'The weak and vulnerable are being picked off one by one'

“I was prepared for the cold – I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

Three
months after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, which left 73,000
people dead, ITV News dispatched me to live alongside some of the
survivors to experience at first hand the harsh conditions of life in a
disaster zone.

Just getting to the community of Moori Patan was a
challenge in itself as we faced the logistical nightmare of getting our
camera equipment, a satellite dish, an editing suite, tents, food and a
generator up into the mountains.

We had to negotiate landslides
and thick snow, first in a 4×4, but later on foot. For most of the
exhausting climb we were sandwiched between a 1,000ft drop on one side
and a sheer rock wall on the other. As we climbed, it got colder and
colder and we had to trudge through a metre of densely packed snow.
After four days of travelling and a difficult climb to 6,500ft, we
finally arrived in the remote village and were able to start filming.

What
immediately dismayed and appalled me was seeing families living in
flimsy cotton tents, which weren’t even waterproof. Our first night
under canvas gave us a graphic illustration of the problems of living
in unwinterised tents in the snow. Even our high-tech canvas domes were
no match for the fury of the Himalayan winter. They collapsed several
times each night, the aluminium poles bent beyond repair. It meant we,
like the villagers of Moori Patan, had to get up every hour through the
night to clear the freezing weight of snow.

But the villagers’
tents were even less sturdy than ours and don’t keep out the damp. Most
families are crammed in a dozen to a tent, with tiny babies sufering
through the gnawing cold.

It didn’t take long for every item of
clothing I had brought to become wet. I was constantly cold. But we
were lucky – we had warm sleeping bags and waterproof coats, and the
option to leave.

The villagers have no such luxuries.

Most sleep under thin wool blankets.

They
haven’t got Gortex jackets or goose down insulation, just woollen
shawls and cotton clothes. Children wandered through the drifts of ice,
shivering as they looked out from the tents. Other children were sick
with heavy colds.

But the most distressing part of the experience
was hearing from those whose children had actually died from the cold.
Mohammad Sabir and his wife Khatoon lost their little daughter,
Perveen, 24 hours before we arrived.

She’d been suffering from pneumonia.

The
family had been living in a tent, their home destroyed. There’s no
medical aid in the village and the nearest doctor is a six-hour round
trip by foot.

Perhaps if we’d got there sooner we could have
helped. The aid agencies are doing their best, but they are struggling
against some of the most difficult terrain on the planet and a cruel,
bitter winter.

The weak and vulnerable are not dying in huge
numbers; they’re being picked off slowly and cruelly, one by one,
compounding the misery and grief in this already ravaged province.”

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