The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Criminal slowness after the earthquake

Oct 24, 2005

The October 8th earthquake, which struck both Pakistani Kashmir and Indian Kashmir, along with the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, killed at least 53,000 people, left tens of thousands wounded and three million without shelter.

In the mountainous region where the earthquake hit, nighttime temperatures get very low at this time of the year. Freezing cold rain fell for days, aggravating the survivors’ conditions. Many face the danger of their wounds becoming infected or of getting diarrhea and typhoid due to the lack of drinkable water and sanitary facilities.

Hundreds of villages of the Muzzafarabad district with about 700,000 people are inaccessible, due to the destruction of means of communication, bridges, roads and even trails. The United Nations has only 80 helicopters to fly between those isolated villages and the high Himalayan valleys and the bases where food, water and medicine can be given to disaster victims. Only specially equipped helicopters can get to these high altitudes, and many more are needed. The U.N. coordinator of humanitarian operations said he was only able to “transport a small quantity of aid with the helicopter fleet.” He added, “Given the number of people to be attended to and the quantity of material to transport, we need an open road network with trucks moving 24 hours a day.”But the clearing of roads could take a month, according to the Pakistani official in charge.

Hundreds of thousands of tents are needed to shelter the homeless from bad weather. Blankets, camp stoves, fuel, food and drinkable water are needed.

While survivors’ lives are in danger, the helicopters and the enormous amounts of supplies needed are being used by the United States and its rich allies to control neighboring Afghanistan and to make war in Iraq.

What’s been done up to now is pathetic considering how much need exists. The population feels abandoned. “We survived the earthquake, but now we know we’re going to die of hunger and cold.”

The recent catastrophe of New Orleans showed that the richest country in the world, the U.S., wasn’t ready to face a great crisis. It wasn’t for lack of means, but because governments didn’t make a priority to prepare for such a disaster. This is all the more the case for a poor country like Pakistan.

There is a logic in the way public money is used in the poor countries just as in the rich ones. This money could be devoted to public protection, health, public transport, roads, bridges and housing. That certainly wouldn’t have prevented the earthquake, but undoubtedly it would have considerably reduced the tragic consequences. But all governments prefer to dedicate public money to increase the income of the wealthy classes.