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Remoteness of deadly Pakistan earthquake thwarts aid

KARACHI––An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale killed more than 30,000 people and countless animals on October 5,  2005 in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

The remoteness of the region, lack of established animal welfare infrastructure anywhere in Pakistan, and lack of official interest in helping animals thwarted prompt response by international organizations.

“I just got back to Karachi after spending two weeks filming in Balakot.” e-mailed Pakistan Animal Welfare Society representative and Geo TV assistant producer Mahera Omar on November 11.

Omar, more than a month after the earthquake, was nonetheless among the first pro-animal representatives to bring back first-hand testimony about what is needed.

“Balakot is a small town in the North West Frontier Province, about 60 miles north of Islamabad,” Omar explained. “Located near the quake’s epicenter, it is said to be among the worst devastated.

“We visited a few small villages up in the mountains around Balakot,” Omar recounted. “The people in these areas depend on subsistence farming and their livestock. Many of the livestock have been killed. The rest are without any sort of shelter. Many people are still without tents. Some have provided makeshift shelters for their animals, using cloth or plastic sheets. Without shelter, their livestock will not survive the harsh winter. The animals also require veterinary care.

“Tent villages have been established in the towns,” Omar said, but “the majority are not willing to leave their land and livestock. At this time of the year,” Omar added, “the yearly migration of people and their animals from the mountains to the plains is underway. On the main road from Kaghan/Naran to Mansera, we saw many families on the move, usually with a few donkeys, cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, and a dog or two. Baby goats and lambs born on the move were often carried on donkey’s backs, or were carried by the people in their arms. Pregnant animals get no rest. Neither are they able to receive any veterinary care along the way.

“At night they move in pitch dark. Sometimes they stop by the side of the highway. They burn discarded relief clothing for warmth. Shepherds often collect the sweaters and shirts and put them on their goats. Many goats we saw were constantly coughing. The shepherds too are facing a crisis,” Omar noted, “as the price of their animals has fallen drastically,” since no one has any money. “They do not know how they will survive.

“The international animal welfare community needs to be urgently mobilized to provide assistance to the animals in the affected areas,” Omar opined. “Apart from the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Brooke Hospital for Animals, no other animal welfare organizations that I am aware of are providing disaster relief.

Omar was aware of rescue work individually sponsored by Pakistani/American veterinarian I.M. Kathio, who operates dog-and-cat sterilization clinics in both nations.

“Food is now available for both people and animals in most places,” Omar observed. “Providing shelter ought to become a priority, before the severe winter weather sets in at the end of November. Snow is already falling in some areas. More mobile veterinary teams need to be sent out to the remote villages, and most importantly, the Pakistani veterinary community needs to be encouraged to play their role.”

The Brooke Hospital for Animals, maintaining a veterinary mission in Pakistan since 1991, dispatched a reconnaissance team to Balakot on October 11.

“The Brooke is the largest animal welfare organisation in Pakistan,” said Brooke public relations chief Nikki Austin. “Last year we helped a quarter of a million working horses, donkeys, and mules across five regions of the country, including Peshawar, a large city close to the affected regions, and over the border in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

“The Brooke has helped such communities in the past,” Austin continued, “when it sent veterinary teams to Gujarat, India after a devastating earthquake in 2001, and in 2002 aided the animals of Afghan refugees in camps along the Pakistan border.”

WSPA deployed five veterinary teams to Pakistan on October 14, said spokesperson Sarah Pickering.

“Working from two base camps shared by military personnel and other international NGOs in the heart of the affected area, WSPA is delivering emergency veterinary first aid, vaccinating animals against leptospirosis and rabies, and providing food supplements,” Pickering said.

Other organizations’ efforts to assist in Pakistan ran afoul––in different ways––of the local utilitarian view of animals.

Animal Save Movement of Pakistan president Khalid Mahmood Quereshi e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE an urgent request for aid, intended that the request should be circulated to the major charity representatives at the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Apparently presuming that even animal welfare charities would put human needs first, Quereshi including nothing on his itemized list of needs for human victims that any of the participants could have funded with money donated to help non-humans.

Humane Society International representative Sherry Grant hoped to help in Pakistan after completing a commitment to assist in the aftermath of a cyclone and flash floods that in October repeatedly struck the Visakha SPCA in Visakhapatnam, India.

Stopping in Sri Lanka, en route to Visakhapatnam, Grant applied for a visa to enter Pakistan, and while waiting to be interviewed, “managed a friendly chat, unknown to me at the time, with the High Commissioner of the Pakistan Consulate,” she e-mailed to supporters.

“I must have said something right about the work we have done in Sri Lanka and family values,” Grant guessed, as she got a visa while another charity representative interviewed just ahead of her did not.

“There was concern and aggravation that I would want to work with animals over people,” Grant continued. “I explained the connection.”

CONTACTS: Both the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society and I.M. Kathio, DVM, are presently best accessed by e-mail, at <> and <>, respectively.