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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Poor thinking hinders relief work

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Rawalpindi

Villagers on the road to Murree
Traffic jams have seriously hindered the relief operation
The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. That is exactly what the Kashmiri victims of Saturday's earthquake seem to be experiencing after five days.

The massive relief effort coordinated in Pakistan - especially in the private sector - has choked the road network across Kashmir.

On the road to Bagh from Murree - the main artery linking the Bagh valley in the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to the rest of the country - dozens of ambulances carrying critically wounded people were stuck in what seemed to be interminable traffic jams.

The Pakistan army has set up a medical camp in the town of Bagh - but it is desperately short on orthopaedic implants and related medical supplies which, say local doctors, have now emerged as the most urgent need.

Difficult terrain

Hundreds of those affected tried to take their badly injured relatives - mostly children - to Pakistan through the Bagh-Murree route, only to find the road choked with huge trucks coming in from Pakistan with relief supplies.

Huzoor Ali, a resident of the remote village of Bismilkot, walked 10 hours carrying his three-year-old daughter with serious head injuries.

"I thought when I reached Bagh that I would find transport to take her to the military hospital in Rawalpindi," he said.

Small mountain road
Mountain passes are built for light vehicles only

"But just look at this," he said in despair, gesturing to the clogged road.

Locals in Bagh say that the problem has to do with the Pakistanis' ignorance of the terrain.

The mountain passes are built for light vehicles, and even these have trouble passing alongside each other when coming from opposite directions.

Unaware of this, most Pakistani volunteers have leased huge lorries, packed them with relief goods and ended up blocking the roads.

Round the clock

At times, the mountain passes are too steep for these heavy lorries, resulting in hours of delays as volunteers offload the goods.

Coupled with the rains, the heavy traffic has destroyed most of the roads over the mountain passes.

This means that even relief goods that are getting through reach, at best, only the main towns such as Bagh, Rawalakot and Muzaffarabad.

Locater map of Kashmir

The army's failure to streamline the relief work - despite clearing most of the landslides within the first two to three days - means it still remains too dependent on helicopters as a mode of transport.

Senior military officials in Rawalpindi say that the army had a total of 19 helicopters when the quake struck.

Most of them were deployed for dumping winter stocks at the Siachen glacier - this being the last month after which the weather becomes too hostile for helicopters at those heights.

An immediate decision, says one officer, was taken to recall the choppers from Siachen and deploy them for relief.

There should have been two priorities. One, to keep the roads open by blocking private traffic and two, to set up telephone links at periodic intervals throughout the valley
A villager, Bagh valley

But most of these are Russian-built aircraft that do not have night flying instruments. Under normal circumstances, they are barred from leaving the ground in mountain areas past sunset.

"Still, we decided to ignore all safety measures and asked the choppers to operate round the clock," the officer says.

But even with the US chipping in with 10 massive Chinooks that flew into Pakistan two days ago, the relief work remains severely deficient.

Appropriate vehicles

Another problem, says the army, is the number of people flocking to Kashmir - especially doctors.

The army's deputy surgeon-general Farrukh Seir, who is co-ordinating the medical relief, says there is immense pressure on the army to provide logistical support to them.

However, it is not doctors, he says, that are needed but orthopaedic implants and related medical supplies.

Two young girls
Vicious rumours are fast spreading in the valley

Villagers in particular are extremely critical of what they call the "second earthquake" - the failure of the relief to get through in time.

No-one is blaming the Kashmir administration which has itself been as badly affected as anyone else.

All eyes are on Pakistan and in particular on the Pakistani army.

"No privately leased trucks should have been allowed to enter the area," says one resident who has moved down from his village in Chamankot and is now living in the open with his family in Bagh.

"The army should have set up dumping sites at the entry points to Kashmir and then carried all the stuff into the affected areas themselves in appropriate vehicles.

"But the way they have gone about it has turned the whole thing into a free for all."

Vicious rumours

However, the situation is so chaotic that the army - undoubtedly the most organised force in the region - has yet to determine the number of its own troops killed.

While the official figure stands at 350, just the number of military encampments hit by the area indicate that the number of deaths may be much higher.

"There should have been two priorities. One, to keep the roads open by blocking private traffic and two, to set up telephone links at periodic intervals throughout the valley," says the villager.

A bulldozer carrying a few household items
Pakistani volunteers unwittingly ended up blocking the road

Setting up communications, villagers say, would have put an end to the spate of vicious rumours that pervade the valley.

"You have to know an army brigadier to get relief," is the most common refrain.

Another one is about whole villages being "wiped out".

I asked them to name a few along the main Dheerkot-Bagh road that I had taken, where several detours had enabled me to visit 17 villages.

Two of the villages they said had been wiped out were Rangla and Chamankot.

I had been to both. Rangla had lost seven people of its total population of about 85 and no one had died in Chamankot.

Aamer will be putting your questions to residents of Muzaffarabad from 0900 GMT on Thursday. Use the form below if you wish to send a question to him:

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The injured struggle to reach medical centres for treatment


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