The suffering of Shamlai

تم النشر: 17 أكتوبر 2005 0:00 CET

Yrsa Grüne in Shamlai, Pakistan

There is not much left of the village of Shamlai at the end of the road up in the mountains from the town of Batagram in Pakistan. “We have no electricity and phone lines are not working so we cannot tell anyone what we need,” says Shahd Mohammed, the Nasim (or elected leader) of the villages of Shamlai and Bansaib.

The road is steep and narrow. Landslides have littered what’s left of the pavement with stones. Slowly we make our way between the rocks lying on the road. We have already passed two villages, Bansaib and Jesil and Shamlai is the last one.

The death toll in the villages of Shamlai and Bansaib is 172 to date. Six thousand people were injured, fifty per cent of them seriously. “There are so many children among the dead and injured”, Shahd Mohammed says.

Like in many other places, the school felt the full impact when the earthquake struck on Saturday morning, just before nine o'clock local time. “We do not know how many we lost, the number of dead might still rise,” he notes.

The International Federation is making an assessment in and around Batagram to find out what the needs are. Shamlai was not accessible by road until the day we arrived. Heavy rains during the night made the transport conditions even worse.

“The thing that also worries us is the fact that a lot of the cattle died as well. There are still dead animals lying around and they might become a health risk.” However, even though cattle were lost, there is no immediate need for food aid, Shahd Mohammed explains and points with his finger to the surrounding small corn fields.

The village has never had a problem with access to water, because there is a stream running down from the top of the hills through the village. But since the earthquake the water has become muddy from fallen debris.

By now the crowd of villagers that gather around Ali, the secretary of the branch of the North Western Frontier Provinces Pakistan Red Crescent Society, my Japanese colleague, Doctor Yabumoto, and myself, has become bigger.

I look around me and see only men and children - mainly boys. “Can I speak with a woman?” I ask. Immediately they take me a bit further into what is left of the village, we jump over holes in the ground, climb on top of the piles of rubble and rocks. Seventy per cent of the village was destroyed, they tell me.

Under a temporary roof, made of whatever has been able to retrieve from the rubble, sits Shagusta. “We desperately need shelter,” she says. “We have absolutely nothing, everything is gone and the nights are cold. We are so worried about what will happen when winter really starts.” In Shamlai, temperatures drop well below zero, reaching minus six Celsius.

Moving away from the village into the nearest town, Batagram, is no solution either. Huge parts of Batagram were affected and the large, 90-bed hospital is completely gone.

For the moment patients are brought to a makeshift hospital. Many Pakistani doctors from other parts of the country have come to help as volunteers.

“For the moment we can cope, even though we are not able to treat all injuries. We have to move those who have been seriously injured to hospitals in bigger cities. Fortunately we can do it by helicopter,” Surgeon Khar Baihadayr says.

In the destroyed hospital area, some buildings are still standing. In the yard of one of them we find Abdul Rashid, the clerk of the hospital, and his family. “We do not dare to sleep inside anymore so we have brought out our mattresses and sleep outdoors,” he says.

“But what do you do when it rains?” I ask. “Well, we just go under the roof of the veranda and wait until it stop,” he says. They too list shelter as the most urgent need. “Building materials can be purchased locally. But we will not be able to complete any building before winter is here,” they explain, with resignation.