Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Saturday, 15 October 2005 18:26 UK

Diary: S Asia quake aid worker

Shaista Aziz, 28, is a UK-based Oxfam aid worker. She has worked for Oxfam for nearly two years and has previously worked on Oxfam's emergency response in Indonesia's Aceh province following December's tsunami.

She went to Pakistan at short notice after the earthquake on 8 October and is keeping a diary for the BBC News website.


I woke up to find my bed moving and the room swaying.

The wind and rain were lashing against the window and for a minute I had to concentrate hard to remember where I was. This is the third night that Islamabad has been hit by a powerful aftershock.

Man covered in plastic sheeting
Plastic sheeting has been used in place of conventional shelter
As I turned over in my bed to try and get some more sleep before starting another day's work in the hectic Oxfam office, my thoughts were directed to the people out in the mountainous villages of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. I wondered how many of them had tents and blankets to keep them warm and dry from the rain and the wind.

I arrived in the office at 0930 to find it unusually empty and quiet.

Many members of the Oxfam team have moved to one of our new field offices in Abbottabad, Pakistan administered Kashmir.

Bit by bit our aid operation is being deployed to the areas where the earthquake caused such devastation.

We also established a field office in the shattered capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, that has become a massive graveyard full of countless bodies still to be discovered.

Our latest aid flight arrived in the early hours of the morning. Our impressive logistics team were at the airport to receive the flights and ensure that all the items that we had ordered had been accounted for.

The team look totally exhausted and have spent countless hours travelling back and forth from the office to the airport and co-ordinating where the supplies are going.

Once the cargo has been checked the logisticians direct the team of volunteers and workers to load the cargo onto trucks so that all the aid can be driven to Abbottabad from where it will be taken to surrounding areas like Mansehra, Bagh and Muzaffarabad.

Oxfam has been trucking in tents, reinforced plastic sheeting and double blankets - all desperately needed as the temperature begins to drop.

The distribution starts immediately in some areas and in others the massive quantities of blankets and tents are being organised for distribution.

Tomorrow I have the day off so that I can go and visit my family in Pakistani administered Kashmir. I know already that it will be a day of raw emotion-
Seven days ago I was at home sleeping when I woke up to find my mother crying and my phone ringing, alerting me to the terrible tragedy that had taken place in Pakistan.

Seven days on I have seen with my own eyes some of the devastation and destruction and met and listened to the stories of some of the survivors.

I have had very little time to really process my thoughts or think about the magnitude of this disaster and what it means for Pakistan, its people and countless British Pakistanis like me.

Tomorrow I have the day off so that I can go and visit my family in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

I know already that it will be a day of raw emotion. Even though my family, their homes and villages were mercifully spared the most awesome power of the earthquake, everyone in this country is feeling the pain and the suffering of the survivors.

I'm also psyching myself up to contact friends in the UK to find out how their families are in Pakistan. I already know that one of my friends has lost some cousins in the disaster.

Others have been texting and e-mailing me asking me to provide them with the latest information that Oxfam has on the situation in villages near the epicentre of the quake. They are desperate for any information.

I dread having to take a closer look at the map on my desk and pray that their loved ones are far from the areas circled in red and orange - the areas close to the epicentre that have in some cases been wiped out.


Winter officially starts in Pakistan tomorrow and already in Indian administered Kashmir the Oxfam team has received reports of people dying because of the cold weather.

Girl with umbrella
The weather is declining with still no shelter for survivors
Villages in some of the most remote parts of Kashmir are covered in snow and in Pakistan the temperature will begin to fall sharply in the coming days.

The aid is coming in thick and fast.

Today alone six flights containing blankets and tents have touched down at the airport. Later tonight we are expecting another Oxfam flight to touch down in Islamabad with winter clothes for 5,000 children and emergency water filtration kits, pumps and water tanks.

Our attempts to secure the 2,000 trucks and drivers to distribute the aid are beginning to come together.

We have been working with our partners on the ground to help us identify families that need assistance and to then deliver the aid to them.

This is going to be a very busy weekend as we step up distribution in Abbottabad, Shangla and Bagh in Pakistan administered Kashmir.

The scale of this relief effort is massive and at times it is frustrating that we can't move faster but we know that our response has to be organised if it is to be effective.

My Pakistani colleagues have been feeling the added burden and sorrow of knowing that large parts of their country have been totally devastated and their people are in pain and suffering.

I have received reports of women not being able to get to the aid trucks in time to get the supplies that they need.

They are jostled out of the way by desperate men who are stronger than them.

Oxfam's own aid distribution will be carried out by local partners, men and women who are aware of this potential imbalance and will attempt to avoid it.

In the six days that I've been in Pakistan I have developed a very strong bond with my colleagues all of whom have worked tirelessly to try and alleviate the suffering of the survivors.

My Pakistani colleagues have been feeling the added burden and sorrow of knowing that large parts of their country have been totally devastated and their people are in pain and suffering.

Everybody in the office has been feeling this and it's what keeps us focused and committed to working through all the challenges that we face.

I will be leaving Pakistan early next week with a heavy heart- the magnitude of this disaster and the human misery is immense- but I will take with me the knowledge that the Oxfam team here are making a difference and will continue to do so long after the TV cameras leave Pakistan.


Oxfam's deputy programme manger walked calmly into the office "Good morning everyone- I hope you're well. Please can you kindly make your way out of the office, I have just received a warning that an earthquake may be on its way".

Pakistani woman waits for aid
Oxfam are trying to make sure that women get their share of aid
Day six of Oxfam's emergency relief effort and repeated earth tremors - there was a big one this morning - are adding to staff stress and exhaustion levels. But despite this we are really making progress with our work.

Another Oxfam aid plane is due into Islamabad airport early tomorrow morning with children's winter clothing, water equipment, hygiene kits and buckets.

Our logistics teams are busy preparing to receive the flight. We're also working on sourcing more thousands more blankets from Pakistan and Dubai.

This is a massive relief operation and it's all really coming together now as more supplies arrive.

Oxfam should have a helicopter by early next week, which will help us to distribute aid to some of the most remote villages that have been devastated by this disaster.

Since the earthquake on Saturday morning Oxfam has been working around the clock.

We've been assessing the needs of the survivors and working to get aid into Islamabad and then out to the worst affected areas in the North West frontier province and Pakistan administered Kashmir.

In the five days since the disaster Oxfam has distributed blankets and tents to communities in the North West of the country, Pakistan administered Kashmir and Indian administered Kashmir.

We have already reached thousands of people in the North West and are building up our capacity to reach 300,000 people overall.

When a disaster like this strikes, the first and most important thing for Oxfam to do is gather accurate information from the ground so we know exactly what has happened, how much destruction there has been, the scale and loss of life and the most pressing needs of the survivors.

Often in these kinds of emergency situations women are the last ones to receive any kind of aid. They are usually weaker than the men and lack the strength to fight their way to the front of the crowd.

Emergency assessment teams are dispatched into affected areas to find out how badly the infrastructure has been damaged, whether communication systems in the area working, and whether people have access to clean drinking water.

Even before this information begins trickling in our logistics team start buying blankets, tents, hygiene kits, and emergency food rations.

We try and buy the items in country where possible- but often we have to look further a field.

When working out storage and distribution plans we have to bear in mind the distances between areas and the state of the roads. We work with local partners who know the area well.

We aim to distribute the aid fairly and efficiently and give everyone an equal opportunity to get help.

Often in these kinds of emergency situations women are the last ones to receive any kind of aid.

They are usually weaker than the men and lack the strength to fight their way to the front of the crowd.

Oxfam will be doing everything we can to ensure that this doesn't happen here.


The first UK aid flight carrying aid supplied by Oxfam and Islamic Relief arrived at Islamabad airport earlier today.

A survivor in Muzaffarabad
Many survivors urgently need blankets, tents and warm clothing

I went to the airport to meet the flight with our logistician who is responsible for organising how the aid will be transported to the worst-hit areas.

On the plane were 600 Oxfam thermal tents and 19,000 blankets brought by Islamic Relief. A further 200 Oxfam thermal tents are expected to arrive later today.

Winter officially starts in three days in Pakistan and so aid agencies like Oxfam will be pushing on with making sure that aid is transported to the areas in greatest need.

The roads leading to Muzaffarabad - the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir - and beyond are now gridlock with trucks taking in aid to the city and beyond.

On Thursday, Oxfam will be distributing blankets, tents and plastic sheeting in Pakistani- administrated Kashmir and our co-coordinating office here in Islamabad is working on securing transport for more aid distribution in the coming hours and days.

The fatigue factor in the office is growing hour-by-hour as my colleagues and I continue to work endlessly to ensure that we are planning and delivering aid in the most effective way.

Our colleagues back at our headquarters in Oxford are also working to support the team here in Pakistan.

We are facing many challenges on the ground, including bad weather, but we will keep on working around-the-clock to try to alleviate the suffering of desperate people.


I've just returned to Islamabad after a gruelling eight hour journey from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administrated Kashmir, now utterly devastated by the huge earthquake that hit the country on Saturday morning.

Muzaffarabad has had its heart ripped out and its people are grieving.

Many are too numb to shed tears. Their glazed eyes and slumped bodies give you an idea of just how badly some of the survivors are suffering.

The smell of death hangs thick in the air. Everywhere you look there are collapsed houses and buildings; the odd personal belonging here and there scattered amongst the debris.

I arrived in Muzaffarabad expecting the worse.

The Oxfam assessment team on the ground had phoned the office in Islamabad to describe some of the carnage.

TV pictures from this area have been telling some of the story, but nothing can prepare you for the magnitude of the destruction and the human misery.

I sat and spoke to a group of women in one of Muzaffarabad's main parks, once a beautiful green space full of flowers, now home to a group of men, women and children who have nowhere left to go.

Pakistani Kashmiri women line up at a camp in Muzaffarabad
Pakistani Kashmiri women wait for relief aid to turn up at camp
One of the women talked to me at length about how she had lost her two children when her house came crashing down over her head.

She said she had managed to survive because it was God's will and she had been chosen to stay alive.

I asked where she was living now and she pointed to a tree in the park and told me that she slept under the tree and had nothing, no blanket, no money and no food.

It was at this point that I noticed her bulging belly that looked out of place on her fragile frame and I realised that she was pregnant.

Another woman, a nurse had travelled to the city from Peshawar, in the north west of Pakistan, also hit by the earthquake.

She told me that when she managed to enter Muzaffarabad she was met by a scene of carnage with hundreds of dead bodies lying across the main road in the city.

She told me about how she had lost her sister in law, a niece, nephew and her cousins in the earthquake.

Later as I was about to leave, an 85 year old woman approached me and told me how she had been saved whilst others in her family had perished.

She said she had managed to survive because it was God's will and she had been chosen to stay alive

She grabbed my hand and asked me to follow her. I helped her up the steep steps taking us out of the park and towards a mangled building. The woman pointed at the building and told me that this was where she used to live.

I walked through the ruins of her house and shattered life with a heavy heart.

Even though I have worked in disaster situations before, I found today incredibly difficult and am not embarrassed to admit that on the way home I shed more than a few tears thinking about all the desperate people that I had met in Muzaffarabad.


I'm exhausted.

I've had less than three hours sleep in the past 48 hours and some of my colleagues here in the Oxfam office have had even less sleep than me.

Still seeing the reality on the ground and the desperate needs of the survivors helps put things into perspective and keeps us driving forward.

Soldiers help injured
The aid operation is now fully under way

Some of the most devastated areas are the remote villages that make up the seven districts of Pakistan administrated Kashmir and I have just returned from one of the main cities, Abbottabad, where people are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.

The city is functioning as normal but people look shaken and bewildered. An estimated 60 people were killed and 300 hundred injured.

Many people are still trapped underneath the seven huge buildings that collapsed under the force of the earthquake including a public school, a hotel and a mosque.

I saw people scrambling around with their bare hands trying to reach any possible survivors trapped under the debris of the mosque. They were utterly desperate.

The main hospital in the city, the Ayub Hospital has been completely evacuated, as the building is no longer safe to care for patients in.

The sick and injured are being cared for in huge tents that have been set up outside the hospital, it is a bizarre sight.

There is widespread devastation in the nearby areas of Bakot and Galyat and Oxfam teams in Pakistani administered Kashmir are piecing together vital information for the co-ordinating team in Islamabad so we can plan and deliver the aid effort as effectively and as efficiently as we can.

Tomorrow I plan to travel to the provincial capital Muzaffarabad where there has been a heavy loss of life.

The aid effort is now well and truly cranking into gear...Oxfam has purchased materials for 8,000 temporary shelters so far to distribute to some of the most vulnerable survivors

Here a large number of homes have completely vanished as it was very close to the epicentre of the earthquake.

Among the deep grief and anguish I have noted the resilience among ordinary Pakistanis who are determined to do whatever they can to help their people and their country get through this disaster that has wrecked and scarred so many lives.

The aid effort is now well and truly cranking into gear.

Oxfam has purchased materials for 8,000 temporary shelters so far to distribute to some of the most vulnerable survivors.

Our logistics team aim to deliver the sheets and tents to some of the most devastated areas within the next 24 hours.

The team is also looking at buying some 60,000 tents, 300,000 blankets, jerry cans and basic hygiene kits, most of which is available within India or Pakistan.

Earlier this year I was in Aceh in Indonesia soon after the tsunami hit.

I was humbled by the dignity and spirit of people who had lost so much but still managed to greet me with such warmth.

The support from people back home and seeing the work on the ground makes me proud of the organisation I work for and the difference we are making to the thousands of people whose lives have been devastated by this horrific earthquake.


I arrived in Islamabad around 0600 local this morning and after an hour's sleep headed straight to emergency meetings with the Oxfam team here in Pakistan.

While waiting for a taxi to take me to the office I got talking to a fellow guest who told me about his lucky escape from a tower block where he lived in Islamabad.

The man described how just before 0900 he felt the earth moving and from his window he saw the tower block opposite his flat start crumbling and then collapse, trapping hundreds underneath the rubble.

Rescuers rush to help out at Islamabad housing complex hit by the earthquake
Some buildings in Islamabad were hit by the earthquake
The man looked traumatised and described how he had managed to jump out of the tower block onto the roof of another building to escape.

The Oxfam office has been working around the clock. Following our initial assessments in the worst-hit areas, Oxfam is gearing up to supply emergency relief aid to 300,000 people.

We are already organising 60,000 tents and 300,000 blankets plus jerry cans and basic hygiene kits for vulnerable survivors in Pakistan administered Kashmir and the north-west of the country.

I've spoken to our head office who say that money is coming in for our appeal which will make a real difference here.

Communications systems have been brought down in parts of the country and roads have been severely damaged by the disaster, which makes the circumstances that we are working in even more difficult.

I am planning to travel to Pakistani administered Kashmir tomorrow with some Oxfam colleagues to build a better picture and a better understanding of the needs of the survivors.

As I write this we have less than an hour to go before we break our Ramadan fast, which we plan to do together as a team here in the office. We will sit together and share some basic food and then work late into the night planning ahead for our emergency relief work on the ground.


I woke up a bit late this morning. As a Muslim I've been fasting for Ramadan and it's exhausting. I woke to find my phone buzzing annoyingly by my bedside and, more worryingly, my mum crying outside my door.

Oxfam aid worker Shaista Aziz
Tomorrow I'll wake up in Islamabad, hoping the scale of the disaster isn't as bad as we fear
Shaista Aziz
"There's been an earthquake in Pakistan," my mum told me. My family are from Pakistan and my dad is there at the moment. She hadn't heard from him or any of our relatives. I could understand why she was worried.

I checked my phone to find out if any of my messages were from him. There were lots of messages but none from him - in fact, they were all from my colleagues at Oxfam asking me to come into the office so that I could help in the response to the disaster. I called them back to tell them I'd be in as soon as I had calmed down my mum.

Luckily, after a tense few hours my mum managed to get through to my dad and he was safe. He told us that around him there were dozens of buildings that had collapsed.

I went to work straightaway and learned that my colleagues in the region already had Oxfam's response well under way. We have a head start as we have worked in the region for years and have staff and partners in the worst-affected areas. Our emergency response team was already on its way to the worst-hit areas.

According to our emergency response co-ordinator in Islamabad, in the five worst-affected districts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir we have already begun assessments in three of these and some aid is on the way.

After just two hours in the office I got a call asking me to get a visa and get on the next plane to Islamabad. I packed in a rush, forgetting everything I'm sure, and drove to the airport. I made the plane in the nick of time and tomorrow I'll wake up in Islamabad, hoping the scale of the disaster isn't as bad as we fear.


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