On Wednesday, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing at least 170 people and leaving thousands homeless, [see related CHUP post]. When I first heard news of the tragedy, the first thought that came to me was an image I captured in a photograph almost three years ago, [see above], when I visited Balakot. The town, located in the NWFP, had been completely destroyed by the October 2005 earthquake, a disaster that killed about 74,500 people and injured over 100,000 in the region. It was one the largest natural disasters to afflict Pakistan, and was labeled the 14th deadliest earthquake of all time. Upon arriving in Balakot, we stopped to survey the devastation from a hilltop. The haunting image I captured above immortalized the emotions we were experiencing at that very moment – feelings of helplessness and concern, sadness and despair. The most overpowering emotion, though, was how small we felt amid the vast stretch of destruction and rubble that lay before us. It seems that no matter how much destruction we can cause by our own hands, through suicide bombings, violence, and intolerance, the power of God and nature will always bring us to our knees.
Those same emotions sat with me this morning, as I read article after article detailing the increasing casualty numbers in Balochistan and the relief efforts underway to recover survivors amid the rubble. This is the same conflict-ridden province that was hit by a cyclone last year, a disaster that destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Today, yet another tragedy has occurred, this time on the brink of a harsh winter. Mohammed Hashim, a resident in Wam, one of the hardest hit villages, told the AFP, “We are doomed…We have nothing left to save our families from the cold in the night.” The news agency reported, “Destitute survivors sat beside campfires as the night brought sub-zero temperatures to the mountainous quake zone bordering Afghanistan,” waiting for medical aid and supplies. The AFP’s correspondent in Wam reported that emergency tents had still not arrived by Wednesday night, “forcing exhausted villagers to hunker down in the ruined shells of their homes.” Many of the residents had spent “the day in a desperate search for loved ones or burying the dead in mass graves, as aftershocks nearly as big as the initial quake pounded the landscape, sending rocks spewing from nearby peaks and sparking fresh panic.”
If the earthquake in 2005 taught us anything, it’s that with immense tragedy comes the outpouring of human compassion. I still remember in 2005, when residents in Islamabad pitched in to help lift bricks and rubble in F-10, to help recover survivors from a collapsed apartment building. I remember how many people donated blankets, warm clothes, and tents to those suffering in the afflicted areas near Kashmir. Let us showcase that same compassion in the aftermath of this tragedy. We cannot stop the occurrence of natural disasters, but we can help restore what was left in their wake.
How you can help:
- Visit the page set up via Wikia Pakistan to learn more about the grassroots relief effort
- Organize drives to collect blankets, warm clothes, and money for tents to send to the affected areas
- Contact an Edhi Foundation center in your area to learn how you can donate your time/money for the relief efforts
- Islamic Relief is now accepting donations for relief efforts on their website, [thanks, Five Rupees].