At 8.55 this morning, disaster struck as eight waves of earthquake tremors began. Everyone is terrified across the region. The Pakistani geological office has warned that more tremors may strike within the next 48 hours.
By Rukhsana Manzoor and Khalid Bhatti, Lahore, Socialist Movement Pakistan.
The western media is full of interviews by Pakistani federal government officials and military officers who claim that a full rescue mission is underway and that “all resources are being mobilised”. Don’t believe them! This is a typical spin operation mounted by the Musharraf government.
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. The earthquake has affected worse the most mountainous and outlying areas. These are also the areas where some of the poorest people in our region live. In many of the villages people’s houses are made of mud and have collapsed immediately. Landslides have blocked roads and this makes it impossible for rescue missions to reach the most needy or for the seriously injured to be transported to hospital. But the casualties would have been much higher if the earthquake epicentre had been in or near one of the main cities of Pakistan.
News is still coming in but it seems to be the case that Kashmir and perhaps Pakistani Occupied Kashmir has seen the worst damage. Sixty per cent of Muzafarabad, an important city has been destroyed. There are reports that a landslide caused by the earthquake blocked one of the main rivers near the city early this morning. It has been raining heavily for the last few hours. If the authorities do not unblock the river there could be massive flooding.
Most of the towns and villages in Kashmir have no running water or electricity. Rawalkot and Bagh, two other important cities in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, have seen the worse devastation – although it is very difficult to know exactly what is the situation because all the phone lines are down and roads are blocked. Television reporters estimate that over 300,000 Kashmiris, including the injured, are lining the roads, shocked and homeless, waiting for help which does not appear to be coming. In Kotli, a village in Kashmir where CWI members live, most people?s homes have been destroyed.
The mountainous regions of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have also been very badly affected. A village called Kalam in Swat province, where the Socialist Movement has a small branch, has been destroyed. It has not been possible to account for the safety all the members of the CWI in Pakistan and Kashmir yet.
The Prime Minister of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir has estimated the death toll in Kashmir to be at least 1,500. But this figure could rise higher. What has become clear in the last few hours is how shocking the public service infrastructure is in Pakistan as a result of decades of neglect. In every city, town or village, even those mildly affected, the buildings which have shown the most damage have been schools. Many of the casualties have been amongst primary and high school students attending classes which collapsed around their ears. This is directly because of the complete lack of funding for many decades. Civic agencies like civil defence and the fire service have hardly been able to intervene because they hardly exist – again because of lack of funding. The health service has been completely overwhelmed because of lack of doctors and hospitals. The injured in different parts of the region are being operated on in courtyards and in some cases on the streets, because the clinics and hospitals are full. And that is for those who are lucky enough to get there!
In Pakistan 45% (US $3.5 billion) of the budget goes on defence. And yet only 1.7% is spent on health! The difference between these two figures will cause casualties in a situation like this to be much higher. Despite the claims of government ministers, the rescue operation has hardly begun – local communities have been forced to fend for themselves. While things will become clearer in the next day or so it is clear that capitalism and feudalism has made this disaster far worse. The government is well aware that people?s anger is already rising. Spokespersons for the Musharraf regime have continually said on the media throughout the day that this is a national emergency in which national unity should be to the forefront and there should be no criticism of the government.
The most the government could announce today was ten food trucks being sent to NWFP – a whole province with a population of millions!! The federal government has announced a Rs1 billion aid package (Â£10 million) but this represents just a drop in the ocean of what is needed right now!
The Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) will be raising the demands in the next few days for local earthquake disaster committees to be elected to direct the rescue and rebuilding operation. The SMP will call for: *A full rescue operation using all the resources of the airforce and navy, including the setting up of field hospitals, provision for free of temporary accommodation, and food kitchens. *Distribution of tents, food, medical aid, financial grants, drinking water should be under the control of local earthquake disaster committees.
* Assessment of damage to local communities should be carried out by representatives of the committees and not government officials as in previous disasters. For full compensation equal to the cost of rebuilding for all of those who have lost accommodation.
* Rent and property price controls to be implemented immediately.
* A cap on the price of cement, bricks and all other building material to be implemented immediately.
* For the renationalisation of all companies concerned with building and repair.
* For a massive increase in public spending to improve infrastructure.