QILLA CHARRI VILLAGE (Balochistan), Oct 30: It’s cold and miserable out here in the open. The Kakar Pashtuns, who have called the inhospitable terrain of Ziarat their home for centuries, have had to deal with their share of hardships. But nothing had prepared these hardened souls to cope with the tragedy that struck in the small hours of Wednesday.

For more than 40 hours since the earthquake brought down their dwellings, the residents of Qilla Charri village looked with desperate eyes towards a number of helicopters flying over the valleys and mountains close by.

But for the sixty-odd families living in the village, relief had yet to make its way.

The helicopters were dropping relief goods at designated relief camps. For those unable to make their way to the camp, life was different.

Allah Noor, the councillor of the village, said the women, children and the elderly who survived the devastation spent the night under open skies in sub-zero temperatures.

“The children are now suffering from fever,” said Allah Noor, pointing to two infants lying in cots.

Nearby, an old man was weeping profusely for the death of his two sons. “Lost to God’s will,” as he would say, along with two hundred others.

In another group of some thirty houses, eight-year-old Muhammad Hussain was sitting all alone, having lost his father.

Having spent the first night under open skies, without blankets in freezing temperatures, these survivors of the quake had nothing to eat or drink. As relief supplies had yet to reach these scattered villages, the locals were helping each other remove debris and bodies.

If fate had a role to play in the misery of these people, man certainly did not help in swiftly responding to the calamity and mitigating their pain.

A day after the calamity struck, relief organisations were still assessing the true extent of the damage.

Muhammad Salman, Programme Officer of LAFAM, a local NGO, told Dawn that initial relief efforts were focused on houses and villages located close to the main road. “We are still trying to assess the actual extent of the damage,” he said some 36 hours after the tragedy.

Some thirty kilometres away in Ziarat, people were watching on TV the claims by NDMA chief that relief goods had reached most of the affected areas.

But people in Ziarat were aware of a different reality on the ground.

The first C-130 carrying relief goods had landed at Samungali airbase, Quetta, at 6.35 on Wednesday evening, more than 12 hours after the calamity.

The relief goods on the first aircraft included just 150 tents, barely sufficient to meet the demands of one village. Locals say some 300 villages were damaged.

Officials at PAF base, Chaklala, and at Samungali told Dawn that PAF aircraft were ready since 7am to take relief goods from Karachi and Islamabad.

But it took the cabinet division and the Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority hours to transfer relief goods to the airbases for onward transportation to Quetta.

Till the filing of this report, at least six C-130s had landed at Samungali. However, onward transportation of relief goods from Quetta to badly affected areas of Ziarat, Kawas, Kach and Pishin entails numerous obstacles.

Travelling at night on bumpy dirt tracks which pass as roads, and above all, locating people in need of relief at night are challenging assignments. Aftershocks are still continuing. And so is the relief effort. But as people absorb the initial shock, they are increasingly asking difficult, yet simple questions.

A few kilometres down from Qilla Charri was the smaller encampment of Qilla Sui, where a young man in his late 20s was mourning the death of his wife. “Why did God have to do this to us?”

No one in the area, and perhaps in the country, seems to have the answer.

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