Frustration grows among desperate quake survivors

Published on 02 November 2005

The Neelum Valley was at the epicentre of the earthquake that shattered Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir on 8 October, and is now all but cut off from the outside world. WFP spokesperson David Orr sent this e-card after meeting some of the increasingly desperate survivors.

You could normally drive the 15 kilometres from Muzaffarabad, the main city in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, to the village of Bheri, nestling on the hillside of the lower Neelum Valley, in about an hour and a half.

But following the 8 October earthquake which shattered the region, the village is all but cut off from the outside world.

The Neelum Valley was at the very epicentre of the earthquake and has suffered terrible devastation. As if this wasn't bad enough, huge landslides have blocked whole sections of the access road, so the only way for relief supplies to reach the area is by air.

Bound for Bheri

More than anything else, we need tents. Nearly everyone here is sleeping out in the open and winter is on the way

Rizwan Khan, Chowki village

Early in the morning a Pakistan army Mi-17 helicopter takes off from the airstrip just outside Muzaffarabad, bound for Bheri and another village further up the valley called Develian.

Inside the Russian-made machine - one of the workhorses of this relief mission – are 1,300 kilograms of wheat flour, pulses and vegetables.

The foodstuffs had been picked up at WFP's depot in Muzaffarabad and delivered to the airstrip that morning. Along with the four-man crew and a handful of passengers, this is as big a load as can be carried.

Collapsed houses

Flying up the high-walled canyon of the valley, we look down on steep mountain terraces, tiny, criss-crossing paths and the ruins of hundreds of houses which have collapsed under their concrete and tin roofs.

Twenty minutes later, the helicopter lands on a patch of open ground in Bheri, where hundreds of local people have congregated. Behind them are dozens of shattered buildings.

The village has been receiving regular deliveries of supplies, and Pakistani soldiers, now based in the village, have been organising distributions, but residents remain desperate for more help.

"We need food"

“We need food, particularly flour,” says Rizwan Khan, a computer student who had returned to the nearby village of Chowki, where his younger sister died in the earthquake.

“But, more than anything else, we need tents. Nearly everyone here is sleeping out in the open and winter is on the way," he adds.

Before the helicopter leaves Bheri, four wounded people are taken on board, among them a boy with a broken leg and a man with a badly infected leg wound. They will be taken to hospital for urgent treatment.

Challenges for relief

As if there were any doubt about the challenges facing the relief operation following the earthquake, it's reported later that a number of people have been injured that day alone while travelling through the same valley.

In one incident, two civilians were hurt when their car was hit by a landslide near the village of Kamsar.

Meanwhile four soldiers from the United Arab Emirates engaged in a non-WFP food distribution, also in Kamsar, were attacked by villagers frustrated at the way the aid was being distributed and demanding more food, more quickly.

Growing desperation

Other aid convoys plying the route confirmed that there is a growing sense of anger and desperation among some residents of the valley, who complain that they are just not receiving enough help.