Canadian Red Cross Secretary General Visits Earthquake Affected Region

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From his helicopter window, Dr. Pierre Duplessis says it was almost as if nothing had happened. “It’s a vivid contrast because nature is so beautiful in Pakistan. But then suddenly the helicopter lands and it starts; you see the devastation all around.”

In early December of 2005, Dr.Duplessis travelled to the areas hardest-hit by Pakistan’s earthquake two months earlier. The Canadian Red Cross’ Secretary General says he was prepared for what he might witness, and yet at the same time, unprepared.

He was immediately struck by the sight of bare mountainsides, stripped of their topsoil by catastrophic landslides. All around him on the ground were cracked roads, collapsed bridges and homes, and a sea of tents, the only shelter now available for most residents.

Due to the mountainous terrain and isolated villages, aid delivery is a huge challenge in this region. With the onset of winter and temperatures dropping, conditions are even more dire for those left homeless. Even so, Dr.Duplessis was amazed at the resilience of Pakistan’s people. In an e-mail home to his family, Dr. Duplessis wrote: “No one is complaining, because they are alive.”

No where was that resilience more visible to Dr. Duplessis then in the mountain village of Balakot, which was completely flattened by the quake. Without any machinery to dig through the rubble to find missing loved ones or possessions, residents doggedly did the painstaking work by hand. “They’re looking for their past, and it takes them an hour to make one little pile of debris,” Dr. Duplessis marvelled.

An image Dr. Duplessis will never forget is that of children playing at a “Fun Centre” set up for them in Balakot. “We knew that parents, fathers, mothers, were under the rubble of those kids in the tent. They were playing, smiling, having fun. It’s hope at the same time, the resilience of those who survived.”

To date, the Canadian Red Cross has raised over 23-million in aid for the region. “At the moment, we don’t have enough for Pakistan,” says Dr. Duplessis, who says people must remember that nearly a million more people were impacted by the earthquake there then by the Tsunami. He admits it’s difficult keeping it visible to Canadians with several other disasters grabbing public attention, but says even though the immediate emergency in Pakistan is over, it’s vital that the help continue.

“It’s about rebuilding lives.”