Quake may improve India Pakistan ties
BHUJ, India -- The Indian earthquake that wrecked the lives of hundreds of thousands of people close to the border with Pakistan may serve the cause of peace between the rival nations.
CNNís Kasra Naji reports that Pakistanís leader General Musharraf is to contact his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee to pass on his condolences. This will be the first contact between the leaders since General Musharraf came to power in 1999.
The tragedy and its aftermath could transcend decades of hostilities, says Naji.
"Pakistan is helping us and that is a matter of happiness. Today, possibly I will speak to General Musharraf on the phone. Maybe this will open up a way, in pain and sorrow a way. Maybe again some exchanges, something may come out of it," Vajpayee said Friday in New Delhi.
Tensions have run high with Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and peace talks have been hold on since 1999 when the neighbors stood on the brink of a fourth war.
"Pakistan and India should seize this opportunity to address the legacy problems, not only to address them but resolve them in the context of humanitarian relief," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said earlier.
Pakistan has supplied one planeload of blankets for the survivors of the quake and is due to send more. The process may even open the way for direct dialogue, Naji says.
Meanwhile concern mounts in Gujarat state, which was devastated by the quake one week ago, over lack of food, water, shelter and medical attention for survivors.
A lack of coordination is hampering the flow of aid to the quake zone with thousands even lining up for help outside a Red Cross hospital that is not yet operational.
The crowd massed outside a Bhuj college, turned into a pile of twisted concrete by the January 26 earthquake, where volunteers were working frantically to set up a 400-bed hospital they hope to have up and running later on Friday or early Saturday.
No outbreaks have been reported yet, but malaria, cholera and severe diarrhea were among the threats facing the homeless crowded into camps with no running water or toilets and relying on communal kitchens for food.
India's main opposition Congress Party broke a week-long silence Friday to criticise the government for "tardy" relief work.
"There should have been better coordination between the government and NGOs (non-governmental organisations). The disbursement of relief by the government has been tardy," said Congress spokesman Anand Sharma.
Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of Congress Party, visited the quake-affected areas last Saturday, a day after the quake ravaged the state.
Housing was destroyed throughout Bhuj, some 20 km (12 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale
"We will stay as long as we are needed. It could be several months, it could be longer," said Dr Richard Munz of the German Red Cross, which was setting up the hospital along with the Red Cross from Finland, Norway and Japan.
"We expect to see problems caused by a lack of shelter, especially in the outside villages," said Munz.
He was worried about respiratory problems in the young and old caused by being forced to sleep out overnight, when temperatures drop well below 10 degrees Celsius (50 F).
Threat of disease
The private aid group CARE, which is spending aid sent from the U.S., has concentrated on distributing blankets and tents for the last two days, and will set up six field clinics and bring in enough ready-to-eat meals to feed 4,000 families for 20 days, said Alina Labrada, a CARE press officer.
Louis Jorge Perez, regional adviser for the World Health Organization's emergency preparedness program, arrived in the quake zone Thursday heading a team of experts who will advise local officials on controlling disease.
Gujarat was already suffering from a severe drought for the second consecutive year, which "will further aggravate the problem of preventing the spread of disease," said P.K. Lahiri, a top bureaucrat in the Gujarat government.
The amount of damaged buildings ranged from 40 percent in some towns to complete destruction in out-of-the-way villages, where aid workers said help was still slow in arriving.
"If this place had been hit by a nuclear bomb it couldn't have been worse. Lane after lane, street after street is razed to the ground," Naji said earlier in Anjar.
Despite astonishing stories of endurance still emerging some international rescue teams made the wrenching decision Thursday to abandon the search for possible earthquake survivors.
As British, Russian, Turkish and Japanese crews who arrived in the wake of the quake were leaving, Spanish and French teams were just arriving. At least five people were pulled alive from the rubble in three towns on Wednesday; there was one report of a rescue Thursday.
Rescue workers concede there are likely still a few people trapped alive under ruined buildings, but say they have exhausted their resources.
"It's not an easy decision," said James Brown, who was leaving Thursday with the British team. "The guys have big hearts, they'd carry on forever, but the body can only take so much. If we'd stayed a couple more days we'd rescue one or two more people. Now we'll move into relief and save thousands of lives."
Survivors in Ahmedabad have begun lodging complaints against builders, architects and planners, alleging their apartments had collapsed because of shoddy work.
Police commissioner P.C. Panday said investigations had been started into builders of seven apartment blocks over allegations that shoddy materials, poor maintenance and bad planning were behind the collapse of the high-rise buildings.
Many buildings collapsed in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat.
Although it has released no official damage estimate, the central government announced a 2 percent income tax hike Thursday to help pay for relief and rebuilding after the quake, India's worst in 50 years.
The U.S. Geological Survey downgraded the quake's initial 7.9 magnitude measurement to 7.7, saying it was a normal adjustment as it examined additional data.
The European Commission, which earlier pledged $2.8 million, announced it was freeing up a further $9.4 million to help the victims. China offered about $600,000, saying it was "very much concerned" about the scale of the disaster. Israel responded with its biggest military disaster-relief mission in two decades.
Meanwhile people in the city of Ahmedabad have been gripped by panic following reports of Hindu astrological predictions of an even more devastating quake.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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