One year after the earthquake in Kashmir: Interview with national staff, Samran Afzal Emanuel, Supply Officer in Islamabad

"I remember the first three months of my appointment as supply officer. We had to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure the supply of the medical, food, shelter and non-food items. Working from 8am till midnight became a normal routine. Taking lunch around 5pm in the evening and taking dinner around 11pm every night."

 

Can you describe the context just after the earth quake?

"The October 8 earthquake did enormous destruction in the Kashmir region, killing thousands of people. The whole country was in a state of chaos. There was a wave of horror among the people. People were left stranded in the middle of nowhere as the roads were cut off. People were looking desperately for help. There were also incidents of looting of trucks and convoys as people were desperately looking for food, water, and shelter.

"The most affected were the children and young people who had gone to schools and were buried alive under the debris. Everyone was in a state of shock - not only the ones who had lost most of their family members but also the ones who had not been directly affected but had been constantly monitoring the media to get the every minute detail of the catastrophe.

"The worst hit areas had become heaps of rubble in just few seconds. Immediately after the earthquake, the Pakistani Government had set up relief camps to collect donations to help survivors. The donations poured in from all over and all the strata of Pakistan. Within days the tent villages were setup to help the displaced and every possible effort was made to help the affected population."

At what point did you join MSF and what is your role in the organisation?

"I joined MSF just a few days after the earthquake, on October 22, 2005, as a supply officer. At that time MSF was fully involved in their struggle to save the dying population. When I joined MSF the relief goods were pouring in from all over the world. Many organisations were setting up offices in Islamabad to coordinate their operations in the affected areas.

"MSF, having a long history as a biggest medical relief/aid organisation, started setting up its medical camps in areas where no other relief agency were able to go.

"My task was to ensure the smooth running of the MSF's supply chain as we were involved in one of the biggest post earthquake distribution in the history of Pakistan."

Can you describe one of your normal days?

"I remember the first three months of my appointment as supply officer. We had to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure the supply of the medical, food, shelter and non-food items. Working from 8am till midnight became a normal routine. Taking lunch around 5pm in the evening and taking dinner around 11pm every night."

What is the situation like one year after the earthquake? Is the situation back to normal or is the earthquake still part of everyday life?

"Returning back to normal life is not an easy task for the ones who have lost almost their entire families.

"Everyday life still revolves around building homes, getting food and finding permanents means to get both ends meet as the relief organisations gradually phase out.

"The majority of people still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and various anxiety disorders and are still bereaved. For the level of destruction as that of the October 8 earthquake, one year is too short a time to erase its effects on people's daily lives."

What do you see as the next challenges?

"Reconstruction continues to be a major challenge, followed by rehabilitation. The mental health problems that are surfacing need to be addressed. More and more mental health professionals need to be employed in the most affected areas to help those suffering from PTSD, phobias, grief and other behavioural disorders.

"For the government, it will be a big challenge to work alone if the NGOs and other UN agencies stop their projects now. As more and more NGOs are phasing out from the effected areas, it will become very difficult for the people who will be left all alone again."

What is the most striking thing you remember from the intervention?

"The most striking thing I remember from the intervention was the love we received from the Kashmiri people. It was a great feeling. It was very hard to get people to overcome the horror of the earthquake, especially to help children in trauma and to overcome their fear of the unknown."