Balochistan's uphill struggle

Will Pakistan's weak government be able to provide a helping hand to the people of the earthquake-hit remote province?


    When a powerful earthquake struck on Tuesday, residents of Karachi - Pakistan's largest city – were sent running out of highrise buildings for the relative safety of the streets down below.

    The same scenes of fear were repeated hundreds of miles away as local TV channels showed the panic with people chanting prayers in Quetta.

    The 7.7 magnitude earthquake's epicentre was 120km southwest of Khuzdar in Balochistan. As the authorities checked for damage, there were reports that communications to several remote districts had been cutoff. Within hours of the quake, at least six districts out of 27 reported deaths and the destruction of property.

    But the worst news came from Awaran district, an eight-hour drive from Karachi. The situation was grim and we had no option but to fly down south to Karachi to take the long and dangerous road trip though territory that has been hit by a wave of insurgent attacks launched by Baloch separatists.

    We were advised against travel at night but were eager to reach the affected area so we took a calculated risk. Fortunately for us, convoys of fresh troops were also driving on those roads in order to assist in the rescue efforts.

    As daylight broke over Awaran we headed out of town to the remote areas most affected by the quake.

    The people of this impoverished, rural region could not afford anything but mud and straw homes that did not stand a chance when the ground started moving. The small cluster of villages in Dal Bedi -just 9km from the main town in the district - was completely destroyed.

    As we arrived, 5,000 residents of this area were already digging out their dead and searching for their loved ones under the rubble.

    With no shade over their heads, the women and children huddled under the remnants of their straw huts, many of which were barely standing. The local people had lost everything but their pride.

    The Baloch never beg and they were not going to change now no matter what the cost. But at the back of their minds many probably wondered if Pakistan's weak government would lend a helping hand in this hour of need.

    The news following the earthquake was not good overall but there were tales of miracles amid the destruction.

    A 40-day-old child and his five-year-old brother were dug out alive from the rubble of their collapsed home 24 hours after the earthquake.

    After their rescue the brothers were seen playing amid the devastation, totally oblivious to what had happened.

    In a madrassa, or religious school, in the affected region, 100 students had been sitting in a large classroom with their teacher who instructed the pupils to run for their lives as soon as the quake struck.

    Seconds later their classroom was a pile of rubble, but all the boys and their teacher were safe.



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