In the eight weeks since the earthquake destroyed his home, Muhamad Nawaz has been living in a tent with his wife, six children and four brothers. He has no electricity, no running water, no gas. Thanks to the U.S. Marines, however, he does have basic medical care. Following the huge humanitarian mission in response to the devastation caused by last year's deadly tsunami, the U.S. military has once again mobilized in South Asia, where millions were left homeless and an estimated 87,000 killed by the Oct. 8 quake.
In the hard-hit Kashmir city of Muzaffarabad, the Army has a M.A.S.H. up and running. The Air Force is operating cargo missions from Islamabad. Navy doctors are doing operations and Marine helicopters buzz through the Shinkiari skies.
Nawaz is one of more than 2,800 Pakistanis who have sought treatment for everything from broken hips to rotten teeth at the U.S. military field hospital, run mainly by the Marines and Navy in this dusty town on the country's northern fringes.
The hospital has an emergency room, x-ray capability, an operating theater and its own pharmacy. Two surgeons and even a pair of dentists are deployed here, along with a half-dozen nurses and Marines ready to evacuate the more seriously injured patients to other facilities by helicopter or ambulance.
"Our mission is simply to alleviate suffering and be self-sufficient," said Lt. Col. Jamie Gannon, the base commander. More than half of the 220 or so troops, most of whom were flown in from southern Japan, were also involved in the relief effort following the tsunami, mainly in Sri Lanka. Gannon added that the Marines are in for the long haul. "We're here at least through the winter," he said. But the hospital here is surprisingly quiet.
Even though it is surrounded by a refugee tent village, its 60-cot ward is often empty. And like most of the other patients treated who come here, Nawaz's medical problem has nothing to do with the quake, he has a skin condition on his knee.
"Few of the problems we are treating are directly related to the quake," said Lt. Kimberly Livingston, a Navy doctor. "We're trying to be here for them while their own health care system is being rebuilt."
Livingston, of Lone Star, Texas, said that, with more than half of the area's own clinics destroyed, most of the ailments the doctors treat here are longterm, and not life-threatening. She said she has treated mainly arthritis or asthma and other respiratory problems. Part of the reason for the relative calm is location.
Though collapsed buildings and refugee camps line the main street, this town was not among the hardest hit by the quake. Shops and inns are open, and the marketplace is already buzzing with activity. The weeks ahead could be harsher. Base commander Gannon said the field hospital was set up in a valley where refugees are expected to come when the severe winter cold hits the higher elevations, and because it is as far north as is logistically feasible.
Snow-covered peaks line the Shinkiari horizon. Beyond this village, the roads narrow, making them too small for the Marines' vehicles. "This is about as forward as we could have gone," Gannon said, adding that "most direct victims of the earthquake have been treated and evacuated, or have died." Capt. Danny Chung, the base spokesman, said the winter is likely to create a new wave of problems, including an increase in serious burn cases as refugees get caught in tent fires, reports the AP. I.L.