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The Dartmouth
June 12, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Panel attempts to refocus attention on quake relief

With the tsunami last December and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Oct. 6 earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir threatens to be lost in the shuffle, despite having killed at least 87,000 people.

Members of the Asia Relief committee, led by education committee co-chair Anjali Vithayathil '06, worked to combat that with Monday's panel discussion, Earthquake in Kashmir, which featured geography professor Jennifer Fluri and history professor Douglas Haynes. The panel was mainly informative rather than focusing on debate and had approximately 20 students in attendance.

Primarily dealing with the needs of those affected, Fluri mentioned a "flash appeal" from the UN for particularly crucial items such as winterized tents, medical care facilities and as many as two million sleeping bags.

Fluri also spoke about what she termed "compassion fatigue" resulting from the numerous natural disasters and events such as the war in Iraq, the tsunami and Katrina and Rita.

"Disaster relief efforts are addressing some of these needs, but it's important to reestablish this problem in peoples' minds; it hasn't gone away," Fluri said.

"Not to compare aid in one place to another, but I do think that they need aid in Pakistan because they don't have the safety nets that we have here like homeowners insurance or FEMA."

In response to a question about the earthquake's cultural effects, Fluri said that one short term effect is the elimination of leadership structures and emergency services.

"What happens when you dial 911 and no one's there?" Fluri asked.

A more serious long-term effect may stem from the nature of Pakistan's society, Fluri said.

"Because it's much more of a family-oriented society, what happens when you have all of a family living in the same building and three-quarters of them died in the earthquake?" Fluri said.

Haynes began by giving background information on India, Pakistan, the Kashmir region and its history of conflict in an attempt to provide context to the post-earthquake events.

He noted that despite a history of conflict between the two nations, relations had improved in the years leading up to the earthquake and that after the earthquake Pakistan announced it would take aid from India.

However, Pakistan's slow initial response may have forced it to accept aid from India that it might not have under other circumstances, and India may have seized the opportunity to give aid as a chance to improve its image.

"The politics of aid are very interesting," Haynes said. "While India did promise aid, they may have also had some goals."

Politics aside, the biggest issue is surviving this winter, Haynes said.

"One of the most immediate problems is the question of how to get through this winter," Haynes said.

"A lot of these areas are very high-altitude and will soon be covered with snow."

Haynes also brought up the issue of compassion fatigue, noting that not only have there been many recent natural disasters but that many have been spectacular in nature.

However, he did manage to find a silver lining, noting that while donor fatigue might make it hard to raise a lot of money in the short term, because many of the problems, especially rebuilding, are long-term, raising money immediately is not as great a concern.

The American government has also donated $156 million, more than it might otherwise have given.

Haynes attributes this to an attempt by the Bush administration to improve its image in the Islamic world.