Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/411/4667
Eye witness report
Asian earthquake disaster
Poor abandoned again
THE RECENT disasters of Hurricane Katrina, the Asian Tsunami, and now the earthquake affecting Pakistan, Kashmir and India have one thing in common.
They all reveal the rottenness of a capitalist system which has abandoned the poorest, most vulnerable people.
As a socialist in Pakistan put it:
"The lives of the working class and poor peasantry across south-east Asia are normally filled with misery and catastrophe. Now things have become intolerable."
Eyewitness report from devastated Bagh and Rawalakot, by Jamal, a member of Socialist Liberation (the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Kashmir).
"Like a giant hand had flattened the city"
AT FIRST, all the news reports mentioned that Muzafarabad, the capital city of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, was the worst hit. But then a cable news team found their way to Bagh district and filmed the devastation there.
As a result, last Sunday, many local people from my home town of Kotli started to collect food, water, blankets and money and to try to make their way by foot to Bagh. There was no response from the authorities in our local town.
We discussed with some members of the local health department and decided to make a joint trip, involving Socialist Liberation members - including a member of the local paramedic trade unionist, Khalid, as well as other doctors and paramedics - to go to visit Bagh and Rawalakot to find out what was needed by the victims in these areas.
We left before dawn, on Monday 10 October, and returned at 2.30am, the following night. It took well over five hours to travel the 100 kilometres to Bagh.
I thought there would be widescale destruction but nothing prepared me for what I saw. It was like a giant hand had flattened the whole city.
The worst thing is that up to Monday no aid had been organised by the authorities. 500,000 Kashmiris in Bagh, and the surrounding district, have been abandoned by president Musharraf, the military and the government of rich capitalists and feudal landowners.
There is no central co-ordination in Bagh for a rescue effort. Jamati Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba, both reactionary Islamic groups in Pakistan, responsible for whipping up sectarian tensions have, however, set up small camps there.
You cannot go into the centre of the city because the roads are filled with so many craters. The District Hospital is completely destroyed and those staff who were uninjured have left Bagh city because of the failure of help to arrive.
And then there is death everywhere. There is a stench of decaying bodies. There are no phones, no water and no electricity. Hundreds of young women from poor backgrounds were killed in the religious madrassa schools, sent there by their parents in the vain hope that education would give them a way out of poverty. Over 1,400 students were crushed to death in the degree college, along with their teachers. A middle and primary school was flattened and 25 teachers along with 300 students perished.
It was not only schools that collapsed but also some government buildings. For example, in Bagh the offices of the electricity board collapsed with 1,000 workers inside. None escaped. Up until Sunday morning local people said that there were screams for help but now nothing. They will all be dead by now.
Many of the more solid multi-storey buildings are made with ceilings of concrete slabs. When these collapsed, it made rescue efforts more difficult. We spoke to one young guy who had dug through two layers of these slabs to rescue his relatives.
People are desperately digging through the rubble with their bare hands, using sticks to try to take out dead relatives, so they can bury them. There are no facilities to bury people. If the bodies are not buried soon there will be widespread epidemics.
There is a desperate need for tents and blankets but also food and provisions. It is very cold here at night.
People are getting very angry here. They say "Helicopters fly over and people just wave at us. What use is that for us?" This is pathetic, just pathetic.
THERE ARE a few more buildings standing in Rawalakot, which is a city nearby Bagh, which we visited next. The four storey Jinnah hospital collapsed, with no accurate figure of casualties. The Combined Military Hospitals has disappeared into a pile of rubble. The army has set up camp here. But they are doing nothing.
Five or six helicopters full of aid arrived, as did a similar number of trucks. Yet, this aid is in the control of the army and they are not distributing it. This is because the authorities say that it is not enough to satisfy the needs of the people so they are waiting for more to arrive!
The local administration is nowhere to be seen and the army has disappeared. While the emergency numbers for the local authorities are working, they are not answering them, despite the fact that they have been seen around town.
We spoke to the head of the paramedics' union and arranged for him to take an advance party of paramedics with tents to set up a field station clinic in the grounds of the crushed District Hospital, in Bagh, on Tuesday, under the auspices of the Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURC).
We will go around collecting more aid in Kotli and set up a stall in the town centre in the name of the TURC. Once the container of aid arrives - organised by members of our sister organisation in Pakistan, the Socialist Movement (CWI) - we will go to Bagh to help with the field hospital.
Profiteering out of people's misery
THE MOST disgusting thing in this terrible situation is the profiteering out of people's misery that is going on.
This fills people with rage. No normal transport is running between the federal capital city, Islamabad, and Bagh. The usual fare is Rs120.00 (£1.20). However, because people are desperate to try to get to their home villages, vehicles are available for hire. But a single fare now costs between Rs600-800 (£6-£8). This represents a 600% increase in costs!
A representative of the Edi Foundation, which provides ambulance and emergency medical aid, was interviewed on television and he said Edi managed to get its two helicopters operational in the first day of the earthquake, while the army generals dragged their feet over the question of providing military helicopters for emergency medical use.
In the interview, he ironically attacked the big pharmaceutical companies when he said, "We know the drug companies are desperate to help the injured but we don't need their normal type of 'aid' - which are drugs whose expiry date has gone. We need drugs which can be used for a few months".
In The Socialist 13 October 2005: