(AFP) – Oct 30, 2008
KAN BANGLA, Pakistan (AFP) — Veiled mothers huddled with feverish babies in ruined Pakistani villages Thursday as sickness started to bite among earthquake survivors who spent a freezing night beneath open skies.
In crumbled settlements that no aid workers had reached more than a day after the powerful quake that killed at least 215 people, shivering residents begged for shelter, food, medicine -- or just any help at all.
"We had so few blankets to cover ourselves during the night that we only had one between six children," farmer Shahnawaz Khan told an AFP reporter who reached the remote southwestern village of Kan Bangla.
"The cold was so severe that some of our children have fallen ill," he said, pointing to some wailing infants as their mothers tried to provide them with warmth and comfort.
Khan said some 20 people died when their mud-brick, straw-roofed homes collapsed in the 6.4-magnitude quake, but said they had not had any contact from Pakistani authorities or aid groups.
The village, which lies about 35 kilometres (25 miles) from the historic hill town of Ziarat, is one of a cluster in impoverished Baluchistan province that were worst affected by the quake.
Jaan Baba, an injured elderly man, showed makeshift tents that villagers had constructed with whatever they could scavenge from the shells of their houses. His own house was reduced to a pile of rubble.
"Some of the children do not even have sweaters or shoes and they are very gravely exposed to the weather," he told AFP.
"Many of our villagers slept in the dry riverbed across the road. No one from the government or any rescue agencies have come to help us," Baba said. "We need shelter, blankets, food and medical help as soon as possible."
Most of the inhabitants eke out a living by working at apple farms for which Ziarat and its surrounding villages are famed in Pakistan, but Baba said they would now be busy just trying to survive.
In Kawaz, another badly hit village, survivors huddled around weak campfires.
"It was so cold at night we thought we would freeze," villager Abdul Qadeer told AFP. "We have been waiting for help but we have no tent, no food, no medicine for my children."
Fears of further aftershocks kept many people in the open overnight even when their houses were still standing. A 6.2-magnitude tremor rocked Baluchistan 13 hours after the initial, pre-dawn quake.
The mayor of Ziarat district hit out at the government for failing to help survivors. "I am not satisfied with this operation," Dilawar Kakar told AFP.
"The help we expected from provincial and federal government, we are not getting. It is very slow."
People from the village of Gogi, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Ziarat, decided not to wait for help, instead travelling to Quetta to draw attention to their plight.
"The problem is that Gogi is situated some five kilometres off the road. A few volunteers came and left but delivered nothing," villager Mohammad Mateen told reporters.
As with the 2005 earthquake that killed 74,000 people in northern Pakistan, it was hardline Islamist groups, some with militant links, that were among the first on the scene.
One of them, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, has been listed by the US as a "terrorist organisation" because it is the political wing of the outlawed Kashmiri militant group Laskhar-e-Taiba.
Its officials were handing out blankets, food, milk and biscuits in the area as early as Wednesday night.
"We do not believe in politics but to serve the people when they need it the most," Mohammad Qasim, a local Jamaat-ud-Dawa official told AFP.
"We will also send tents to the people soon."
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