August 31, 2006

Emergency Food Distribution

This should be my last Pakistan-based blog entry. As a result of heavier than expected monsoon rains falling on ground destabilised by last year’s earthquake, many people in the mountains around Balakot have lost their homes and their food, and have no money to restock food for the families. Those who took in relatives and friends who lost their homes also used up all their foodstocks quickly. This was the situation we heard about through our partner organisation, INSAN’s, contacts in the villages where we had been doing livelihood empowerment work. despite delays due to the main road to Balakot being impassable because of landslides for a week, we eventually were totally ready to go and prayed for the necessary weather one night with our collegues.

The next day dawned clear and dry, and we were able to pack up the supplies into sacks for each family who needed it: –
Packing in the wholesaler

It was hard work, stacking 272 sacks of rice, beans, salt and spices (that was my job, anyway), but not as hard as the labourers’ who had to load the trucks – 272 of the sacks of the things above, 272 cans of cooking oil, and 272 sacks of flour – this guy is carrying 3×20kg flour sacks – something us soft brits couldn’t even attempt safely: –
Loading the trucks - manual handling regulations, eat your heart out!

Of course, once we’d loaded up all the trucks (nearly 10 tonnes of food!) we trundled to where we were distributing from – an Oxfam warehouse camp near Balakot. Then we had to unload it all again, into the hands of eagerly awaiting local people who would take it up into the mountains on mules, as the jeep tracks had disappeared completely.
Unloading flour and oil

Unloading rice and other stuff

Everybody mucked in helping out – Salvation Army, INSAN, the wholesaler, the locals…
Unloading more rice and other stuff

We had some leftover food for groups that had not made it down that day, so Oxfam had agreed to keep them in their warehouse. unfortunately, it turns out they didn’t actuallly have enough room, so it ended up in someone’s tent! The photo shows the food being collected the next day: –
Final distribution from an Oxfam tent

August 25, 2006

Back home

I have arrived home safely last week, despite the flights chaos, but immediately went away for a family event, so I only got back last weekend, and now I've finally got around to writing a note to say so. Everything seemed to get delayed, and I ended up arriving in Hebden Bridge at 1030, after getting up at 0030 British time in themorning ot leave Pakistan – a long day! I'll publish some photos and text on the emergency food relief we eneded up doing in the Satbani villages, when I get a bit of time. Today I'm going up to International Headquarters for a debrief, so maybe later I'll have time to put up the pictures.

August 05, 2006

Lahore excursion

This week we spent a few days in Lahore to meet the Territorial Commander and the Chief Secretary of the Salvation Army in Pakistan, so we had some time in between to do a little sightseeing around Lahore.
First off, I made a special trip to the Lahore Central Railway Station. I might not be a trainspotter, but it is interesting to see the railways in another country. Most of the railways here are broad guage 5'6" (not Brunel's 7') instead of the British Standard Guage 4'8 1/2". Enough of the technobabble, the photo below shows the Shalimar Express that goes all the way to Karachi, and another train in the background. They all seem to be about 14 to 16 carriages, which makes for a very long station!
Lahore Central Station

We also took the opportunity to visit the only border crossing with India, where a bizaar ceremony takes place every night half an hour before dusk. It involves specially chosen rangers, in full dress uniform, from each side, yelling (the parade sargeant and the crowds), locals flag waving, rangers parading up and down the road, flinging the border gates open and shut, exchanging the day's national newspapers, shaking hands, playing the last post and lowering the national flags on either side of the gate, letting them cross over (as in the photo) before they are folded away and stored for the night.
Border Ceremony

The ceremony is both comedic and poignant, considering the history of conflict between the 2 countries. Still, at least I can now say 'I have seen India'.
More updates on our activities will follow, as soon as I have something to report on, like when we finally get to distribute food to the people in need. At the moment, the road is open, but the people can't get down to Balakot to pick up the stuff even if we took it there – typical.

Mansehra photos 2

This group of photos were taken the last time we got to Mang and Boli – just about! It had rained heavily the night before and so the road to Balakot was in a bad state – there were landslides on the road on every stretch, although fortunately no collapsed or washed away sections of road.
Balakot Road Landlides

Water from the mountain streams and rivers flowed across the road in many places, making for some interesting scenes. In the next photo, the waters had deposited a lot of rocks and gravel which made crossing through the fast flowing water difficult for some vehicles! A traffic jam ensued and everyone got out to watch.
Balakot Road Ford

On the left is a Suziki pick up (found everywhere in Pakistan since a factory was set up in Karachi) piled ridiculously high with furniture so that it wobbled precariously and got stuck amongst the rocks until a tractor cleared a path across the ford. The Shell tanker also got stuck, right in the middle of the ford, and we worried it might stop all the traffic along the road, until some people were able to dig some of the rock away from it's wheels and with much shuffling backwards and forwards, it finally got going. The water went down a bit and we had no trouble getting across – even little cars like a Daewoo Matiz made it. It was a fun addition to the journey, even if it did make it take a bit longer than expected.
We finally got to Mang safely – it turned out that it had only rained between Mansehra town and Balakot, but not beyond, so our favourite bridge (see previous entry) was still hanging on! The roof struts were going on to the lower buildings, and our engineer, Bashir, was very insistent with the builders that they get the roof on as soon as possible to protect against the rains.
Mang School Progress

Finally, back at home in Mansehra, Robert and I have been involved in a little flood alleviation project of our own, on the strategically important route to the chiapatti shop!
Local Flood Alleviation

A low point in the road seems to collect water, gravel and sand, making it rather difficult for all the people that walk along this way. Fortunately there is a deep drainage ditch alongside the road that we were able to dig a little channel to, draining the water from the road. The system is still working, days later, although continued deposits of gravel tend to try to block the entrance. Somebody else seems to have noticed, as further up the road on the way to the shop, 2 more drainage channels into the ditch have been cut by other people to take away the water flowing down the road.

Mansehra photos 1

This entry has a selection of photos taken around the Earthquake affected area.
First is the SA's house in Mansehra where we live. Majors Alison and Wendy are sitting on verandeh where we spend much of our time when it is hot and the power (and the fans) are off, or when the living room is being hoovered. When the power is off at night we watch the glowing bugs that look like long woodlice with lights up their bottoms and the occasional fireflies! During the day or when the lights are on we've seen geckos, huge grasshoppers, frogs, praying mantisses a giant centipede thing. If I get time, I'll put some photos of them up as well!

SA House, Mansehra

The last time we visited our projects and Mang and Boli the weather was dry and the main road to Balakot was wide and easy, albeit bendy, with a little work going on in one place where the river had undermined the side of the road and a landslide had landed on top.

Balakot Roadworks

Boli is on this road, and we could see that levelling of the ground was starting with a tractor. The road up to Mang had been badly damaged as a result of the earthquake and subsequent landslides, which made for an exciting but reasonable journey in our 4×4 vehicle.
Mang Road

You can see here how the road must have once been quite reasonable tarmac, but vehcles have to veer off onto the dirt to avoid lost parts of the road.
At one point along this road, we pass over a bridge – the first time the team crossed this (before I arrived) and looked back, they got quite a shock, as you can see from the next photo, the floodwaters had done some damage!
Mang Road Bridge

Needless to say we're praying no more damage is done to the bridge by the next time we need to cross it! In my next entry, I'll post some of the more recent photos of last week's adventurous trip to Mang and Boli, after some heavy monsoon rains!


Lahore fort photo

I've selected a few photos of places we've been and things we've seen from throughout my time here. The first is from when I arrived, and we went to Lahore for a few days. While we were there, we did a little sightseeing trip, visiting the fort in the old part of the city with this huge grand gateway. It might look like an enormous sand castle but I can assure you it is very solid and permanent!
Lahore Fort

The next entry will have some more photos of our adventures around Mansehra. I'll put them in a separate entry as photos take ages to upload on this slow connection ('broadband').

Back on the Blog

Hi. Sorry I haven't put anything on here for ages – 1st the internet has been a bit unreliable, then we had to go to Lahore for a few days for some meetings (where we have no internet access) and the last few days we've been pretty busy arranging some emergency food relief. The Satbani villages where we were setting up livelihood improvement groups with a local charity INSAN have been badly affected by heavier than expected monsoon rains onto earthquake disturbed ground, causing landslides, loss of shelters and food supplies and road closures. We've been waiting for the last couple of days for the main road to Balakot to be open, during the day, in order to get some emergency food supplies in for the villagers to collect.

It is nearly 1030 today, and the rain is just starting to ease that has been going since 0630. When it's raining, it's too dangerous to go on the road as this is when landslides occur, and after the rain, any blockages have to be cleared. If this happens before it rains again, we might get a window of opportunity to get the supplies in. It can be very frustrating just having to wait for the weather and the road to be cleared – we've got details for food supply purchases and transport all sorted out and we're ready to go – but we have to wait. Last night, after dark, we were told the road had been cleared – but by the morning, it was raining again and we have to wait again. Please pray for the rain to stop and the roads to be unblocked quickly, as at least 1200 people have been waiting nearly a week for relief. Of course with the road blocked, we can't even get to our other projects, so we can do nothing but wait and write blogs!
I will start work on a photo entry of recent events as soon as this entry is published.

Thanks to everyone who I know is praying and thinking of us here. We are all personally fine, and enjoying the cooler weather that the rain brings – it almost feels like home – we even had fog last night.


July 20, 2006

First Field Trip

Yesterday I went on my first field trip, to visit the school building project at Mang, and the vocational training centre at Boli, both near Balakot. Progress at Mang School 19-7-06
The first photo is of progress at Mang School, where building is as in the photo, and the other is ready for concrete pouring. The lower section of the walls is reinforced concrete, and the upper is wood, much of it salvaged timber. The roof will be corregated iron sheeting. The following picture shows the school office which is already complete, showing a similar style of construction. Mang School OfficeSome of the roads are pretty interesting too – the recently arrived monsoon rains are literally washing away the roads and bridges. Keep watching for more upadtes soon!

July 18, 2006

Safe arrival

Yes, I have safely arrived, and finally got internet access – it's been down for the last week, although we spent the first weekend in Lahore at Territorial Headquarters because of security concerns where the team live in Mansehra, 9 hours away, where I write from now.
The weather is really hot and humid, around 37 deg C in the shade during the day, although not much less now it's 2330 at night – it's even worse when we have regular power cuts like tonight, and the fans all stopped for an hour – we have no air con as was agreeded by all the NGOs here to avoid excessive power demands.
We made the most of the time in Lahore, sightseeing and meeting people, as well as acclimatising for me. Since we've been back in Mansehra from Sunday night, we've not been able to do a lot as the internet wasn't working, but now it is (only on dial–up). I should be going on my first trip into the field to visit the start of one of our projects, building a vocational training centre up in the mountains at a village called Boli. Watch this space for more photos and more insightful commentary and information, or something like that. In the mean time, good night.

July 13, 2006

Pre–flight breifing

Just another quick update – this evening I fly out to Pakstan, so I'm madly packing. We got back from a lovely couple of weeks walking in the Azores on Sunday, but our suitcases only arrived yesterday! Now I'm just repacking the suitcase and heading off again – watch this space for more insightful commentary and fascinating pictures of my work in Pakistan, or something like that anyway. See you there!

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