to get to school, and education remains their top priority. Chitral has the will and talent with an amazing literacy rate, and seeing these students is an immense source of pride.
What Chitral lacks is infrastructure development; something as basic as internet connectivity, the lack of which keeps the residents cut off from rest of Pakistan. These kids can get much better exposure and job opportunities if the government only provided the region with internet connectivity. It would also be useful in informing authorities in times of emergency.
One student of Chitral, Yasirullah, is an Army Public School martyr and Chitralis honoured his memory in the best way possible; they named a school after him.
The immediate need on ground for earthquake victims are winterised tents, blankets, heating stoves and ration.
In view of the above, Elaj Trust, JRM Foundation, IDSP, Project Pakistan and Pure Pakistani have joined hands to work on both short-term relief and long-term development of the area.
All photos: Jibran Nasir/Elaj Trust
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.