[A view of the ravaged houses in Awaran after the earthquake in Balochistan. — Photo by Online]
AWARAN, (Dawn): With the death toll from Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Awaran and Kech districts of Balochistan rising to 515, the federal and provincial governments and the army jointly pledged on Friday to continue relief work despite security threats being faced by rescue teams in the insurgency-infested area of Awaran. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan’s Balochistan province Friday.
The dead include women and children. More than 600 people have been injured in quake-related incidents, according to official estimates.
During a visit of Awaran by a high-level delegation, which included federal ministers, opposition leaders and senior army officers, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan offered on behalf of the prime minister a “blank cheque” for relief activities.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif pledged financial assistance and government jobs in his province for unemployed engineers and graduates from Awaran.
But the Sindh chief minister showed more generosity by announcing Rs50 million to help Balochistan cope with the gigantic challenge of rescue and relief.
Briefing Quetta-based journalists who are on a two-day visit to Awaran, the Chief Secretary of Balochistan, Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad, said: “So far we have received confirmed reports of death of at least 515 people and injuries to over 600. He said the deaths had occurred in Mashkay, Gishkore and Mallar.
Meanwhile, aftershocks measuring five on the Richter scale were felt in Awaran on Friday. Sources in the Met Office said epicentre of the tremors was 90km north of Mara area and 10km deep. The Met Office has recorded 15 aftershocks in the area so far.
Sources said that gunmen opened fire at a rescue team of Frontier Corps in Bazdar area of Awaran when it was busy in rescue and relief work. The assailants fled when FC personnel retaliated. There were no causalities.
The visiting delegation — also including Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Commander of Southern Command Lt Gen Nasir Khan Janjua and Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch — was briefed on the rescue and relief work in Awaran.
Talking to reporters, Chaudhry Nisar said that the federal and provincial government and the army would continue rescue and relief work in Awaran and Kech despite security threats in the quake-hit areas.
He said that Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, in a phone call from New York, had inquired about rescue and relief operation and directed the authorities concerned to utilise all resources for rescue, relief and rehabilitation of affected families.
He quoted the prime minister as saying said that the government would not leave Baloch brothers and sisters alone during these hard times.
The minister said that the premier had offered a blank cheque for rehabilitation of affected families.
He said that troops of the army and the FC, in collaboration with the civil administration, were busy in rescue and relief operation and added that all affected people would be provided assistance.
He said they were visiting Awaran to express solidarity with their Baloch brothers and sisters.
Shahbaz Sharif said that a committee, headed by Chaudhry Nisar and comprising Federal Minister retired General Abdul Qadir Baloch and the Minister of State Jam Kamal, had been formed to monitor the relief operation.
He said that the Punjab government had provided 1,500 tents and was going to supply food and other necessities for the affected people.
Mr Sharif announced that jobless engineers and graduates of Awaran district would be given government jobs in Punjab. “Thousands of Baloch students are already studying at educational institutions in the province,” he was happy to note.
He announced financial aid in shape of cash for rehabilitation of affected people.
Lt Gen Janjua, Commander of Southern Command, said that the army had reached all affected areas and continued rescue and relief operation despite a specific security situation.
He said that the army would construct houses for the people rendered homeless by the quake.
“Despite the law and order situation, the army will not leave the area until the last person affected by the quake is rehabilitated,” Gen Janjua added.
He said that the priority of the army relief team was to provide shelter, food and water to the affected. “We have been providing tents and food and water for one month to every affected family in collaboration with the federal and the provincial governments.”
He said: “The Baloch people of the area will feel that it is their own army which shares their grief and is making serious efforts to mitigate their suffering.”
The chief secretary said that steps were being urgently taken to provide tents and food items to 25,000 families in the quake-hit areas. As many as 18,000 tents have been distributed among affected families and more are being brought in.
Electricity supply will be restored in Awaran district in 24 hours.
He said that relief goods were being transported from Karachi as Awaran and Kech were close to the city than Quetta.
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced Rs50 million and 500 tents for relief activities in Awaran and Kech. He said that the Sindh government would give more financial aid if needed.
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Malik expressed fear about an increase in death toll and appealed to the nation to help affected families.
He also urged international community to take part in relief activities.
Relief work to continue despite attacks: army
The army said on Friday that its relief work in earthquake-affected areas of Balochistan would continue despite attacks by militants.
“The security situation is a challenge, but it would not affect relief work which would continue at full pace,” ISPR spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said
The decision to continue military’s engagement with the relief work was taken after consultations with the provincial government following two more attacks by militants on Friday.
An army helicopter narrowly escaped disaster on Friday morning when a bullet hit its rotor while flying over Mashkay. The pilot was able to safely land the helicopter and all onboard remained safe. In another incident later in the afternoon troops engaged in relief work in Buzdad were attacked by miscreants.
A day earlier militants fired rockets at a helicopter carrying federal ministers, the chief of the National Disaster Management and an army commander and also attacked a medical team travelling towards Awaran.
It was feared that the attacks could impede the relief activity that was already being criticised as too little and too slow to come.
“The remoteness along with security concerns in the area is likely to slow the ability to gather accurate and comprehensive damage assessment information,” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) said in a statement.
Referring to attacks by militants, it said though there had been no casualties, incidents “heightened the security concern for any humanitarian response in the affected areas”.
Gen Bajwa said providing relief to over 100,000 affected people was paramount.
Meanwhile, the number of troops involved in relief operation has been increased to 1,200. It is believed that the additional 200 soldiers deployed on Friday would be used for protecting the troops engaged in relief work.
Another helicopter has been added to the fleet reserved for carrying out relief sorties taking the total number of choppers to 11.
Pakistan Air Force has also been involved in the relief work.
Pakistan Navy too has deployed its aerial assets — Fokkers and helicopters — for the relief work.
Gen Bajwa rejected the impression that the local population was hostile to the army. “The locals are welcoming and people are feeling relieved,” he maintained.