Terrain hampers Christians’ relief in Pakistan

02 November 2006

IT WILL BE hard for aid to reach the remote parts of Kashmir, which are those worst affected by the weekend’s earthquake, relief agencies warned this week.

Although aid has started to ar-rive, the terrain in the areas surrounding Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, is making it very difficult for supplies to be transported by air or land.

When people were still being pulled alive from rubble on Tuesday, the Pakistani government said that deaths were likely to exceed 33,000. The earthquake, estimated to be the worst in the region for more than a century, and measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, has left thousands without homes in wintry conditions.

Speaking from Pakistan on Tuesday, Tearfund’s regional adviser, Wilson Saraj, said that everyone was shocked, but churches were pulling together to raise funds.

Another Tearfund adviser, Prince David, speaking from India on Tuesday, said that Tearfund partners had sent assessment teams to the regions that had been hardest hit. "It is very worrying, as parts of the worst-affected areas, particularly in Kashmir, simply cannot be accessed, and people are sleeping out in the cold with no shelter."

He said that the priorities now were getting weatherproof shelter and warm clothing, as well as food. He said that there had been tremors in northern India, and nearly 1000 people had died.

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said on Tuesday that he had been in touch with church contacts in Pakistan, and had been told that two Christian hospitals, Bannu and Bach, were working round the clock. They are both in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, near the epicentre of the earthquake.

"They had some damage, but are managing to do a lot of work with people who are brought there. They are run by local boards and are independent Christian hospitals. I was also told that a local charity, Shelter Now, was organising tents and volunteers for those who have been made homeless."

Roman Catholic Church leaders across the region launched a mas-sive emergency relief operation this week to provide aid, including tents, food, clothes, and blankets. The work is being carried out by the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

On Tuesday, relief agencies under the umbrella of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched its Asia Quake Appeal. Christian charities, including World Vision, Christian Aid, CAFOD, and Tearfund, are all DEC members. Before the DEC appeal was launched, the Roman Catholic aid agency CAFOD had already pledged £100,000 to its sister agency Caritas Pakistan, and a further £100,000 to Islamic Relief.

A spokesman for Caritas Pakistan on Tuesday echoed fears that relief agencies will find it difficult to reach the worst affected areas. He said that snow was expected in the next few weeks, which will completely cut off many regions. There was a constant fear of mudslides because of the rain.

Immediately after the earthquake, Christian Aid pledged £50,000 to agencies working in Pakistan, including Church World Service.

The Archbishop of Canterbury sent a message of sympathy and support to church leaders in Pakistan and India. Writing to the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Dr Alexander Malik, and the Moderator of the Church of North India, the Rt Revd James Teron, Dr Williams said that the impact of the tragedy had been "keenly felt" in Britain: "Your brothers and sisters in England are with you in your grief and shock, and are praying God to strengthen you all in witness and loving service."

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Frank Griswold, said on Monday that he had written to church leaders in Pakistan and India. The Episcopal Relief and Development Fund (ERD) is providing emergency assistance.

"In a region already struggling to recover from the tsunami, we stand with our partners as they provide medical care, shelter, sustenance, and comfort to people in need," said Kirsten Laursen, ERD’s senior programme director for Asia and New Initiatives.

ERD has been working in partnership with the Church World Service in providing food and medical assistance to the devastated communities of Mansehra and Murree.

To donate, phone 0870 606 0900 or visit www.dec.org.uk .

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