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Threat of disease grows in Indian-administered Kashmir region

EDITORS’ NOTE: While the predominance of death and destruction from the Oct. 8 earthquake occurred in Pakistan, the following story reports on post-quake needs in the Indian-administered region in Kashmir.

BATTAGRAM, Kashmir (BP)–The people of Indian-administered Kashmir who survived the devastating earthquake Oct. 8 face a new foe: illness initiated by impending winter and poor water, food and shelter conditions.

“The first snow has already fallen in the tops of the mountains,” a relief worker in Indian-administered Kashmir noted. “Bronchitis will be on the rise in no time. The colder it gets, the more bronchitis you’ll have.”

The next three weeks are crucial, workers say; hundreds of remote villages will become impossible to reach in a couple of weeks as snowfall begins to mount in regions shaken by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake.

In addition to bronchitis, health workers have warned that unless fresh water, food and shelter become available, diseases such as tetanus, pneumonia, cholera and measles, along with diarrhea, fever and tick-borne viruses from livestock, are certain to spread, especially among survivors with open cuts and sores. Authorities reportedly are killing dogs out of fear they could carry parasites that might spread potentially fatal diseases.

“As the health situation deteriorates, children are the worst affected,” a worker told Baptist Press. The trauma was illustrated by a little girl who had been brought in suffering from traumatic brain swelling. She was identified by the number “171,” scrawled on her feet by officials.

“In the three stages of rescue, relief, and rehabilitation, one must say the rescue part was missing here and medical relief still [is] not penetrating in enough ways,” a Kashmiri relief volunteer said.

“There is no culture of using tents here,” he noted. “What these people need are heavy canvases and thermo rolls which will keep them safe through the weather. And, of course, safe drinking water.”

The Indian army, anticipating a rush of disease-stricken survivors, is making preparations, including clearing landmines near the Line of Control separating sectors of Kashmir controlled by Indian and Pakistani forces. The army also has opened a 100-bed hospital with an emergency unit in the region.

Muslim militant groups such as Hezb-ul Mujahedeen fighting New Delhi’s control over Indian-held Kashmir also have leaped into the spotlight by offering food, tents and search-and-rescue teams to quake victims.

Meanwhile, Christian volunteers continue their post-quake relief efforts and gear up for ongoing large-scale medical care.

“We are going to deal with a huge demand of trauma care and health support in the region which would be more challenging than what we faced during the tsunami attacks,” said one worker in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Their efforts are being bolstered, as reports from northeastern India tell of thousands of Baptist believers in Nagaland offering prayers to lessen the aftereffects of the quake.

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  • Joshua Newton