Casey Connor

Online Journal of Work in Pakistan following the October 8th South Asia Quake

Updated: Jan 31, 2006


First Day - around Isalamabad
First Week - around Islamabad
Gallery 2 - Hilkot etc.
Gallery 3 - Malkan
Gallery 4 - Miscellaneous
Gallery 5 - Allai Valley
Gallery 6 - Bhogermang
Gallery 7 - Paras, Hungarai, Ghanool
Gallery 8 - Kala Dhaka 1
Gallery 9 - Hungarai
Gallery 10 - Satbani
Gallery 11 - Kala Dhaka 2
Gallery 12 - Batagram
Gallery 13 - Kala Dhaka 3
Gallery 14 - Batagram, Muzzafarabad, etc.


Update 11/22 - long
Update 11/22 - short
Update 12/1 - shelter emergency
Update 12/25


Village Project Summary
Batagram/Allai/Kala Dhaka report (Word .doc)
Kala Dhaka report #2

Earthquake info:
Pakistani: Dawn / The News / Daily Times / TFT / APP / PTV News / Geo
Other: Google News: "earthquake" / Yahoo! News
BBC / CNN International / Reuters / MSNBC
The Independent / New Standard
Info/News: -- for donations to Edhi foundation -- volunteer info -- comprehensive -- summary of some groups on the ground

URGENT: Money, warm clothes, blankets, needed... Please read this donation information!

So, you're an untrained volunteer from North America/Europe/etc. and you want to go to Pakistan.

If any person or organization in the US is interested to have a speaker on the subject of the earthquake and the relief efforts, whether just for information or for fundraising, get in touch.

Jan 31

Leaving in 2 days. Please keep up on the situation through the links above. There may be sporadic updates here as info comes from Pakistan about ACTED projects, etc., but they won't be as common.

Thanks for everyone's help and support!

Jan 30

Having largely completed work in the Kaghan valley for the immediate term, ACTED is expanding its emergency work to the Muzzafarabad/Neelum Valley area and Batagram. ACTED's base in Batagram has begun to bring in tents, thus making it an official operation.

Photo: Vincent Roger

Photo: Vincent Roger

Snow remains in the higher elevations while windows of good weather allow operations to continue to some degree.

Generally speaking, the winter has been hard but blessedly mild, and far fewer migrations than expected ocurred due to the cold. (February, however, is generally the worst month of winter.) Plenty of emergency work remains, however.

Two new galleries:

Gallery 13 - more from Kala Dhaka

Gallery 14 - Batagram, Muzzafarabad, etc.

Jan 16

...Still in Batagram setting up a new base for ACTED.

Another storm, this one much worse than the last, has struck. Here in Batagram it's been raining hard for a couple days. The road up to Thakot is closed by a landslide, and all roads in to and out of Bana in the Allai valley are closed from snow and ice and rain, thus sealing our assessment team in for a few days. They are fine, and are getting work done, but it remains to be seen when the roads will open again. The real story, of course, is the affect of the storm on the population in the hills, and we won't know that for a while as basic movement is highly restricted.

A gallery of images from around Batagram and the new base.

Jan 11

During Ramadan the earthquake struck. On Christmas there was an aftershock, on New Years day the first heavy snows and rains came with their attendant problems, but today Eid ul-Adha begins blessedly calm, meteorologically- and geologically-speaking. The lingering snow from the last week still hampers relief efforts, but the winter so far has been better than could have been expected. A few rough weeks could easily change that record, but for now survivors of the earthquake and the relief community continue their efforts and give thanks for at least one relatively peaceful holiday.

Eid Mubarak to all...

New galleries:

Gallery 9 - ACTED's Hungarai base camp after the snow starts...

Gallery 10 - ACTED's Sat Bani base camp and environs

Gallery 11 - Kala Dhaka 2, an ACTED assessment team

From the January 6th Situation Report from UN-Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

"Heavy snow and rain in the earthquake-effected areas grounded helicopter operations and seriously hampered relief operations over the past week. According to the latest logistics report, most of the major routes around Muzaffarabad, Mansehra, Bagh and Batagram with the major exception of the Neelum Valley road have now reopened. Helicopters began operations again as of January 3rd, but more bad weather is expected. UNJLC will be posting daily road updates and a corresponding map on a daily basis over periods of inclement weather conditions.

All sub-offices reported severely limited operations for the last few days, with operations slowly picking up on Tuesday. The cold and harsh weather conditions may trigger migration from the upper mountains to lower area, and will most likely stall air and land transportations, which may have multiple implications for the relief operations."

A big snow storm in this part of the world isn't the same as in wealthy countries. The snow may fall heavy here, but the real issue is the lack of tools to deal with it. A little rain and suddenly that dry, dusty lane is an impassable mud trench that even tractors can't overcome. A thin sheet of ice or snow on the previously excellent road and, lacking salt or plows or good tires, locals are stranded and relief workers helpless.

The Pakistan army is doing a respectable job keeping the roads open through these storms and the resulting landslides, but the harsh truth came home to the humanitarian community here in the first week of 2006 as basically everything shut down under a quieting blanket of heavy snow. Groups know that they must continue to work in these conditions, as the lives and well-beings of their beneficiaries will depend on it as conditions worsen, but many are unprepared. Assessment and monitoring teams lack appropriate shoes for hiking even in dry conditions. They have few raincoats or other such luxuries, often lacking even a warm coat. (These are the people setting out to help those in need, keep in mind.) Organizationally, there isn't a reliable plan to deal with new emergencies that may crop up after the next storm, and funders will have to be flexible if snow shuts operations down for weeks at a time.

The arrival of the real winter weather has not seen much of a migration of people from the mountains to the camps, in keeping with the "those that still remain will remain through the winter" school of thought. This bodes well for the often over-burdened tent camps. Hopefully it also means that those staying at their home sites are reasonably confident of their survival and health through the cold season, rather than obstinate or remaining out of financial necessity or fear.

ACTED is finishing off it's major project in the Kaghan valley, having distributed household goods, shelter tools and materials, food, and other relief items to thousands of families there. It has now begun the process of establishing two new project bases, one in the hard-hit Kashmir area centered in Muzzafarabd, which plans to serve populations in the Neelum and/or Jeelum valleys, and one in the city of Batagram, with plans to serve populations in the Allai valley and Kala Dhaka (see previous entries.)

ACTED has been in Batagram for the last week setting up our new base with the help of a few Pakistani staff. We've rented a building and sent a couple teams out to do some more detailed assessment in both Kala Dhaka and the Allai valley. Our hope is to begin distribution as soon as possible of emergency thermal protection items and to continue to expand our services as funding permits.

Batagram serves as the northern hub of relief operations. The standard slate of organizations (inlcuding the UN) is present there, many of which have sub-bases in the mini-hub of Bana, located in the middle of the Allai valley. The electricity is now back on in Batagram for the first time in 5 or 6 days and is notoriously unpredictable. Water supplies, from the river or wells, are also troublesome.

For those interested to know more about a recent ACTED assessment trip into Kala Dhaka, and some of the local politics that temporarily got in the way, you can check out a brief report.

Photo by Matloob

This child exhibits signs of skin damage from the cold... not rare among earthquake survivors, unfortunately, especially the young.

Saifullah and Sami in the Allai valley; two of ACTED's assessment team members.

Helicopters continue to play a vital role, but the snow and rain have shut them down for days at a time.

Water and sanitation programs are just starting to get underway. Though most of the necessary relief programs like water/sanitation, psychological counseling, education, health, livelihood/economic reconstruction, long-term shelter building, have yet to gather much steam, things are starting to come together. The earlier, cynical depiction of the situation as utterly out of control and incomprehensible are now inaccurate, it seems, though there is still plenty of chaos to go around. And with comparatively well-funded tsunami survivors still living a year later in their "temporary" emergency housing, one can't help but worry about the future.

Meanwhile in Islamabad... The Moon Foundation, a Pakistani NGO in Islamabad, continues to work in its way to raise money. This show, a combination of NGO awareness-raising and business sponsorship, featured a few of the local talents.

For the alt-energy/bicycle enthusiasts; These types of setups are somewhat common around here, this one is in Batagram.

Dec 26

Three more galleries:

Gallery 6 - Bhogermang

Gallery 7 - Paras, Hungarai, Ghanool

Gallery 8 - Kala Dhaka

The earthquake that recently struck was a 5.2. A few buildings collapsed in Balakot (not that any were standing, really) and a few more boulders had to be cleared from the road. Not much more than that, reportedly.

Dec 25

On this Christmas Day an earthquake hit somewhere... no details yet. In Islamabad and it was felt to be pretty strong (though not dangerous.) Word in Balakot is that it was strong and that lots of dust was kicked up in the valley from the ensuing landslides... we can only hope for the best up in the mountains until we get back up there. Landslides and the resulting closures of roads, the falling of already-damaged buildings, and the possibilities of rivers getting blocked up and then releasing a wall of water are among the top concerns with these lesser earthquakes that happen from time to time.

So, the update. Time with ACTED has involved a lot of hiking in the hills to clean up some GPS mapping of villages, and doing an exploratory trip to the Batagram District (including the Batagram and Allai "Tehsils", that is, sub-districts) and the Kala Dhaka tribal area, to collect information that will hopefully be used to help start a new arm of work in those areas. A report of the trip, edited for appropriateness and put online; it will probably only be interesting for those seeking a lot more detail.

ACTED has been working in the Kaghan valley, distributing an impressive amount of aid to thosands of families up and down the river, including tool kits, shelter kits (with insulation), food, and other items.

It's stunning how much need remains. So much work has been done and there are still so many people that are not at all ready for the winter. Even those in the camps, supposedly the lucky ones who are taken care of, face a miserable season and an unknown future.

Gallery 4 - miscellaneous stuff.
Gallery 5 - the Allai Valley.

A couple more galleries will be up soon as well, with more details included about the various things ACTED is up to.

New audio piece about the general situation...

TRANSCRIPT of audio piece:

A group of men in a tent in the tribal area of Pakistan known as Kala Dhaka, or Black Mountain, list the names and populations of the local villages for Zia-ul-Islam Abbasi, relief worker with a French NGO named ACTED. Kala Dhaka, perhaps due to it's rough reputation, previous history of opium cultivation, or the general government bias against tribal groups, has received virtually no aid whatsover following the devastating October 8th earthquake in Northern Pakistan, and villagers, never ones to wait for the government, have done their best to begin reconstructing a room to shelter their families for the winter.

In other northern areas, NGO's and the Pakistani military continue their race against time as snow begins to fall on the refugees. Tent fires, ignited from stoves, candles, or unsafe electrical wiring, have already claimed around six lives and have a horrific potential for the larger camps. The effect of the frost is visible in the chapped, broken skin of the children, who often also suffer from colds, respiratory problems, and, increasingly, skin diseases such as scabies and rashes which stem from close living quarters and a near total lack of heated bathing facilities.

Some of the higher-elevation areas have now been provided with adequate shelter and food for a hard winter, but there are still untold hundereds of thousands that lack the basic necessities of food and warmth, not to mention luxuries like basic sanitation, a reliable, accessible, potable water supply, health care, education, psychological treatment, physiotherapy, or economic assistance with their undefined future livelihoods.

The disaster here is ongoing, with many more lives at risk as the winter continues to worsen. While a diminishing number of helicopters continue to fly crucial missions into the mountains, the majority of supplies travel by roads that may soon be unreliable in the winter monsoon. Even today, as many international relief workers celebrated Christmas, a large earthquake struck. It's too soon to know if it caused much damage, but early reports are that the continuing landslides that plague many areas were triggered anew. This undoubtedly means the closure of crucial supply corridors until the army can open them again.

For the residents of Kala Dhaka and the many other needy areas, it's an unwelcome addition to their already long list of troubles.

Balakot, Pakistan

Merry Christmas to all...

Dec 15

Just a quick check in for friends and family: Doing great, I'm now in Balakot working with ACTED ( been hiking around in the mountains of the Kaghan valley just up to and beyond the snow line correcting GPS coordinates of various small collections of houses. More later...

Dec 7

Rain and snow... dropping temperatures. It's going to be a rough winter for a lot of people.

Two new galleries up. Gallery 2 includes images mostly around Hilkot, while Gallery 3 covers Malkan.

Dec 3

A rough draft of a summary of the Relief International projects, containing some redundant information from below, perhaps interesting for those seeking more detail.

Dec 1

New radio piece about structure and shelter issues.

Pictures coming soon, I swear...


NGO's and governments continue the longer-term rehabilitation work following the devastating earthquake that struck the northern Pakistan Kashmir region on October 8th.

But a major emergency continues as the victims of the earthquake enter the winter season. The UN estimates that between 20 and 100 thousand people will migrate to lower elevations now that the snows have started creeping down into the high-elevation villages and the tent camps in the higher valleys.

The logistics required to assess, organize, and deliver effective solutions to the shelter crises of so many people distributed so widely over such difficult terrain are overwhelming. Nonetheless, NGO's have developed a variety of models to help people cope with the heavy snows and low temperatures. Some provide repair kits, some provide basic materials, and some work longer-term to build substantial structures.

In the village of Hilkot, in the Manshera district, the sounds of hammers ring out across the terraced valley. The men are clearing rubble, salvaging materials, and hurredly creating some kind of shelter for their family to ride out the winter. Tools are scarce, and heavy machinery is largely unknown.

All villagers are leery of building in the traditional style, with mud and stone walls and heavy roofing beams, since this design claimed so many lives in the earthquake. Locally-designed winter shelters are often made of lighter wood and mud walls with metal roofs. NGO designs include plastic sheeting wrapped around wood frames, metal-sided frames with a plastic lining, quonset-style insulated tents, and a variety of other methods.

NGO's are doing their best with unreliable funding to meet the challenges of the winter and the migration, and structure programs are doing their best to house both those remaining in the hills and the insufficiently protected populations in the tent camps. The people of Pakistan are doing their best to weather a very difficult winter.

Manshera, Pakistan.

Nov 29

For the following story, there are lots of photos that are hopefully coming online soon...

Manshera is a relatively large town located on the Karakorum highway. It's one of the major bases of the relief operations going on in the earthquake-affected areas, and the vehicles of many NGO's, both local and international, including branches of the UN, can be seen buzzing around the crowded narrow streets or making their way along the highways to and from their project sites.

Winter has started: at the lower elevation of Manshera, rain fell through the day, and snow has been falling as low as 5,000 feet.

Working in this area, one gets the strong impression that despite all the cell phones, the internet, the helicopters, the satellite imagery, the army coordination, and the meetings, no one actually knows what the hell is going on. There are a few main issues that are agreed upon:

- Villages above 5,000 feet still need a huge amount of aid in the form of food and, especially, winter-ready structures

- conditions in the tent camps in the valleys (both planned and spontaneous) are not great and are likely to get much worse with the rains and snow

- a potentially large migration is expected once the first snows fall when those that have been holding out for emergency aid finally abandon their home sites and come down to the tent camps (whether it's the entire family or only the women, children, and any at risk for health reasons.)

- emergency medical needs have subsided, though they may rise again with the winter migration; long-term medical care is still much under-served in the mountains, the valley tent camps, and the major city relief camps and hospitals.

There are, however, a lot of questions that no one seems to have clear answers about:

- exactly how many will be coming down from the mountains? Some say that given generations of experience with the harsh winters, those that are going to stay the winter have made that decision and those that don't have the resources have already come down.

- of those that need some kind of winter structure, how desperate are they and what are good materials and techniques to assist them?

- to what degree will winter affect the ability of groups large and small to deliver aid to the areas? Some say that winter shuts a most of the area down, while some believe that windows in between heavy storms will allow some kind of work to continue.

- what are good ways to deliver the aid? The UN and Pakistan have chosen several strategically-located drop sites in the mountains ("FASS points", Forward Area Supply Site). Their fleet of helicopters and jeeps are dropping as much aid at these places as they can before winter closes or significantly reduces the supply lines (even helicopters have a hard time accessing these places with lots of snow on the ground and in the air.) If enough supplies (from them and NGO's using their services) can be delivered to these places before winter (which is beginning now), then ongoing operations in the winter may be able to access these storehouses and distribute vital food and supplies much more easily than if they were stuck in Islamabad. (Correction: These FASS points were not agreed upon for a long while, if ever; high-altitude dropping occurred but not necessarily coordinated interagency-wise.)

One is struck by the fact that "coordination" is in itself quite a valuable thing to bring to situations like this. It's perhaps obvious, but a (somewhat) neutral third party that can broker the distribution of resources in as even-handed a way as is possible in the midst such chaos is in fact a precious thing. Of course in many cases the end result isn't the most efficient result, since standardized construction models and food delivery systems inevitably result in a dramatic lack of flexibility, but given the inherent imperfection in any distribution, it's understandable that groups would be very careful in how and where they distribute their goods. For the most hard-hit remote areas, however, the focus seems to be on the delivery of sheer material aid, with the assumption that the desperation of the situation will compel communities to make the best decisions for their survival.

It's hard to convey just how confusing and hard the situation is for people in affected villages and the people trying to help them. It's easy to read about the coming winter, the tent camps, and so on, and wonder why people don't come down from the villages, or why they don't simply cobble together a structure from the remains of their house, or why they don't come together as a village and live collectively in the remaining, occasionally large and habitable structures, or why the government/military/NGO groups can't get a clear picture of where the villages are, what their needs are, and set up a system of communication among the groups to deliver what resources are available to those who need them the most, especially a month and a half after the disaster.

To answer that set of questions it's necessary to remember that, at it's root, the situation is a complete mess. Imagine your clean-running relief operation with idealized, needy villagers huddling around fires in the mountains, or standing in grateful lines behind some truck of food; now drop a huge bomb in the middle of your visualization, and you're getting closer to the reality here. Add to this the epiphany that just because a disaster happened, the complicated social/cultural/political relations between people have not evaporated in a rush of enlightened altruism (whatever that would mean).

Relief International are about 10 staff and an additional 10 or so associated people, all in a large rented house in the city of Manshera. RI is running a couple field clinics in tent camps in the city/villages of Dharyal and Battagram, and doing food distribution of UN-World Food Program food at a couple sites. They have recently started a shelter program.

RI will supply two villages, Malakan and Hilkot, with some level of winter sheltering. The first program, at Malakan, is the brainchild of a guy from Green Sandwich, an alternative building group (from California, of course). With his funding and help from RI we will be building around 120 structures over the next couple months (weather permitting.) The second, at Hilkot, is the brainchild of another Californian, and consists of basic, insulated, one-room wood-frame structures that use the coveted "CGI" (corrugated metal sheeting) that so many NGO's are seeking for their shelter programs. Given the smaller, more flexible size of our operation, we have so far succeeded in procuring this material, which some whisper may soon be seized by the government for the Army's sheltering programs, as were the tents in the earlier stages of emergency response.

We're late in the game, here, since the snows have already begun, but anything helps, and we're doing what we can. A few significantly larger projects are in the works, and we're keeping our fingers crossed for the funding.

The village of Hilkot, like so many in these hills, somehow appears mildly damaged when viewed from the next ridge over. When you actually arrive, however, you realize that around 98% (actual statistic) of the buildings have been totally ruined as far as winter habitation, and those remaining are understandably not so inviting given the performance of the neighboring buildings and the chance of future earthquakes. The general destruction of the earthquake is well-known: huge loss of life; vast numbers of hospitals, schools, and houses were destroyed; roads, fields, destroyed; livestock lost; etc. A month and a half on, there is an eerie sense of calm in these places, and the psychological and social damage done by the quake could be missed if you only passed through. It's astounding that people have the will to continue in such circumstances.

Areas in the center of town look like a bomb was dropped on them. The amount of rubble and twisted remains of buildings is mind-boggling for a town without power tools or much heavy machinery. And yet people are starting to pick at the piles, collecting usable wood and stacking bricks, and wondering if the strange foreigners taking pictures of their children are going to come through with their potentials for help.

Hilkot, as devastated Pakistani villages go, is faring pretty well. It's accessible by road, relatively affluent by local standards, there are a number of groups working there (including Mercy Corps), and their elevation (5,300 feet, on average) means they will not receive the worst of the winter. The stories from more remote villages lead one to believe that their situations are a lot more desperate: some groups are sending things like basic toolkits and plastic sheeting to these places instead of building structures, under the philosophy that they will use these flexible materials for themselves. The intricacies of aid distribution demand that this be delivered in a monitored way: given the general desperation, families that plan to come down for the winter are quite understandably tempted to collect as much as they can from agencies, stash it, and head for the tent camps for the winter. Countless considerations like this inform the work being done here, and, I'm quite sure, all over the world.

The RI team went to Hilkot on the 26th and visited more or less every house (or remnants thereof) to collect very basic data about their household, witness the sites ourselves, and try to make a simplistic evaluation of who needs what how badly. We can't hope to know the deeper issues: which families have alternative places to live, what access to support or supplies they have through social connections, what their intentions with our supplies are, to what degree the information we receive is filtered by our local guides, what they expect to gain from the situation besides the basic aid (e.g. local political points, employment, etc). It's only within our ability and privilege to do the best we can in a short time of getting needed supplies to the village. We try to be savvy, pay attention, ask questions, and get a basic job done as fast as possible.

On the 28th we spent the day there getting the load of materials for 12 houses (or more) delivered up the muddy, narrow roads, and talking to villagers to get a clearer idea of what we should build or do in terms of assistance, where we should do it, and when we can get the logistics finished. We plan to return tomorrow bright and early to begin construction.

On the 29th the village succeeded in getting a load of wood to and from the mill (down the road) and visiting the 12 sites that the village selected as the first recipients for the pilot project.

We hope to find a third project to start. Hopefully this new village will be more remote but jeep-accessible, and hopefully we have the time to do a simple assessment of their needs. Given the late date, it seems a long shot, but we're going to try.

Many have asked how to help (the donation information page is out of date.) A few thoughts:

- Don't worry about what the "best way" to help is. Elusive even in the best conditions, it's an answer you can give up hope of discovering in this situation.

- Cash donations to effective NGO's are needed and convenient for the donor. An organization's effectiveness on the ground here doesn't necessarily correlate to the efficiency with which they use their money, but the groups on the ground here include: Mercy Corps, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Care, Save the Children, ACTED, Caritas, Medecines Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Oxfam, and others. Local recommendable Pakistani groups include the Sungi foundation ( and the Edhi Foundation. Many other groups you may know have south asia earthquake programs but aren't actually here themselves (they coordinate through local groups.)

- We need winterized structures and certain materials, but the logistics of you getting them here in time to be effective are intimidating, unless you're super-motivated and ready to fund a reasonable quantity of stuff. Of course, get in touch if you're interested to do that and would like more information.

Nov 26

A little note...

Situational update: it's chaotic up here in the hills, and there's a lot on conflicting information. It seems, given the different info reported (from a couple meetings of many international NGO's working around here) that there is in fact a big risk of serious problems in the next few weeks, both for the people remaining in the hills (for a variety of convincing reasons) and for the people in the hastily constructed tent cities (in the valleys) which seem extremely ill-prepared to handle either the winter or an expected influx of people coming down from the hills.

There are lot of sad, sad stories up in those villages, and it's hard to imagine how someone can find the inspiration to keep going after what they've been through.

Ok, more later...

Nov 22

Heading to the affected areas tomorrow, perhaps the Balakot/Garhi Dupatta areas.

A gallery of images from the local area...

A couple audio pieces about the situation, based on the rough article already posted:

There is a long version and a short version. The script for the long version follows, even though some of it repeats the previous post:

The devastating earthquake that occured on the 8th of October in the South Asian Kashmir area, held contentiously by both Pakistan and India, left at least 80,000 dead -- some estimates range in to the the hundered thousands. More than 100,000 were injured, and countless millions made homeless. As tragic as the earthquake was, the suffering is not over. Immediate-term funding has been scarce, and many in the highest elevations beyond the reach of damaged roads have yet to receive relief. Winter has begun in the Himalaya and they are now facing freezing temperatures and deep snowfall with little more than the clothes on their backs.

President General Pervez Musharraf, whose army took control of the government in 1999, called a recent conference of international donor countries and organizations in the modern political capital of Islamabad, located at the foothills of the affected areas. Though it generated some 5.9 billion dollars in pledges, about 80% of that amount came in the form of loans. Without a coordinated, funded, immediate plan from the authorities to shelter the hundereds of thousands of inadequately-housed people in the higher elevation villages and emergency tent camps, officials at field hospitals and tent cities are preparing for a potentially huge second wave of suffering in the coming weeks, as families, especially the young and old, succumb to the plummeting temperatures.

Dr. Muhammad Waseem Khan is the Scretary of the local branch of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in Rawalpindi, twin city to Islamabad:

"By the time these pledges will be returned, let me show you that many of them will die, and anyone dying now will be our joint responsibility; we'll all share everything; as a global village, the entire world community will now be responsible for any death-taking from now on, whatsoever; because it was our responsibility, it was our duty that we should have realized what is coming up. We have failed to do that."

Most international NGO's have focused their efforts on hospitals and shelters in the valleys and cities. The high-elevation areas have mostly been the province of limited helicopter supply lines and rescue operations by local and foreign military. Most international and local NGO's do not have the backing or logistic ability to reach the far-flung villagers, although, for a few areas, slowly improving road access has opened a brief window before winter closes it again.

In the higher-elevation reaches of the mountains, some people have chosen to remain, despite their lack of shelter. Their situation is complex: many can not leave the remaining livestock or farms which will be their only livelihood after the winter. They resist the idea of slaughtering their animals and descending to an uncertain future in the congested tent cities in the valleys. They also fear that leaving their homestead will void their ability to collect various monetary compensation promised by Musharraf for villagers that have been injured, lost their houses, or lost family members.

Many of those who have reached the relief camps have escaped such devastation that the idea of returning seems impossible. Most say that they would like to return but they have lost everything and they can not do so without some kind of assistance from the government.

Shahida, living with her family in tent 160 of the sprawling H-11 camp in Islamabad, is from the Bagh area, a particularly hard-hit region:

"It's looks like our lands have been blown up; there were a lot of landslides; the houses have moved from their places; we can't say anything about the situation so far because there are cracks in the road; when the rains come the water will pool in the cracks; then we will see if we can move back or not."

Many survivors in the relief camps feel that the international response was impressive, though not overwhelming, and they are thankful for the help.

Mahmood, from the destroyed village of Chinaari in the Muzzafarabad area, buried many relatives in the first days after the earthquake, including his mother-in-law who died while they waited for help:

"I think that Americans and Britains have worked a lot over here; their twin-bladed helicopters have also worked a lot; their machines moving the big things from one place to another; whatever they have done so far we are really thankful to them; whatever they have done they have done for humanatarian reasons, nothing else; we are very thankful for them."

NGO workers are hopeful that the recent donors' conference will inspire increased coordination between the government efforts and the NGO sector, especially in light of the belief that the government has not articulated a clear plan to shelter the vulnerable mountain populations.

Saad Yousaf works for the Sungi Development Foundation, a well-known Pakistani NGO which was one of the few groups having a strong presence in the affected areas before the earthquake. Sungi represented the NGO sector of society at the recent donors' conference:

"If we have ground level presence, I think it's helpful for the donors to come to us and say 'Ok, this is our plan; you implement it'. And if we have ground level presence the government could also say 'Ok you just activate your people within the ground level and we're going to support you in these sorts of actities.'"

As the earthquake fades from the international spotlight and the remaining journalists wait patiently for an opportunity to photograph victims of the coming snows, it remains doubtful that the current relief system can handle the challenge of winter.

Nov 17

I have a cell phone here; please distribute the number as you need. Within Pakistan: 0333-5699017

A rough draft of a story... it's still kind of half-educated and simple: Revised: 11/18

Since the devastating October 8th earthquake centered in Northern Pakistan, the Pakistani and Indian governments, along with the UN, NATO, and international NGO's, have been working on many levels to alleviate the suffering of the millions of people affected. Groups have worked on search-and-rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath, the establishment of tent hospitals and camps, and the attention to longer term needs such as physical therapy, counseling, rebuilding of infrastructure, and economic recovery. Despite these initiatives, a major question looms over the relief efforts: in just one or two weeks the serious snows and lower temperatures of winter will set in. An estimated 100,000 people at higher elevations beyond the reach of relief workers face a very uncertain future, and their situation may have serious consequences for the entire relief operation.

Islamabad, the modern political capital of Pakistan, lies at about 2,000 feet elevation at the foothills of the enormous Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram ranges. It sees a relatively mild winter compared to the extreme conditions at higher elevations, and the relief operations have had less trouble establishing shelter and services. Islamabad was not seriously damaged by the earthquake, but it has become home to many refugees. At the enormous H-11 camp in Islamabad, something like 12,000 people live in orderly rows of tents stretched over a vast dirt lot. Clean, well-built washing areas, fire control stations, tent canopies housing schools and Mosques, an equipped playground, sophisticated water-filtration systems, and security patrols make it easy to forget that a very different reality exists for refugees in the higher valleys.

After the earthquake many came down from the mountains, often making arduous journies in search of health care and food. Many lost their entire village; others lost their personal livelihoods when their house and livestock were buried in landslides. Many have temporarily settled at tent camps in the valleys. Many of these camps, however, are still high enough in the mountains to see a severe winter, and the uninsulated, non-waterproof tents that most survivors occupy now will very soon be inadequate.

In the higher-elevation reaches of the mountains, many people have chosen to remain without shelter. Their situation is complex: many can not leave the remaining livestock or farms which will be their only sustenance after the winter. The notion of slaughtering their animals and descending to an uncertain future in the congested, disease-prone tent cities in the valley seems out of the question. A few have reportedly built shelters for their animals while they sleep outside in the freezing night. They also fear that leaving their homestead will void their ability to collect various compensation promised by President General Musharraf for villagers that have been injured, lost their houses, or lost loved ones. Many, especially children, are afraid to sleep indoors, as rumors of another imminent earthquake abound.

Most international NGO's have focused their efforts on hospitals and shelters in the valleys. The high-elevation population has been the province of limited helicopter supply drops and even more limited ground-based supply runs. Most iternational and local NGO's do not have the backing or logistic ability to reach the far-flung villagers. Local price gouging for transportation and tent costs, hoarding of supplies by individuals, and intra-village politics complicate the efforts. As winter begins, the unanswered question seems to be how much the resulting downward migration of villagers will affect the already-crowded tent camps in the valleys, and how many of those already in the valleys will be unprepared for the harsh conditions. Simultaneously, many in the valleys and Islamabad wish to return to the higher-elevations before the winter to prepare what remains of their homes, and even if small numbers choose to do this they may end up at the same valley tent camps, unable to get all the way home.

The valley tent cities continue to grow and develop, but the sense of emergency has faded since the immediate aftermath. Without a clear alternative technique to cope with the oncoming winter, groups seem at a loss to do anything but what they have been doing. On the 19th of November an international conference of donors will be meeting in Islamabad, and the local tent camps will probably impress them. As the earthquake fades from the international spotlight and the remaining journalists wait patiently for an opportunity to photograph victims of the coming snows, it remains to be seen if the current relief system can handle the challenge of winter.

Nov 15


Twin city area Isalamabad/Rawalpindi sits at the northern end of the lower elevations, just at the foothills of the mountains. It is one of the three or so main bases of relief operations and is the main airport; the hard hit areas are in the mountains to the north and east. Helicopters and cargo planes occasionally thunder overhead, and supplies roll by in the large highly-decorated trucks of the region, but the general tenor must be essentially calm compared to the chaotic maelstrom in the first weeks after the tragedy.

The situation with at least three field hospitals seems to indicate that strategies around the city have shifted toward insuring longer-term care of treated injuries and social services such as psychological aid, education, training, and so on. A big "what next" seems to hang over the camps as organizers admit that the plan of everyone "just going home" to their higher-elevation villages once the winter passes isn't likely to be quite so clean. Villagers who have lost their livelihoods will be hard pressed to make the difficult journey back. Some fear the potential (however great or small) of another earthquake.

Most, however, are said to want to return as soon as possible, even against doctors' orders. The urge to return in order to care for their farm or village, especially before the dreaded winter sets in, is great. One person I met predicted that as winter sets in there will be a flood of people coming down from the hills, finally abandoning their homesteads, and simultaneously an opposite push of people trying to get back up before the snows cut things off completely. There is also a compensation issue: President Musharraf has apparently declared relief monies will be distributed to villagers still in the mountains, but the villagers understandably believe that they have no hope of compensation if they make the difficult descent to the valleys and are not present at their home site to make the collection. They are also skeptical of the benefits of joining the large tent cities in the valley, where, even if the promises of food and shelter come true, they have no control of their own lives. Further complicating the situation is the fact that discharged patients and refugees often are not provided the means to return to their homes and must rely on their own finances, family, or NGOs to get them back.

There is a striking lack of urgency around the camps. People are obviously settled in for the long haul: dealing with their injuries (physical and mental), taking care of day to day needs, and trying to restore some normalcy to their lives. The bigger questions camp organizers seem to be trying to answer are how to make their clients' time in the camps as comfortable and healing as possible and, more importantly, how their time in the camp can be used to improve their chances in life once the relief money and supplies run out.

Striking also was the general cleanliness and orderliness of the camps. There was no trash on the ground. There was organized sanitation facilities for washing and cooking, sophisticated water filtration systems, fire control stations, sturdy tents, clear signage, play areas, wide walkways, etc. The only visible standing water was being filled in by a team with shovels as we walked by.

Just one part of a 5-step water filtration system at H-11 camp

There is still a big push to get supplies to the more mountainous areas and camps, and there must be a much greater sense of urgency there, given that low temperatures and snow have already beset mountain areas, that some still have still received no aid at all, and that the serious winter is only a week or two off.

10 Corps Field Hospital, sits in the parking area of a polo grounds in Rawalpindi. It began October 11th, just three days after the earthquake struck, when things were still in total chaos. Now it is a relatively peaceful scene of men and women recuperating in cots. Run by the Pakistani Army and financed largely by the Pepsi company, it consists of several very large tent/canopy structures capable of housing perhaps hundereds of injured people, currently housing less.

Main office area of 10 Corps Field Hospital

A particular tent shelters two long rows of shipping containers that serve as hospital rooms to four or more patients each. These are the "very lucky", who have a safe, sheltered place to heal and are receiving good medical assistance. This site also serves as one central place for the distribution of goods; several trucks packed with items were waiting to roll out as we walked the grounds.

Each of these containers houses recovering survivors.

The second camp, H-11, is the largest in the Islamabad area. Housing something like 12,000 people, it is a sprawling yet well-organized mass of tents in long, ordered rows. Born on October 20th, it opened its gates to survivors on the 23rd. Here a young girl in a uniform walked by; it may only be speculation, but it was said that she was likely wearing the same clothes she had on the day of the earthquake that happened over a month ago: occurring at 8:50 AM, the earthquake struck when many children were in school, killing many and sending others, like this one, to relief camps, with their uniforms to remind them of whatever horrors they knew that morning.

Note how far back into the frame the tents recede...

A long row of elevated blue plastic water tanks lines an entire side of the enormous camp, providing washing water for all the residents. The city of Islamabad provided the grounds for the camp (apparently it's usually some sort of gathering place) and a lot of infrastructural works, including these water tanks, a 5-step water filtration and chemical treatment system, electrical lighting for the avenues between the tents, kitchens, a fire department squad, security, and so on. Their works are mostly crafted of corrugated metal, as opposed to the canvas tents. Inside the camp, around 8-10 (?) different NGO's are entirely responsible for different sections: they provide the tents, ditches, and all the attendant organization, goods, and services for the people they serve in a particular part of the camp. There were camps by the Turkish Red Crescent Society, the Edhi foundation, and the largest and self-professed cleanest camp run by ICNA/Muslim Aid, housing around 2,200 people (including 700 or 800 children).

Again, note how far the tents go.

These camps said they don't really need tents, and it seems logical that the urgent need for tents be directed to the more dire situation in the hills. What most do need is food, with medical supplies sometimes also on the list. The ICNA/Muslim Aid camp (within H-11) said their biggest need, apart from food, was "innovation"; creative ideas to try to make the time of the refugees there as enriching, enjoyable, healing, and useful as possible. Already they are training women in sewing/embroidery skills; they have established schools and a Mosque, and they have plans of social events around a campfire. They have hired refugees from the camp to assist in camp organization and maintenance.

H-11 is a dusty camp, despite the water trucks wetting the ground from time to time, and there is some trepidation about the oncoming winter rains which are already a week or two late. Drainage ditches are being prepared, but it's sure that mud and the attendant health issues will be problems when the rain hits.

Then there's the small field camp set up by the Rawalpindi Eye Donor Organization (REDO) at their Chambelli Institute project site in Rawalpindi. Previously only a school for mentally handicapped children, they converted an indoor play area and a yard into a 120-person hospital with accompanying tents, food, and sanitation. They may grow to as many as 175 soon. Their clientel consists of women that have been through surgery elsewhere and discharged after the initial recovery from the operation, but that require ongoing treatment of the injury or physical therapy. Thus they fulfill a need for longer-term care. As with ICNA/Muslim Aid over at H-11, they believe that occupying their clients with basic camp upkeep is important to their mental health. REDO just started around a week ago. Their needs are for food as well as bedding, since they discharge their patients with their bedding.

In Islamabad there still reside many Afghan refugees, holdovers from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 80's, and their children. Still numbering around 2 million in Pakistan, most in the northwest, Pakistan intends to repatriate them, though it's not clear how or when. They provide cheap labor for the local economy, but their presence and competition for jobs is not always welcome. Here is the main camp they live in in Islamabad:

Afghan refugee camp in Islamabad

...and here is where their camps have been razed after they were sent home (...not sure how peacably this operation went down...) Apologies for the blur:

Afghan camp after demolition

The guys here at REDO have showered me with the famous Pakistani hospitality and set me up in an unused tent. They talk of me playing music around a campfire tomorrow, teaching children music in the morning, and anything else I can come up with. I only hope I'll have the energy. To me, this tent is a sweet little shelter; a surprise of hospitality and convenience. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be forced from my village, robbed of my loved ones, and lying here recuperating from a major surgery, wondering about the future.

Nov 12

The Eureka Reporter printed an article on the trip.

Leaving tomorrow...

Nov 11

Got the visa! Gearing up in SF now...

Nov 8

$412 from generous souls on the Arcata plaza at the vigil and a further $220 from other sources, bringing the current total to $3,882, plus whatever Jessicurl raises for MercyCorps... Thanks again to everyone. Current info is that bringing the money over is more efficient than buying things here; no real surprise there, but it means that shortages aren't as bad as they might have been.

Leaving Arcata tomorrow...

Nov 7

$100 from generous souls at the Eureka cabaret at the Soma Olam space...

Soma Olam is having a hip-hop benefit show on the 18th of November to raise funds for the earthquake. More info as it comes.

Soma Olam is at 47A W 3rd St, Eureka, CA (between A and Commercial St.'s)

Buying gear, getting ready, busy busy busy... Again, anyone that can help connect to NGOs that are working in Pakistan is encouraged to get in touch.

Nov 4

Some good news: Incredibly gracious donors have so far contributed US $3,150 for this effort. I am without words... Probably it will be spent on tents, but still working that out. Perhaps medical supplies...

...and more: Local business Jessicurl will be adopting a Pakistani NGO as it's charity-of-the-month which could mean more than $1,000 in donations.

Read this:

The vigil on the plaza in Arcata is set at 5 PM on Tuesday. A flyer and associated files is here, Adobe InDesign format (sorry). Also at that link are posters and signs, in a variety of formats (eps, pdf, and illustrator.)

Nov 3

A vigil may take place on the Arcata plaza. Maybe 5:00. If you can help post flyers, make signs, or generally organize the thing, please be in touch. The idea is to raise awareness, maybe collect some donations, hand out information, and so on. Given that it's election day there should be some good traffic passing by.

Of the many photos on the web this one stands out; apparently from the NY Times:

This is reportedly a woman climbing back up to her village after gathering some supplies.

The BBC has a tragic 360 view from Muzzafarabad:

Oct 30

This journal was created to document my time in Pakistan following the October 8th earthquake.

If you would like to donate money that be given directly to local NGOs on the ground in Pakistan, or you would like to donate goods that can be taken (within the baggage limit) please see the donation information page.

Personally, I could use a laptop computer (for audio journalism work - any laptop would do) and a digital camera. I'm happy to borrow and return these items. Otherwise I will donate them to a local group on my way out.

Anyone with contacts in the area or advice is encouraged to get in touch (see below).


Please contact me through this page.