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Faculty, students aid efforts to help South Asia earthquake victims

Four Lehigh faculty members offered their perspectives Thursday on last month’s earthquake in South Asia, and implored students attending the brown bag lecture to support fundraising efforts to benefit the millions of victims left homeless by the devastating event.

“Earthquakes and other natural disasters don’t respect national borders, even disputed ones,” said Robert Rozehnal, assistant professor of religion studies, who helped organize the event with Pakistani students Ali Bachani ’07 and Syed Zaidi ’06.

“The death toll is nearly 80,000, and there are an estimated three-and-a-half million people homeless,” he said. “With winter approaching, the window for reaching these people and providing help is rapidly closing.”

Rozehnal urged attendees to donate at several locations throughout campus, spread awareness by continuing the dialogue beyond the lecture, and participate in an upcoming “Pool for Pakistan” fundraiser sponsored by Beta Theta Pi (see details below).

The human toll

He was followed by Raj Menon, professor of international relations, who discussed political implications; Amardeep Singh, assistant professor of English, who discussed the extent of the humanitarian crisis; and Peter Zeitler, professor of earth and environmental sciences, who provided context for the geological developments that not only caused this quake, but portend of even more damaging ones.

“The geological strains occurring throughout this Himalayan region place it at great risk for earthquakes,” said Zeitler, as he pointed to detailed maps of the area he’s studied for the past several years. “And this entire Himalayan front is at risk for a catastrophic quake.”

The death toll from the October quake was tragic, he said, “but if one of these other places go—and they most certainly will—it could be far, far worse.”

Zeitler noted that a seldom-discussed aspect of the region’s risk is the precarious placement of the Tarbela dam, one of the world’s large-scale dams, which irrigates roughly 60 percent of Pakistan’s 20 million acres of cultivable land and provides electricity throughout the region.

“If that area is affected and the dam lets loose, we’ll have a major, major problem,” he said.

Menon said he wanted to expand the discussion to include the cultural and political context and to consider the social implications of such a massive tragedy.

“As with any event, how it is seen by the rest of the world is viewed through these prisms,” Menon said. “Yes, there is the increasing death toll. And there is also the concern over communicable diseases, such as cholera. But let’s also consider what happens when families are torn apart by such a disaster. What happens to a family when a father is killed? What happens to children who are orphaned?”

A prompt and genuine response from the United States would have gone a long way toward addressing strong anti-American sentiment across the globe, Menon said.

“We ought to have done better,” he said. “We are told by our leaders that we are in a struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. But we have not done much, nor have our allies.

“And this,” he continued, “in the midst of the State Department spokesman Karen Hughes’ trip around the globe to spread good will. We have a program of diplomacy, but at the end of the day, our response has not been good. We are one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, but have not done our part to mobilize support among other countries.”

Singh relied mostly on a series of images to convey the extent of the devastation to the region. Amateur photography transmitted around the world through the Internet showed crumbled bridges, homes and hotels; bodies lying among the rubble; and rows of the dead covered in sheets along public roadways.

The last images , he said, illustrated the uplifting notion that life goes on: amidst the rubble of a destroyed village, vendors sold produce out of baskets.

“It captures both the tragedy and the resilience of the victims,” Singh said.

Bachani and Zaidi both spoke briefly, encouraging students to participate in the Nov. 17 Oxfam fundraiser and other university events.

“Since we’re both from Pakistan, this tragedy is closer to us than most,” Zaidi said. “It’s difficult since we’re so far from home, but we’re hoping we can do something to help. The biggest thing we ask of you is to help spread the word.”

Donation boxes for victims of the South Asia earthquake have been placed at Campus Square, Dravo, Taylor College, Sayre Park, and Iacocca. Donations may be sent through campus mail to Bachani at Box A172 or Zaidi at Box H186.

Beta Theta Pi is also sponsoring a “Pool for Pakistan” event from 8 to 11 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 at Jordan Lanes on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township. Registration is $50 per team, and the fee may be paid by FMA account. For more information on that event, please e-mail Chris Reehl or call him at (570) 977-7823.

For updates and additional developments, click here.


--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, November 11, 2005

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