Caritas Pakistan Earthquake Relief: Cold weather makes situation worse

from Caritas
Published on 29 Nov 2005
By Georgia Schultze, Caritas field communicator in Pakistan
Millions of people in the mountain areas of Pakistan lost everything when the powerful earthquake struck on 8 October 2005.

People are increasingly concerned about the cold weather, as many are forced to spend the days out in the open or in tents.

Providing shelter from the harsh climate is a top priority for Caritas, which has distributed nearly 3,000 winterised tents and more than 4,000 plastic sheets. "Thank you for your help," says 55-year-old Abdel, from the small mountain village of Boi. "No other NGO has made it to us yet."

As night falls, temperatures can drop to four degrees Celsius, and thunderstorms occur regularly. The mountain tops are already covered with snow, and snow is expected in the villages any day.

Many people are leaving their villages and making the arduous trek down to the valley -- people like Shaheen who is from Shalianan, a small settlement high in the mountains. Five members of her family died during the earthquake. "We lost everything," she says. "Nothing is left."

Together with some members of her family, the 30-year-old mother left for Muzzaffarabad on foot. For three days and three nights, the small group walked 50 kilometres through the devastated mountain region. "There were no more roads. Landslides had destroyed everything," Shaheen explains. "The children were crying because of hunger, but we had nothing to give them but water."

From Muzzaffarabad, the family arrived at Mansehra. Shaheen is certain that other villagers will follow, as assistance has yet to reach them. "There is no food, no water and no medicine for the injured," says Shaheen who is convinced that once the snow starts to fall, those remaining in the village will freeze to death.

More people are expected to come to Mansehra from the higher mountain areas. The Pakistani government estimates that 15,000 people will come and seek shelter in tent villages.

Shaheen doesn't regret that she made the difficult trip to the valley. In a tent provided by Caritas, life is a little better, she says. She smiles at a Caritas volunteer who hands her a blanket. Already thinking about the future, Shaheen says: "As soon as the winter is over, we want to go back in the mountains and rebuild our village again."

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in 200 countries and territories.