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Repairing the broken world of millions devastated and disrupted by the recent 7.6 magnitude South Asian Earthquake in Kashmir region will take decades. Ninety percent of the buildings near the epicenter of the massive temblor at Muzzafrabad, the capital of the Pakistan-held Kashmir, are in ruins. The adjoining North West Frontier Province suffered massive loss of life and devastation. There was also considerable damage and nearly 1,500 deaths caused by the quake in adjoining areas of India and Afghanistan.

The struggle and urgency of the moment is to reach nearly 500,000 who are still cut off and stranded in the rugged folds of the Himalayan ranges and remote settlements; to provide medical assistance to over 80,000 injured and shelter for an estimated 3 million homeless. The full scope of the disaster and humanitarian nightmare is still emerging.

Besides the fear of disease and additional deaths due to inadequate and timely critical medical assistance, treatment of injuries with potential for infections, and warm shelter and food, there is the looming threat of more deaths with the approaching cold and harsh Himalayan winter. Time is of the essence, since some of the remote villages will be totally cut-off from the established support centers once snows block critical supply routes to these areas.

The national anguish of Pakistan, where a majority of the over 79,000 perished with many, mostly children attending schools that fateful Saturday morning of October 8th, still trapped under the collapsed buildings throughout the quake area is simply unbearable. We cannot fully comprehend the heartbreak of the survivors and their families over the losses of their loved ones and the hardships they face.

Thousands of lives have been saved by the quick response and emergency relief supplies to Pakistan from around the world, but the task of reaching and caring for all those affected by the quake is formidable. Friendly nations, regional neighbors, the United Nations and global relief organizations, and Pakistani authorities are providing much-needed assistance and making valiant efforts to save lives during this catastrophic humanitarian disaster.

The nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, for one brief moment, have set aside their own differences and long-standing hostilities, and Pakistan is welcoming Indian helicopters, personnel, and support to assist Pakistani relief efforts. Pakistan recently opened the border at Amritsar to allow urgent supplies, and India is permitting victims to cross borders to seek shelter. How wonderful that helping those in desperate need and saving lives has been an overriding concern between these neighbors who share more than geography, languages, history, and culture.

Relief organizations, businesses, foundations, schoolchildren, and faith communities from around the world are once again rallying their friends and supporters and collecting funds and materials to further complement the international relief effort. The spirit of generosity and goodwill again has reached across continents, religious and cultural frontiers and is expressing solidarity with a nation devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in modern times. Miraculously, many significant Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh historic monuments and sacred structures, located in the earthquake area, have survived major damage.

Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and others have united in the common cause to help survivors. Truckloads of blankets, tents, plastic sheeting, medical supplies, and other essentials are being sent across the border into Pakistan. Among others, Sikh organizations in Delhi, Amritsar, and Sikh congregations throughout the world are contributing time, talents, resources, and offering support and comfort in the face of this catastrophic human tragedy on the Indian subcontinent.

Serving others in faith is an important tradition in many religions. In the Sikh faith, seva (selfless service), is elevated to a sacred passion and form of worship. God's universal benevolence is beyond territorial and spiritual confines. We are witnessing that in our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the faith lesson that "no one should be outside this circle of human compassion," especially in his or her hour of darkness or tragic events is well remembered and honored.

In big and small ways, we are rebuilding hope and expressing friendship with those who have lost so much in the latest disaster. We see the "brother" in the stranger, and in giving and sharing, an affirmation of our common humanity. We know that the agony of victims defies description, and the future will be torturously grim without vital and generous help at this time. We have moral accountability and responsibility to provide a sustained lifeline of hope and support to ease some of the painful uncertainty of the survivors and assist them in rebuilding their lives.

My prayer is that the world community will come through the tragedies of 9/11, the 2004 cataclysmic Asian Tsunami, recent destructive Hurricane Katrina, and now the devastating South Asian Earthquake, a little wiser and more compassionate, less confrontational and more understanding as a civilization and as nations. One has to wonder, do we need disasters to bring neighbors together? Will nations abandon raw politics, cultural divides, and traditional rivalries at other times? We can, and should, imagine humanity to live someday in peace as an unconditional gift to all.

Kanwal Prakash "KP" Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA

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