Pakistan's Remote Regions Pose Challenges for Aid Workers

Renee Montagne talks to James East of World Vision about the efforts to deliver relief to remote, mountainous regions of Pakistan affected by the South Asia earthquake. Aid workers were unable to use donkeys to transport supplies and carried them on their backs instead.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The weather in Pakistan is much better today. Rain and winter weather had been hampering relief efforts there. Remote mountain villages had been cut off by landslides and ruined roads. James East is a relief worker with World Vision. He has just returned from one of those villages and joins me on the line from the Mansehra district in the earthquake zone.

Hello.

Mr. JAMES EAST (Relief Worker, World Vision): Hi.

MONTAGNE: Tell us exactly where you went and, maybe more to the point, how did you get there?

Mr. EAST: Well, we'd just been up to a little village called Kalawan(ph) village, and when I say village, it's not how we traditionally think of a village. These are very scattered hamlets, a house here and a house there, of course, on a mountaintop. We got up there by getting into an access road and then hiring over 30 porters from the village to ship up hundreds of blankets and tents.

MONTAGNE: And I gather you used donkeys to transport supplies?

Mr. EAST: Well, that was the intention, but when we actually got to within about three hours' walk of this place, the people said, `Well, the donkeys have either been killed or they don't have the gear that they can put on the backs, the saddles which would carry the stuff.' And so they said, `Well, please let us carry it in.' So the villagers came down and loaded these huge bales of blankets onto their shoulders and these large tents and literally carried them for three hours up the mountainside.

MONTAGNE: When you got there, what did you find?

Mr. EAST: Well, after you walk up, you just see house after house that's been very badly damaged and people living on mount ridges and outside their homes on the plastic--on the corrugated sheeting, and they just kept saying to us, `Please bring more tents.'

MONTAGNE: Well, as we can hear, it's very windy where you are.

Mr. EAST: It may actually be the river. I'm actually at the bottom of a valley. I mean, it's a beautiful scene, incredibly rugged.

MONTAGNE: How are relief agencies coordinating efforts in these villages that sound almost impossibly hard to reach?

Mr. EAST: Well, it's difficult for me to give you a big picture, because I've been here for three days, and I'm frankly very isolated. I'm only in touch by this satellite phone. But the way we work is that we try and implement our programs through village elders and local humanitarian groups and social groups that are already on the ground. And then the army--as you can hear overhead, there's a helicopter passing ahead. The army's also dropping in supplies. Frankly speaking, the army's been doing a wonderful job. They send out patrols, they identify where the villages are. They've really helped direct us to some very needy folks.

MONTAGNE: And your next steps? What do you plan to do?

Mr. EAST: What myself and a colleague have done is come up to see what the needs are, just sending this stuff up into the mountains, and then we will go back to our project chiefs and basically say, `This is what needs to be done.' We need to magnify this and make sure that many of those dozens of villages in this valley are receiving assistance, 'cause there are thousands of people in these mountain villages, and they--winter is very fast coming, and they will be in a desperate situation if they don't get tents and help.

MONTAGNE: Is it threatening to snow?

Mr. EAST: Well, I've just literally come out of the village about 10 minutes ago, where we did a blanket distribution for children, and the village elders said to me, `Snow is coming in about 15 days.' And these villages get cut off. A lot of their resources are gone because they harvested wheat and stuff and they put it in their household granaries, and when the ceilings collapsed, they basically destroyed the granaries. So they haven't got much food. I'm pretty sure they may well be cut off without decent shelter. So, you know, things could be really bad.

MONTAGNE: Well, good luck to you, and thanks for talking with us.

Mr. EAST: Thank you so much.

MONTAGNE: James East is a relief worker with World Vision, speaking from the Mansehra district in Pakistan.

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