Edinburgh Direct Aid
Working in Kashmir

Emergency Shelter/Supply of wood burning stoves

John Home Robertson MSP joined Maggie a few weeks later, and soon they were deeply involved with WWF and UN-Habitat in the high valleys, in a program of training local people to use earth-filled sacks, corrugated iron sheets and salvaged timbers to build blizzard and earthquake-proof shelters.

EDA's own project, using donated funds, was to supply wood-burning stoves to help families survive the bitter cold.

The woodstoves were made by Pakistani tinsmiths to a WWF improved design at a cost of only 10 a stove. Nearly 2,500 of these were brought in by helicopter and delivered on foot and by mule.

The distribution was carried out with great urgency in a bid to counteract the effects of severe winter temperatures.

The stoves were a valuable contribution: they were safe to use, smoke was led away through a chimney, so severe and constant smoke inhalation was no longer a problem. They also gave out a lot of heat, could be used for cooking and, most importantly, were fuel efficient, enabling wood stocks to last through the winter.

During this Emergency Shelter and stove distribution work, the team were living in tents at a base camp at 6,000ft and relying on UN helicopter deliveries for supplies of materials and food.

There were no facilities for washing or toileting and drinking water came from a mountain stream. Cooking was done on one of EDA's newly purchased wood burning stoves.

By December, the temperature at night was well below zero and the team, although housed in inadequate and leaky tents, were at least not having to endure nights in open cattle shelters or squeezed under rusty pieces of corrugated iron sheeting, mostly open to the elements. This was the fate of most of the mountain population at that time.

First Beneficiaries

One of the more frightening aspects of this work, particularly by December, was the almost daily and nightly aftershocks. These arrived out of the blue, heralded by a deep low rumble from deep down in the earth. Sometimes during these tremors, a badly damaged building would finally give up its struggle to cling to the hillside on shattered foundations, and slide down the mountain.

Occasionally, a family desperate to get out of the bitter winter night and prepared to risk the consequences, would slide down with it.

During this time, some 5 weeks after the earthquake, the team would have to deal with individuals whose limbs were badly broken, but who had been simply too frightened to walk down the mountain sides and look for help.

Now, slowly, these people, often children, were emerging from the hill villages to seek our help. Several desperate parents approached Maggie at this time, carrying some injured child. A terribly twisted limb, a 6 week old unattended injury, was not easy to cope with and all she could do was try to persuade the next hard pressed helicopter pilot to fly the child to medical help in Muzzaffarabad.

At one point, a hastily applied full leg plaster needed removing quickly as the limb of the 6 year old girl, was blue and swollen. This was prised off as gently as possible with a pair of pliers!

Maggie arrived back in the UK in mid December and then returned to Kashmir with a small team of volunteers in early January 2006. They returned to the same high valley area, but this time with better tents and camping equipment. The UN/WWF shelter program had advanced very little in this time, due to supply problems. When supplies suddenly began to be shifted from main depots, EDA became embroiled in organising the unloading and recording of shelter materials from up to 6 helicopters a day.

Chinook delivery arrives -
at last

EDA then assisted in monitoring the distribution of these incoming materials throughout the high mountain villages, as well as continuing with our own stove distribution project using teams of mules on the precipitous mountain paths.

The people were a delight and the help we were able to give them was a huge reward in itself.

Men caring for an orphan boy receive a stove