By Sameen Khan and Aamir Iqbal for Newsweek Pakistan. Oct 29 2015.
Chitral, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, was among the districts hit hardest by Monday’s earthquake, which originated across the border in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Located at a depth of 213.5km, the quake’s impact was mercifully contained, but for people in Pakistan’s northern areas, this information is little relief. After Monday’s tremors, they have experienced aftershocks of magnitudes measuring up to 4.8 and are living in constant fear of landslides taking out the few remaining buildings, roads, and power and communications lines.
Unfortunately, landslides caused by the quake have blocked most roads leading to the remote villages of Chitral preventing aid teams from reaching them. The Pakistan Meteorological Department has also forecast rain and snowfall in Malakand, Hazara, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Mansehra and Chitral—raising concerns of exposure and further landslides. Just a day before the quake, on Oct. 25, the Kaghan Valley witnessed its earliest recorded snowfall in 40 years, blocking off roads and damaging bridges. It’s only gotten colder since. Pinin Khan from Garam Chashma—a Chitrali village renowned for its hot springs—says it snowed again on Tuesday. “If action is not taken immediately, it will be difficult to survive the winter,” he told Newsweek.
Adding to Chitral’s woes, the earthquake is the second disaster to strike the region in less than three months. In July, flash floods left nearly 100 people dead across Pakistan, and destroyed dozens of homes in Chitral alone. Khan says the villagers have yet to see any compensation for the tragedy. “People wee promised Rs. 500,000 but they haven’t received anything. They have been living in tents this entire time,” he said. “Forget rebuilding homes, Chitral has villages with no hospitals or schools. We don’t even have roads!”
The government, aided by Pakistan’s armed forces, has pledged to ensure everyone affected by the earthquake is provided aid. But with roads blocked by landslides, remote villages such as Roji and Garam Chashma have yet to see any evidence of this. “People are forced to take care of themselves. The government does nothing. The Army does 20 percent, but definitely not 100 percent,” says Khan. “The Aga Khan Foundation’s FOCUS has started work here. They’re the only ones who help,” he adds.
Focus Humanitarian Assistance is an international group of agencies that has been working with the children of Chitral’s fringe villages to develop emergency response teams for natural disaster relief. After July’s floods, it provided one month’s food supplies to a bulk of the most affected communities in Lower and Upper Chitral. But despite their efforts, gaps remain.
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