Churches Continue to Respond to Desperate Cries of Quake Victims

Nearly two weeks following the largest earthquake in Pakistan in the last 100 years, medical relief is urgently needed as diseases spread and open wounds remain untreated.

Survivors of the massive quake on Oct. 8 have managed to live through a disaster that has killed more than 50,000 people, left more than 2.5 million homeless, and resulted in at least 65,000 casualties in its wake. Yet victims of the South Asia quake are facing a new calamity, one that could lead to a drastic increase in the death toll unless immediate attention is provided.

Church World Service (CWS), one of the first relief ministries on the scene following the quake, reports that there is a crisis in disease control and medical care in the affected region.

"Each day people are dying from lack of medical assistance and medicines. Bodies are left in the ruins, under the masses of clay, or covered by dirty sheets on the pavement," said a statement released by CWS.

Moreover, reports from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, indicate that diseases such as malaria have already begun to spread and the United Nations say that there is also the risk of contracting cholera and pneumonia in the present conditions. Victims of the quake are also suffering from diarrhea from drinking unclean water because the water supply has been cut off.

Medical difficulties are further fueled by the many hospitals that were destroyed and medical professionals that were killed.

In response, groups such as CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan (P/A) and Action of Churches Together (ACT) member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) have been offering medical assistance to survivors. Immediately following the quake, CWS (P/A) was able to offer first aid and immunization In addition, staff members from both groups were conducting a needs assessment for emergency water and sanitation at Ayub Medical Hospital-Abbotabad on Oct. 15 that could prevent or alleviate the problem of water-borne diseases.

In an alarming report released on Oct.18, ACT members related first-hand the medical emergency crisis faced by victims of the quake in hard to reach areas in Pakistan.

"More and more people kept coming, many of them with bloody and dirty bandages … a little boy screamed as he was lifted into the helicopter. His leg had been severed, and the shaft of the bone was sticking out under congealed blood. He had been like that for six days … it was complete chaos."

"A man sat holding his 14- month-old daughter in his arms. Her leg was broken, and one of her hands was partly crushed. Under her hair was a deep wound. Someone said that her sister and brother were killed in the earthquake. Their father had dug his three children out of the ruins with his bare hands. He clenched his daughter, all he has left."

In response to the emergency medical needs, CWS (P/A) and NCA are currently airlifting as many injured people as possible to the army hospital in Abbottabad to receive medical attention. The process of transporting injured victims is hindered by the shortage of helicopters, which are the main and often only form of transportation in areas where roads have been destroyed or in isolated areas where land transportation never were built.

"This disaster is so extensive that we need to look a lot further than mere emergency aid," reported Arne Sæveraas, head of NCA’s West and Central Asia division, during a visit to the area.