ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–The Oct. 8 earthquake that shook northern Pakistan and India has the region scrambling once again to meet enormous needs as recovery continues from the Dec. 26 tsunami that ravaged the countries of Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
Southern Baptist disaster relief response to the earthquake will be similar to its response to the tsunami: meeting medical needs, providing food, building temporary shelter and helping individuals generate income.
However, the differences between the two disasters are vast.
“In the tsunami, most of the casualties were instant, within hours,” Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist Philip Monroe* said. “I think with the earthquake, you’re going to see a significant amount of secondary injuries. Secondary injuries will be much greater from lack of shelter and exposure to the elements. The tsunami occurred in a tropical zone, so you didn’t have to worry about the change of the season.”
Winter snows already have blanketed the tops of the Himalayan Mountains, and Pakistani earthquake survivors say the snow will reach their villages within the next month, perhaps within two weeks. When the snow falls, it typically piles waist-high. The impending snows make finding shelter urgent for those who have none and limit the timeframe in which Southern Baptists can meet such needs.
Landslides continue to close mountain roads, making it even more challenging to reach some villages before winter weather arrives. Aftershocks are still common, one rocking Islamabad as recently as 4 a.m. Oct. 17.
“Another significant difference: as far as the tsunami, the international response matched the need,” Monroe said. “In Pakistan, here I will say there is just a dearth of available medical personnel to respond.
“With the tsunami, the world’s attention and the amount of international response resulted in astronomical resources to address the catastrophic need. The earthquake has not challenged the international community like the tsunami did; therefore, the response has not been as great as it should have been.”
One bright spot in Pakistan, however, has been the national response, Monroe said.
“In Sri Lanka and Indonesia, there was not much of national response by the citizenry, but in Pakistan, there has been an overwhelming response,” he said.
Much of that national response has come from the Christian community in Pakistan. About 96 percent of Pakistan’s more than 131 million people are Muslims. Only 2.3 percent are Christians.
Despite their small numbers, Christian churches are uniting to try to meet the needs of earthquake victims, one Christian believer said. They are buying and taking in supplies, translating for international relief workers, listening to the victims as they share their stories of grief and making a plan for long-term service.
Another believer from a Muslim background said he is wearing his cross necklace for the first time -– knowing that the cross will prompt conversations about Jesus, allowing him to share his personal testimony as he ministers among earthquake victims.
“This is the time to share the Gospel,” he said. “People are open. They call me ‘padre.’ I am praying with them.”
While the tsunami and the earthquake have not been the only disasters in South Asia in the past year, the two catastrophes affected large numbers of people who do not know Jesus as their Savior. The greatest similarity centers on the spiritual, Monroe said.
“Each disaster occurred at the center of lostness,” he said. “This earthquake has opened the eyes of the victims and has softened their hearts. People are experiencing a great degree of grief right now. We can see God’s hand at work here, just like we did in the tsunami.”
*Name changed for security reasons.