Pakistan: Misery and tears in Baluchistan's juniper valley

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Mubashir Fida, International Federation Information Officer in Ziarat

The tourist resort town of Ziarat, where for generations juniper trees and a majestic landscape have welcomed all visitors, has now, in the blink of an eye, become a place of worry and sadness.

This town in the south-western province of Baluchistan, well-known as one of the bountiful fruit baskets of Pakistan, was shaken hard when a series of powerful earthquakes flattened villages in the region on 29 October.

Earthquakes took the lives of an estimated 200 people in a mostly impoverished region, with more than 500 others having been injured. More than 17,500 families have been displaced by the earthquake in this sparsely populated area of Pakistan.

Hot days and cold nights

People in this remote area of the country lived in mud houses which, in many cases, have been reduced to heaps of debris after the earth shook, forcing people to stay outside at night under the cold, open sky. Life in Ziarat is tough as relief and recovery efforts progress, with temperatures ranging from 26 degrees Celsius during the day to minus 4 degrees during the night.

A strong wind blowing in the area makes it more challenging for the survivors, as the wind chill makes it almost unbearable to be exposed to the elements.

The entire village of Kili Vam, where nearly 2,100 people used to live, has been flattened. Farid Khan, 14, lost his parents, his grandmother and an uncle in the disaster. Two days after the quakes, with relief teams reporting that small, remote villages had still not been reached with assistance, Farid appears thoroughly distressed.

Seeing parents die

Although Farid's elder brothers, who were in the capital district of Quetta at the time of the disaster, have come to console him, the memory of losing his parents still makes him cry. "My parents were under the rubble and were shouting for help... I rushed to them and desperately tried to rescue them," he says, tearfully.

After getting his badly hurt parents out from under the debris, Farid tried to save one of his uncles, but he was already lost, as was his grandmother.

He then brought water for his parents, who were lying on the ground. "I cupped water in my hands and poured it in their mouths," he said. "They were hurt badly and were crying due to the pain. Half an hour later, they were gone. I saw them die in front of my eyes," recalls Farid, his voice broken with emotion.

He, along with his 14 other family members are living in a tent village close to their destroyed village. Farid's elder brothers Feroz Khan, 21, who is a constable in the police service and Mehmmood Khan, 19, arrived from Quetta and are now digging through the rubble where their house formerly stood, to try and recover some of their belongings. All around the village, people were helping each other clear debris.

Unclear future

Being the eldest, Feroz has to think about rebuilding the house and about what will happen to the family when extreme winter conditions arrive: "I don't know what to do... the weather is getting worse and we can't rebuild before April next year," he says. "We have no clue as to how my family will survive the difficult winter weather here."

Like Feroz, many people are worried about the coming cold and how to take care of their families and their domestic animals.

Feroz's family lost dozens of animals in the disaster, a serious setback to a family that relied on cattle-raising for their livelihood. The family has an apple orchard, but they fear that the trees will suffer because the water source that they once had is now destroyed.

Coordinated response

Emergency response teams and volunteers from the Baluchistan provincial branch of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) are working day and night to support earthquake survivors, delivering hundreds of tents, tarpaulins and blankets, along with food and essential household items. Since 30 October, the PRCS has distributed relief stocks to some 1,000 families in Ziarat and health teams are treating the injured.

The PRCS National Headquarters also sent a team of experts to assess damages as well as relief and health needs. This PRCS team also includes staff and volunteers from the International Federation and the Danish Red Cross. The IFRC is coordinating its efforts with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On 31 October, the ICRC launched a preliminary appeal for nine million Swiss francs to help earthquake survivors. The ICRC and the Pakistan Red Crescent provided medical supplies to local health facilities and assessed the capacities of hospitals in Quetta. An ICRC tracing team stands ready to assist people who wish to locate or communicate with loved ones.