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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Villagers' endless wait for relief

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Tangdar, Indian-administered Kashmir

Villagers carrying relief in Tangdar
A few villagers have been lucky to get their hands on relief
Every morning, Abdul Gafoor buries his grief and treks three hours along a treacherous mountain path to a relief camp in Tangdar in Indian-administered Kashmir, in the hope of getting a roof for his home.

The 8 October earthquake destroyed his house and killed his three-year-old daughter, six-month-old son and 18-year-old sister.

Mr Gafoor has not simply found time to grieve as he sets out from his devastated village of Bahadurkot to the army camp in Chhamkot to search for a roof to protect his wife and parents after spending freezing nights out in the open.

The people here are angry with the local administration - the army is still their only lifeline
Sheikh Shah Nawaz
Relief volunteer
He waits all day in the cold, hoping for a tent - so far there has been no tent in sight, though he's managed to get four blankets and some tea.

"I haven't slept for the past week. I've lost my house, children and have no utensils, water, fire, nothing at all.

"There's no hope and dignity left in my life. I am just asking for a tent," he says.

Angry

Some distance away, civilian volunteers work feverishly to distribute provisions including lanterns, torches, oil, rice, blankets and utensils to a horde of exhausted people from the upper reaches of Tangdar who wait forlornly for help.

There is a minister camping in the area hemmed in by breathtaking snow-capped ridges, but very little government aid is in sight.

Villagers wait for relief in Indian-administered Kashmir
For many the wait is long and often unsuccessful
"The people here are angry with the local administration. The army is still their only lifeline. Shelter is still a major problem," says a young relief volunteer Sheikh Shah Nawaz, who trekked to reach affected villages.

More than a week after the quake devastated a cluster of 42 villages nestling in the pine and fir-capped mountains of Tangdar, 45km (28 miles) away from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the idyllic lives of its 52,000 local residents - mostly farmers and nomads - has been shattered.

A total of 250 villagers perished in the quake in Tangdar, one of the worst affected areas.

The Indian army also lost 22 soldiers. Things were so bad that the army had to run 78 helicopter sorties out of nine improvised helipads to evacuate 272 injured people to the nearest hospitals.

An estimated 30% of the stone-and-mud homes have been ground to dust. Another 35% have become dangerous and uninhabitable.

Neglected

The road link to Tithwal, the closest village to the Line of Control - the de facto border in the disputed region - is still blocked by land slips and its 2,500 villagers are still trudging miles in bone-chilling cold for hours to pick up whatever relief they can lay their hands on.

Bridge damaged in Tangdar
Tangdar is in danger of being cut off
Tithwal was once a flourishing and bustling town on the old Silk Route - the 1919 census describes it as an 'urban centre'- and since independence has been virtually next door to Pakistan.

Now it is in danger of being forgotten totally.

Away from much of the media spotlight, Tangdar still remains largely neglected by the relief givers - many are simply loathe to do the seven- to eight-hour back-breaking journey through rain and icy mountain roads to reach it.

For the first few days after the quake, there was no sign of the civil administration and civilian relief volunteers ignored the area in favour of the more accessible Uri where the media had camped in hordes.

The Indian army ran the only relief and rescue operation supplying food, water and airlifting and treating the injured.

Villagers in Tangdar
Survivors face their worst winter ever
When the relief brigade descended on Tangdar, they also brought with them shampoo, lipstick, soap, cotton saris and blouses.

"I need blankets, tents, warm clothes, hot food for the people. That is what we need most," says a senior local army officer, Brigadier SS Jog.

Waiting for relief

Clearly, there isn't enough of that yet - relief volunteers are hurling bags of rice from trucks to the angry, shivering survivors and speeding away.

So more than a week after the quake, five-year-old Salma has to trudge over rocks for two hours from Tithwal to Chamankot to pick up some relief. After waiting for two days she has not received any.

All day long, villagers are negotiating the avalanche-prone area - there are an estimated 73 sites prone to avalanche here - and risking lives for relief.

But the supplies are simply not enough and survivors of Tangdar are facing their worst winter ever.


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