Page 4331 - Week 13 - Thursday, 17 November 2005

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Pakistan earthquake

MS PORTER (Ginninderra) (4.36): As all members would be aware, each of us in this place were invited to attend a candlelight vigil in the square at the front of the Assembly building on Tuesday evening last week. This vigil was to help raise the profile of the plight of those who have survived the earthquake that struck South Asia, particularly Pakistan, on 8 October. I, together with Minister Hargreaves and Dr Foskey, attended the vigil, along with approximately 100 other Canberrans, predominately of Pakistan origin. The aim of the vigil was to make Canberrans aware of the suffering that is being experienced by people in the region and to plead for people’s assistance as the winter months rapidly approach, with all that will bring.

Since shortly after the quake, there has been precious little coverage by the mass media in this country of the consequences. Were it not for SBS and, to a lesser extent, the ABC, we would have virtually no coverage. Compare this to the saturation coverage before, during and after the two cyclones that struck the southern parts of America a few weeks earlier. What is it about people from developing countries that make their natural disasters less worthy of reporting than those that affect richer nations? Is it that people of different backgrounds to ourselves do not bleed as we bleed, get hungry as we get hungry, get cold as we get cold?

As terrible as it is that so many Americans lost their lives and that many tens of thousands lost their homes and livelihoods in the cyclones that devastated the southern states, what is it that makes their plight so much more reportable than those whose societies are different from ours? Are 10,000 American children at risk of dying from hypothermia in the next two weeks? Are 100,000 Americans at risk of dying in the next month as winter sets in? This is what faces the four million who are now homeless in the hundreds of destroyed towns and villages in Pakistan. They face an unimaginable winter without access to shelter, adequate food and water and medical supplies.

We cannot stand by and see this happen. We must do something about it. The most effective thing we can do is donate money, and lots of it. Their first need is the provision of medicines and medical supplies, and the second is shelter. Donations are urgently needed to buy bandages, gauze, painkillers, blankets, sleeping bags, camping gear, coats, jackets, hats, gloves, scarves and socks.

World Vision says that aid has still to reach 250,000 survivors. In those areas, the snow is already visible on the peaks of the mountains; yet many in these remote areas do not have tents. Many have given up waiting for tents and are using the remnants of a demolished home to erect crude shelters, but it is unlikely the shanties will be strong enough to withstand the weight of the snow that is imminent. In one camp alone, 200 cases of acute diarrhoea have been reported, including dysentery, and while no deaths have yet been recorded health officials are fearful of an outbreak of cholera.

I implore all those in this place and, indeed, all Canberrans to give to the various appeals that are now being conducted—to give and then give again; give until it hurts—as they are hurting. It is impossible for us to imagine the suffering of those who have survived this disaster, but it is not impossible for us to help.

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