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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

one year on...

Friday, October 06, 2006

At ten to nine (local time) on the morning of the 8th October 2005 the most catastrophic earthquake the Indian subcontinent has seen struck Pakistan. The 7.6 magnitude quake was felt in parts of India and Afghanistan, and estimates but the death toll at between 70 and 100,000 people, whilst 3.5 million people lost their homes. Buildings were destroyed as far away as Pakistan's capital Islamabad, but the worst hit city was Balakot in northern Pakistan, the scenic gateway to the Kaghan Valley. Balakot was pretty much flattened, as the picture shows, and one year on, despite the tireless work of many NGO's (relief organisations) it remains a scene of devastation. More than a quarter of the Balakot population died in the earthquake.

As part of the Encounter trip last month, we visited Balakot to see first hand the work that the diocese of Peshawar is involved in. We heard several personal accounts of when the earthquake struck - one member of the Peshawar Youth Council told of when he switched on his TV, after experiencing the quake in Peshawar, to hear of Balakot's plight. He was so moved that he immediately called round his peers and, with the support and help of the diocesan youth officer, arranged for a group of them to travel to Balakot the following day to help out. They were the first relief group to arrive and have been involved in the area for the last twelve months helping to rebuild small communities in the surrounding mountain areas. What these young adults found when they arrived will remain with them forever... schools that had collapsed on top of children who had just started their lessons, one alone trapping 300 children with many still to be found, completely flattened houses, rubble everywhere, the overwhelming stench of death, gaping chasms in the ground, and desperation and grief in the faces of everyone.

Through an interpreter we spoke to one local man who told us of his experience. He was unloading his van when the quake struck and all he remembers was his van lifting off the ground and turning over before he himself was catapulted into the air. He lost his wife and two of his children to the earthquake, and took us to see the immaculately kept graves in the yard of what remains of their home. Seeing that mound of fertile ground in the midst of rubble was one of the most moving experiences of my life - I will never forget the look of grief in this man's eyes as he showed us this grave.

The tragedy for people like this man is that Balakot cannot be rebuilt. The city sits on top of an incredibly volatile fault line and is likely to experience a far more severe earthquake at some future point - indeed, a 4.2 magnitude tremor was experienced there just last week. The Pakistan government has consequently halted the rebuilding work on one side of the river and is seeking to relocate the survivors of last year's earthquake. I suspect, however, that many will not want to move, chosing instead to remain in danger themselves. How could people like the man I spoke of leave behind the graves of their loved ones? For many the story is even more tragic - the bodies of their loved ones are still buried under rubble, perhaps never to be found.

As a group reflecting on our experience of Balakot afterwards we displayed a range of emotions but the strongest was anger - not necessarily the expected anger at a God who could allow this to happen or at the seeming arbitrariness and injustice of disasters like this, but anger at the lack of interest in this event in our own country. Anger maybe tinged with guilt that we, like so many, had largely forgotten about this disaster only a few weeks after it had occurred. Two members of our group were angry that they didn't even know this earthquake had happened until they signed up for the Pakistan trip. How could such a disaster, declared by the UN as a worse humanitarian crisis than the December 2004 tsunami, have had such scant media coverage in the UK? At least The Guardian are keeping faith with a full page feature on page 25 of today's paper, which can be read online 'here'.

So one year on (Sunday is the anniversary) why not spend a moment with google finding out about the Pakistan earthquake? Why not spend some time praying for those affected? Why not see how you might be able to support the ongoing relief effort?

Or, alternatively we could all just get on with our lives and let the world go by...

some of our team with Diocese of Peshawar relief workers
at a project in Pateka near Balakot


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:00 AM


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