On 3 Oct, Fatima Bhutto, daughter of late Murtaza Bhutto, and grand-daughter of former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was invited by the ‘History Society’ of Karachi Grammar School, to talk about her book, “8:50 AM: stories of hope and courage from the earthquake areas.”
The book, which is based on the earthquake that hit Pakistan’s northern areas, was written with the help of her mother. Its purpose is to keep the reality of the earthquake fresh in each and every one of our minds and hearts, with special importance being laid upon the role of the youth.
She spoke about how she was sad to see how Pakistani people’s attitude towards earthquake victims had changed drastically in the short period of a year.
Last year, Ms.Bhutto visited the earthquake affected areas, where she developed close relationships with victims. She narrated the case of a child, Afia, at the Sachet Clinic in Islamabad, a set-up converted into a field hospital for the quake-affected people. Afia had had to have her fingers amputated. But even with the burden of physical pain, when Afia talked, there was a tone of hope and optimism in her voice. On being asked her name, instead of saying it, she quickly scribbled it on a piece of paper, despite her amputated fingers.
Ms.Bhutto spoke of the needs of the children – a thirst to talk to people, to let them know what they, the children had experienced. Victims will given the chance tell us what exactly happened on October 8th 2005.
Balakot has been destroyed to such an extent, that the government is building a new city under the name of ‘Balakot’, in Bakrial, a place 30km south of the actual Balakot. The government intends on modernizing this city as well as making it a tourist resort. While she was staying in Balakot, an idea came up about how to build temporary houses. People were to take jute bags and fill them with anything they could find, like rocks, mud, etc. They should build the house in the shape of an igloo so that in case of an earthquake, if the bags were to fall inwards, they would not cause damage to the extent that the bricks had. But, this idea was not followed up later, because in Ms. Bhutto’s words, “people did not want the sense of permanency.”
She questioned the wisdom of shifting villages in the quake-ravaged areas to new sites rather than reconstructing them at the present ones. Referring to a big hoarding depicting, a VIP calling for co-operation in semi-reconstruction of the quake-ravaged areas, she exclaimed, “Why semi-reconstruction? Why not total reconstruction?”. She expressed doubts on as to whether the President’s Relief Fund would be enough to cater to the massive needs of the affected areas.
She felt that there is a lack in awareness and education. In her opinion, if a country such as Pakistan is built on a fault line, then the citizens should be trained in the case of an earthquake, especially in schools. She narrated an incident of an all-girls school, in which the students on feeling the earthquake, started to run out of the classrooms. The teacher called them back inside and told them to sit down and pray. After a while, when the situation got serious, the students and teachers evacuated the building. However, it was too late and many girls lost their precious lives.
From a clear cut tone, a mode of cynicism began to take over the mood of the talk. There was $6 billion us dollars collected in relief aid provided by international agencies, but, “where did it go?” questioned Fatima Bhutto. By stating that the government was corrupt and it had been noticed that most of the money was “eaten” by political leaders, she urged the youth, citizens and the like to question because they had the right to know where the money they donated was spent. On this point, she also felt there was often difficulty in being able to donate money to reliable sources.
Fatima Bhutto gave an idea on how to improve awareness amongst our society. She said that young people should be making it a point to discuss such issues on TV shows, and write insightful and questioning articles.
She felt that the government is not involved in helping out to the same degree as a common man. The army was not doing sufficient work, as their attitude came across as derogatory and critical towards civilians. The lower officers were more helpful as they had personally suffered family losses.
At the time of the earthquake, there were 3 Pakistani and 1 US helicopter, which for Ms.Bhutto was a very poor use of manpower. She questioned why we are so independent on foreign aid and foreign know-how when we have considerable resources of our own and a highly trained manpower.
On a more positive note, she felt that the reconstruction stage appeared promising – firstly, the way the Pakistani population came together like never before, and secondly, in the sense that it opened up a new field of experience for many youngsters.
The only way in Fatima Bhutto’s opinion that the situation of the earthquake can improve is, if we, as individuals, continue to do what we can. We must get together with other young people, write and speak out.
Fatima would donate all the royalty from the book to rebuild the lives of children, victims of the apocalyptic quake, who had lost most of their dear ones to the monstrous tragedy, while the Oxford University Press (OUP) would give the proceeds from the sale of the book to The Citizens’ Foundation (TCF) for the rehabilitation of the affected folk.
To contact Fatima Bhutto: email@example.com