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Back From Pakistan

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 Posted: 11:29 AM JST

Dear readers,

Finally back in Japan! I returned from a second trip to Pakistan late Sunday evening and spent most of December in Indonesia reporting on the first anniversary of the tsunami.

The situation in Pakistan is still extremely harsh, but better than I expected. People are not starving of hunger and most of the survivors are now living in tents, albeit often not winterized ones. Having said that, every single one of them is overwhelmed by a mass of small worries and problems. Food, money for gas to generate electricity, how to keep a snow leopard away from vulnerable livestock (stables have been destroyed), the health of children, how to get clean water, and so on, and so on.

Most have no heating in their tents. With temperatures below freezing and no privacy for women, it is hell living in them. A NATO field hospital I visited treated many dozens of burn wounds over the past few weeks caused by tents catching fire after people tried to get some warmth. Many of the injuries are fatal. A particularly tragic case involved a women who went back into her burning tent seven timers to save each of her children. Six she saved, the seventh died. The mother was burned for over 60 percent of her body with little left of her hands and feet.

Doctors had to make a heart wrenching and very difficult decision if they should try to save her or not, not knowing if they actually would be able to. "If we saved her she would be terribly mutilated. Especially on her face and hands," a doctor told me. Life would be almost impossible. For the sake of her children they tried. She is alive now, but in coma. Nobody knows if she will recover and whether this was the right decision.

Heavy rain and snowfall destroyed important road connections which had finally been cleared after the October 8 earthquake. I was also affected by this and got trapped in the mountains of the Northwest Frontier Province for a full week. The important Karakoram Highway there was basically gone. There were landslides for many tens of miles on end. An important bridge near the village of Ghnol was completely washed away. Pakistani military engineers say it will take them two weeks to clear the highway and build an emergency bridge.

Mind you, this will not be a highway as we understand the term. It is a muddy and unstable path over masses of boulders and soil where new landslides can occur any moment. Rocks come rolling down the mountain side continuously. Some fourteen other bridges are at danger of collapsing as well.

A historically large air program by the World Food Programme (WFP) supplying isolated areas by helicopter is therefore often the only way for survivors to get food and other supplies. But they are heavily underfunded. With their present funds the program will have to stop by March. Donor countries are incredibly slow to offer funds.

If you haven't yet donated money to help the survivors of the earthquake, now is a good time to do. Every little bit helps.

My sincerest apologies for the long absence. I did not forget you!

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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