Islamic Relief USA CEO Anwar Khan sends this message from Pakistan, where he’s surveying destruction to homes and infrastructure and monitoring IRUSA projects being designed to help victims following the massive earthquake there.
It’s 2 a.m. when I arrive in Pakistan. I’d be leaving for the field again just four hours later. We took a 7 hour ride to Shangla, which is 90 miles away as the bird flies, but by road in underdeveloped landscape, it’s more than 230 miles: First by highway, then by small, side-road, then on mountain roads, and finally along mountain trails to get to the remote areas where the earthquake hurt Pakistan most.
Through Mardan, and then through the spectacular Swat valley to get to Shangla: I recognized the way as I had taken this journey just a few years ago to Burner in KPK. Then, we were visiting individuals that were internally displaced who had fled violent conflict in Swat. Now, Swat seemed peaceful.
Shangla is scenic, with houses spotting the hills. As you get closer, however, you realize that many of these homes have fallen.
It’s ironic to me that in Los Angeles, people with a lot of money live on hills, but here, the poorest people live on them.
The people in need here can’t afford to live on flat land. And worse, the most damager has been to the homes that are higher up on the mountain and harder to reach. People living there can’t afford to build their homes out of concrete. They build with stone, wood and mud instead. These structures collapse easily in this earthquake prone area.
300 homes were destroyed in just this village.
Hundreds of people have died in the earthquake that struck the region including many deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When this earthquake had hit in October 2015, it was the 10 year anniversary of the devastating earthquake of 2005 when more than 80,000 people died. As I was watching people line up for aid on the side of a mountain, or living out of tents in this village, right next to their destroyed homes, I couldn’t help but remember the earthquake victims from 10 years ago and the survivors they left behind. Here were the families going through the same heartbreak again.
Even more difficult, tens of thousands are homeless now, and they’re about to experience the first snow of the winter without at least a roof over their heads.
I remember the terrible stories of people dying under the rubble 10 years ago, but I’m inspired by the people who survived and rebuilt their lives. IRUSA is still helping in Bagh in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir all these years later. And on my last visit, survivors repeatedly thanked donors for helping them to help themselves, even out of such a terrible tragedy. They are now earning money through micro-credit schemes and are learning how to reduce disease with better hygiene practices. Both help people be more prepared in the event of a disaster like this one. I only hope we can reach more areas in this way, including Shangla.
I pray for those that died in this earthquake, and I keep praying for those who survived. After their homes were destroyed they immediately needed shelter in the form of tents. Now they need temporary shelter that is more sturdy against the elements, made of corrugated iron sheets. The next step is to rebuild homes, which takes time and a lot of money. All of this work must be completed soon, as the first snow is upon them.
Several feet of snow will fall in the coming winter months. Remote villages will be cut off from any aid. They need shelter and to replenish their winter food supplies as soon as humanly possible.
I was amazed by the grace of people waiting patiently in line for aid after everything they’d been through. They were so warm, and insisted we stay and eat with hem. They told us they aren’t used to asking for help, as they are an independent people. But they’re so thankful that Islamic Relief donors were helping them from so far away, without them having to ask for it.
May we always have the foresight to help those in need before they ask.
Already the media attention has died down on the earthquake emergency, and some people do not feel the need to support the survivors. But every year, there is humanitarian crises like this one in Pakistan, and we should be prepared to reach out to our brothers and sisters there when the time comes. We can’t be too tired to help.
It’s our duty, written in the Qur’an and in many of the Great Books.
And with winter fast approaching, I hope I’ll see aid arriving to these people in abundance, with Allah’s mercy, and your generous hand.