Imagination, organization, speed & prayers are needed to save lives in Kashmir |

Imagination, organization, speed & prayers are needed to save lives in Kashmir

Map of Kashmir

I asked a friend last night how many blankets it might take for a person trying to sleep in a tent in Muzaffarabad, Kashmir. He has lost his family house in Muzaffarabad due to the earthquake in Azad Kashmir. Muzaffarabad is the largest city in the earthquake area but it is not the coldest. My friend's response was that it will take at least four to five average-sized blankets for a person to be able to sleep in a tent during winter. Most of the tents and blankets being provided by the well-meaning world are good for plains and summer camping to save oneself from the rain but are no match for an area where temperatures go as low as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts.

The Karakoram chain of the Himalayas in Pakistan contains the Earth's largest glaciers outside of the polar regions, in the midst of some of the world's tallest mountains.

Even without the aftermath of the earthquake, some of these areas are not always accessible. The people living on these mountains store their food in September for a six- month long winter during which roads become inaccessible.

At this one-month anniversary of the earthquake, the death toll has climbed to 86,000 people according to a World Bank survey. However, it is the living and the injured who everyone is concerned might lose their lives if more help does not reach them fast enough.

More Imagination is Needed

I have spoken to several leaders of organizations collecting funds in the US for earthquake relief, as well as the US government officials, including the Secretary of State and some diplomats, about using more helicopters in the earthquake relief efforts.

While government leaders and diplomats were too eager to tell me what they are already doing, one of the major things I noticed was numbness on the part of civil society's leadership. I heard more of "we are doing whatever we can" than any coherent strategies, thinking or short- and long-term plans.

Pakistan's earthquake is already off the world's radar in terms of news headlines. Pretty soon another disaster is likely to take attention away, as the earthquake diverted attention away from America's string of hurricanes. If civil society wants to be useful in helping the surviving victims, they must organize their thoughts now.

I, being a believer in the capacities of civil society, am a bit skeptical of all governmental thinking processes and actions. Civil society represented by the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as well as religious and political organizations must put their heads together to think of solutions. Saving people from freezing to death is the immediate challenge.

While these groups may be thinking of strategies, unless they think smart and present their plans to their donors fast enough, their assistance will be like that of the governments: too little, too late.

Good, quick, out-of-the-box thinking will result in more funding. Muslims in America have been generous. Chicago-based organizations alone have received more than $2 million dollars for the earthquake victims in the last one month. The actual numbers are likely to be far higher than that. If thoughtful plans are presented instead of just images of disaster, Muslims in America and their neighbors will match what the US government has offered so far.


Government remains the necessary evil of our civilization. They were slow to respond during the Asian tsunami, when Hurricane Katrina hit, and in the wake of the Kashmiri earthquake. But once they got their acts together they were able to replace the chaotic civil society response with organized, planned help. In the US at one point, civil society access to the disaster area in New Orleans was actually blocked to work out proper logistics for hurricane relief. If civil society institutions can coordinate their action they can serve better. They are better global citizens than the governments are. They can think better because they are street smart (most of the time at least).

They can do the following now:

  1. Put their best minds to think together in Pakistan as well as in America. Although the first phase of disaster relief will pass away soon, rebuilding life will mean developing good plans now. There are many areas of thinking:
    1. a. Which types of inexpensive earthquake-resistant housing can immediately be made available? There are several under a $1,000 unit models which can be adopted.
    2. What can foreign governments do to guide political action in those countries through overseas Pakistanis?
    3. What must the Pakistani government do?
    4. How can civil society be vigilant to avoid the corruption and wastage of $2 billion committed to the Pakistan government for rehabilitation?
    5. How can we help rebuild local government?
    6. How can we help more than 30,000 amputees become productive citizens?
    7. Tent schools are few and may not last as winter catches up. What types of homeschooling or alternate schools are possible?

  2. Civil Society Coordination Office: There needs to be a large neutral office in Islamabad as well as tent offices in Muzaffarabad, Balakot, Rawlakot and Bagh. These offices needs to be independent of the government; equipped with a map defining their area of work; communication equipment; as well as meeting space. The Islamabad office should help them think and plan for their coordination before they attend government meetings. The field offices in the four major disaster cities can be used for daily lounging and exchanging notes.

  3. Collective buying: many Pakistani NGOs are trying to buy the same items from the same market, which have forced up the prices of several items, especially tents. Collective buying can reverse this process.

  4. Communication can bring people together for more efficiency and future collaboration. A common e-list of all these organizations can be used to inform and ask others about:
    1. What each organization is doing.
    2. What areas they are looking for cooperation from others.
    3. What are the best practices?
    4. Share inventory lists with each other to share access material from one area and one organization to another. In some villages there are mounds of clothing being used by survivors to provide warmth by burning them, while other places desperately need clothing.

As government in the Third World is withering away, civil society is filling in the gap. In Pakistan, however, there is a major ideological divide between the secular/leftist/westernized organizations and the religious/Islamic/nationalist non-governmental ones. They have for some reason adopted an extremist mantra of non-communication. This ideological extremism is hurting the cause of humanity in Pakistan. Since I know and work with people on both sides of this divide, I am amazed to hear that in some way they do admire each other's guts even if only grudgingly. I think it is about time that they talked. They may end up working with and influencing each other. I have found the first group to be more cosmopolitan and better citizens of a global village but the second to have a better rapport with the masses. In that way they can complement each other.

The world has moved away from ideological battles to dialogue. Instead of the deep suspicion of each other's motives, they need to talk to and discover each other's humanity. It is interesting to note that both of these groups look for converts but forget that converts are won over through conversations and relationships.


Helicopters have been the angel workers in this disaster. Unfortunately there are still not enough helicopters. Pakistan needs more of these since cold and harsh weather no longer permits flights every day. There are some clear days when they can fly. That is the time they need more helicopters.

"We're working against the clock to bring aid to as many people as we can before the severe Himalayan winter is upon us," commander of the NATO relief team, Vice Admiral John Stufflebeem, said. "That's what the real enemy is here - time." Unfortunately the Commander currently has only one of four heavy lift helicopters they hope to bring in to fight this race against time.


I believe in God and I believe in prayers. Prayer is a process that can make us better human beings. So please continue to make Dua. Dua, the Prophet said, is the essence of worship, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him. Put yourself on a shelterless Kashmir valley, feel the icy, gusty wind as you ask God to help these human beings. He loves to hear from you and He responds in many ways. He never reduces your reward for asking. He increases us in love when we pray for someone else. He created us all, people, tribes, Muslims, non-Muslims. He is Lord of Universe.


"Kashmir map" by Central Intelligence Agency - Map is archived here: and Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

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