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The Invisible Earthquake | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

The Invisible Earthquake

The situation in Pakistan is so bad that the United Nations today urged NATO countries to stage a huge and immediate airlift to get life-saving supplies to earthquake victims. Tens of thousands of people are still trapped in the earthquake zone almost two weeks since the quake. If we are to save them, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said, an airlift equivalent to that in Berlin in 1949 is required.

Egeland's call came as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan warned that earthquake survivors would be engulfed in a "wave of death" unless there was an "immediate and exceptional escalation" in the international aid effort. (UNICEF, the UN children's organization, officially estimates that at the present rate of the relief efforts, 10,000 children will die within weeks.)

Although the official death count remains at 49,739, local authorities released "unofficial" figures putting casualties at almost 80,000, which one UN expert described yesterday as "credible." Despite these stunning numbers--close to last year's tsunami and far more lethal than what Hurricane Katrina wrought in the US--global relief aid has been exceedingly sluggish: Less than fourteen percent of the UN's emergency appeal of $410 million has been donated to date.

Furthermore, according to Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, despite repeated and increasingly desperate requests, the world's armies have so far between them mustered only 68 helicopters--vital for lifting tents, food and medical supplies to the inaccessible mountains of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. (Helicopters are the only means of getting quickly deep into the Himalayan foothills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province where, according to Reuters, 51,000 people are known to have died.)

Moreover, crucial needs extend beyond rescuing survivors. As Somini Sengupta reports in today's New York Times, there's a "pressing need to shelter up to three million Pakistani earthquake survivors before the harsh Himalayan winter sets in." She adds that this is one of "the most difficult relief operations the world has ever faced."

What to do? For one thing, it can't hurt to click here to contact your elected representatives and demand that they press for increased emergency funding for our allies in Pakistan. Besides being the right thing to do, it couldn't hurt our seriously compromised standing in the world community if we could come through on this one.

There are also a number of good options for individual donations that will make a difference. The World Food Program has been on the ground in Pakistan since well before the October 8 earthquake and is well placed to deliver life-saving aid that will give survivors the strength and energy to rebuild.

The progressive coalition, Mercy Corps, has deployed a mobile medical unit in the hard-hit Sirin Valley, where it has already treated 1,600 injured victims. A second unit is being opened this weekend. Click here to help MC roll out more medical help in the coming weeks and months.

The UK-based Disaster Emergency Committee is also doing valiant work on the ground. (And if you happen to live in or be visiting Scotland, you can take part in a terrific DEC-sponsored program called 'Curries for Kashmir,' a fundraising initiative in which Asian restaurants in Scotland are donating a portion of each customer's bill to disaster relief. This deserves emulating. How about it, London? New York?)

Finally, we wanted to encourage donations to the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation, which is collecting earthquake relief funds. This group, named after the former political science professor, activist and Nation contributor, is led by Pakistani physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy (Ahmad's son-in-law) and is mobilizing local volunteers to transport supplies, mostly food and tents, to the most affected regions. Click here to donate to the foundation and for more info about its activities.

Aid workers in the region say the most urgent need is tents, otherwise people will soon start dying of exposure. As Hoodbhoy recently wrote, "In barely two months from now, the mountains will get their first snowfall and temperatures will plummet below zero. There are simply not enough tents, blankets, and warm clothes to go around. Hundreds of tent clusters have come up, but thousands of families remain out under the skies, facing rain and hail....These families have lost everything but the tattered clothes on their backs. Some even lost the land they had lived upon for generations – the top soil simply slid away, leaving behind hard rock and rubble. Those without shelter will die."

So please be as generous as you can manage.

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