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Last Updated: Monday, 31 October 2005, 07:58 GMT
'Law of the jungle' in quake zone

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Neelum Valley

A queue of quake survivors
Hundreds queue for food in some places
Their story may already have dropped off the front pages and out of TV's prime-time slots.

But for the survivors of the quake-devastated mountain areas in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the battle for survival is getting grimmer by the minute.

The hills around the capital city of Muzaffarabad are streaming with desperate survivors making their way to the relief camps set up along the badly damaged road winding along River Neelum.

Many among them have trekked for two to three days to reach the camps, only to find supplies short and aid workers - both from the public and private sector - getting increasingly cynical.

I have seen people fighting with axes over relief goods dropped by helicopters - this is truly the law of the jungle
Abdur Razzak
local resident

Only six kilometres (four miles) from Muzaffarabad along the road that leads into Neelum Valley, the determination to rebuild that one sees in the city is replaced by despair and a state of panic over the future.

Queues of people stretching for hundreds of metres end at a tent where all they are likely to get is a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water.

For most of those in the line, it is a reward worth the hour-long wait.

Impossible routes

It is not difficult to understand why.

Neelum Valley is a 200-km (124m) gorge through which flows River Neelum, or Kishanganga as it is known in India.

The valley is among the worst-hit areas.

The road that winds along the river is so badly damaged - starting a bare two kilometres (1.2 miles) outside Muzaffarabad - that it has taken army engineers 14 days to repair a four-kilometre (2.5 miles) stretch.

They have another 196km (122 miles) to go.

An officer from the Army engineering corps, Irfanullah Khan, told the BBC News website that they came there thinking they would have to clear and repair the road.

"Instead, what we have discovered is that we may need to rebuild most of it," he said.

"Look what is happening here," he said pointing to the road ahead. The army had cleared a part of it - a bulldozer had pushed through - but a huge landslide again blocked the part it had cleared only hours earlier.

Unending landslides

For as far as the eye can follow this narrow, winding gorge, one can see mountains still crumbling on both sides.

Schoolgirls at a relief camp in Pakistan-administered Kashmir

The unending landslides have reduced entire mountain sides to slopes of gravel and dust - too dangerous to be traversed even on foot.

With winter approaching, there is little hope of the road being cleared in time to get the required relief supplies to people living on the mountains on either side of the river.

The roads and pathways connecting the mountain villages to the main road have been damaged as badly.

Surviving villagers are only too aware of the perils that this destruction poses for them.

September-October is traditionally the period when the villagers stock up for the next five months, when most of the mountain routes are completely cut-off by snow.

This year, whatever they had managed to store during September was buried by the quake. Most of October was spent searching for the dead and giving them a decent burial.

It is only this week that they have found time - for the first time since the earthquake - to think about their future.

'Wasted' journey

I head for the mountains on the left, hoping to reach a village at the top.

As one goes deeper into the mountains, one is getting closer and closer to the earthquake's epicentre.

Isma Bibi
Isma Bibi lost four male members of the family in the quake

All along the narrow, winding and slippery path that has been stamped out by hordes of desperate relief-seekers, one can see a steady stream of people trying to get to the remnants of the road below or going back with whatever they could find.

Isma Bibi is a widow whose husband was a soldier in the Pakistan army. He was killed at a border post two-and-a-half years ago, leaving behind two children.

The earthquake took away four male members of her family, leaving her alone to fend for herself and the children.

It took her two days to walk the 60km (37m) from her village and all she is carrying on her way back is a plastic bag with five packets of biscuits in it.

"I never realised what a tough journey it was going to be," she said.

"When I reached a camp, I could have lined up for a sack of flour but I realised that there was no way I could carry it back over the mountains."

It will take her two more days to get back to her village, where her kids are being looked after by a neighbour.

"The government says relief supplies have reached most areas. If this was true, why would I be going through this torture?"

Mass graves

A gruelling four-hour trek up a 5,000ft-high (1,524m) mountain takes me to the village of Butmang.

Mass graves
Many victims are being buried in mass graves

It is a group of hamlets spread over two adjacent mountain tops each consisting of no more than 10 to 12 houses.

Nur Ellahi is a typical farmer whose once idyllic farmhouse would have made a picture postcard.

Every bit of it now looks as if it has been hammered into the ground. He shows me around.

"This used to be my home," he said, pointing to his feet. "It is now the grave of my mother, wife, daughter and two nieces."

Most of his cattle is dead, putting an end to the prospects of a productive farming season next summer.

Another half hour to the next hamlet and I come across another mass grave with 10 adults and three children in it.

The elder of the house, Abdur Razzak, is a driver employed by a company in Saudi Arabia.

He rushed back when he heard of the earthquake and is now pondering giving up his job to find suitable employment closer to home.

"The earthquake has not only taken away people's life, it also seems to have taken away their humanity," he says.

"I have seen people fighting with axes over relief goods dropped by helicopters."

"There is no administration left. This is truly the law of the jungle."


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