Pakistan's Invisible Quake Victims

Viewed through the lens of Arab media, world relief efforts for the earthquake in Northern Pakistan were far less than other natural disasters because the victims are Muslims, many pundits said. The Oct. 8 quake killed at least 55,000 people and injured tens of thousands. With winter settling in, millions will be left homeless and vulnerable, Arab media warned, unless more actions are taken by the world.

The October 21 issue of Asharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arab daily newspaper, reported that the Indian Army has played an "active role in providing relief to hundreds of families." Riad Ahmad from Tanghdar village near the border that separates the Indian and the Pakistani Kashmir, told Asharq Al-Awsat, "Seven of my family members were killed and no one helped me but the Indian soldiers. They helped me to pull out the dead bodies from underneath the rubble, preparing the coffins and burying the dead."

Similar reports came from the village of Jblah, where all residents praised the kindness of Indian soldiers for providing food and shelter to afflicted families. One villager said, "We will remember this forever."

Al Jazeera television reported on Oct. 17 that that Islamabad had agreed to allow Indian military planes to help in the rescue efforts as long as the pilots are not Indian. The agreement coincided with the arrival of the third cargo of Indian aid to the Pakistani part of Kashmir.

Pakistan was probably humbled into accepting aid from its nuclear enemy and neighbor, partially due to the lack of international response. The Pakistani government announced that it will need $5 billion to rebuild what the earthquake destroyed. But it only got a half billion dollars promised from foreign donors, most of which have not yet arrived.

Arab media compared the level of international response to other international catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the tsunami in Asia, and saw a discrepancy. The October 19 issue of Asharq Al-Awsat, for example, showed a cartoon of a fat man in a suit and tie, representing Western countries, with one long arm extending towards Hurricane Katrina and a very short arm pointing towards Pakistan. While the right eye of the man was open towards Katrina, the left eye was shut toward the Pakistani earthquake.

In the October 27 issue of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based newspaper that covers race and ethnic news, United Nations aid coordinator Rashead Kabear told the newspaper that the number of people who are dying after the earthquake will be larger than those who died during it. He warned that rescue efforts are in a race against time. A few hours before a 65-country summit was held to discuss the earthquake, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was widely quoted by the Arab press as saying that "three million men, women and children are without shelter and many of them sleep in the open." Many feared that people will die if they do not get blankets before the end of November due to the very cold temperature.

Al-Quds also quoted Oxfam's Head of Advocacy, Phil Bloomer, criticizing some rich countries for not giving more money quickly, saying that although the European Union gave money and promised to give more, some European countries did not give a cent. The countries Bloomer singled out were Belgium, France, Austria, Finland, Greece, and Spain*.

Bloomer added, "Governments meeting in Vienna should put their hands in their pockets and pay their fair share."

The urgency of the situation compelled Fahmi Huwidi, a commentator of Asharq Al-Awsat, to urge Muslim leaders to call on people to prioritize sending money to the afflicted families in Kashmir over spending it on Al Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Huwidi also said that the situation would not be as grave if Muslim charity organizations were not targeted in the framework of the war on terrorism.

"Following September 11, the U.S. was compelled to launch an international campaign against all Islamic charity organizations, wherever they were," he wrote. "Their officials were persecuted, their funds were frozen, and their Headquarters were closed."

Many were accused of supporting terrorism, he also noted, which impeded many from donating money.

* Oxfam Head Phil Bloomer did criticize these countries for not offering aid; however, ReliefWeb notes that these countries have given aid, though the amounts are not mentioned. We regret the confusion.

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