Value beyond money: Australia’s special dependence on volunteer firefighters


Michelle Cull, Western Sydney University

Australia’s unprecedented bushfires have cemented its rural firefighters at the heart of the nation’s identity.

It’s not just that these men and women put themselves in the line of fire. It’s that these “firies” are almost all volunteers, battling blazes for sheer love of their local community.

Relying on volunteers isn’t unique to Australia’s rural firefighting brigades. Other countries with large numbers of volunteer firefighters include Austria, Germany, France, the United States, Japan and China.

But Australia arguably relies on these volunteers to an extent unparalleled in the world, due to the country’s sheer size and the extent to which it is prone to bushfire. In terms of sheer scale of fires, only the vastness of Russia and Canada can compete, and neither has a climate and ecology quite so primed to burn.




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Almost 1% of the population volunteers

About 195,000 Australians volunteer with the nation’s six state and two territory bushfire services. The most populous state, New South Wales, has the largest number (71,234). The Australian Capital Territory has the fewest (a little more than 400).



CC BY-ND

The numbers reflect how many people live in rural areas and the degree to which those communities face bushfire risk. Thus Tasmania has 5,000 volunteer fighters despite having a smaller population than the ACT, because relatively more live in small towns.

On raw figures, Australia has the ninth-largest number of volunteer firefighters by nation, after China, Russia, the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Poland and Austria.



CC BY

Comparing raw national figures doesn’t necessarily capture the special place of rural firies in Australia. Austria and its neighbours, for example, have cultures of volunteer municipal firefighting brigades that go back nearly a thousand years and cover structural fires as well.

Australia’s voluntary fire brigades are focused on bushfires. If we were to exclude the 71% of the Australia population that live in major cities, the proportion of Australia’s rural population volunteering with a bushfire service is more like 4.5%. This indicates how central these brigades are to local communities.

It hard to put a precise number on the value volunteer firefighters make to Australia’s economy, but it is significant. The amount and quality of volunteer work is, of course, variable. But let’s assume each volunteer gives 150 hours of their time a year. This is likely conservative, given estimates of the time volunteers have given up this season.
At the average weekly Australian wage (including superannuation guarantee), the volunteers contribute about A$1.3 billion to the community.




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Operations and funding

Even though most firefighters in the rural fire services are volunteers, there are still significant costs. The NSW Rural Fire Service, for example, maintains more than 2,000 brigades with their own stations, vehicles and other running costs. It also employs 965 paid staff in administrative and operational roles. Capital investment of $42 million for stations and equipment was made in 2018-19 in addition to running costs.

The following breakdown is indicative of the running costs facing every state or territory service.



Michelle Cull/The Conversation, CC BY

While funding depends on the individual state or territory, in general the services are funded by levies, imposed through state and territory laws.

Sample of a rates notice including the fire services levy for Murrindindi Shire Council, Victoria.
Murrindindi Shire Council

Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, for example, is funded under the Country Fire Authority Act (1958) through a property levy. It is collected by local councils and passed on to the state government, which then distributes it to the authority. The levy includes a fixed component plus a variable rate based on a property’s market value.

New South Wales also has a levy tied to council rates (under the Rural Fires Act 1997). But most funding comes from a levy on insurance payments (imposed under the Emergency Services Levy Act 2017). In the 2018/19 financial year these levies raised about $440 million combined. State and federal governments kicked in a further $50 million, with $26 million in “other income” – mostly recouped costs from interstate and overseas deployments and use of its aircraft by other agencies.

The role of donations

Donations have not historically been a major funding source for any state or territory fire service. But in times of crisis the public often want to do their bit by giving money.

In the 2017-2018 financial year, for example, the NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund received $768,044 in donations. Now it has $50 million or so coming its way due to comedian Celeste Barber’s bushfire appeal.




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It’s possible many of those giving to Barber’s fundraiser didn’t realise their money would only go to New South Wales brigades. It’s also possible many thought they might help volunteers directly, such as through reimbursements for taking leave without pay. Others want to ensure volunteers don’t have to buy their own equipment.

Volunteers won’t necessarily benefit directly in the way donors might like. This is not to say donations won’t help, though. Volunteer brigades might benefit from money for new vehicles or computers, for example.

The sacrifices made by Australian volunteer firefighters have only added to the “firies” mythos. Fire services have been flooded with record numbers of applications. As the threat of bushfires increases, the national love affair with volunteer firies is likely to only intensify.

Which is something no elected politician would be wise to ignore.


Correction: the infographic “Top 10 nations with volunteer firefighters” has been updated to correct an error. The estimated population of Poland in 2019 was 37,887,768, not 8,955,102 as originally stated. 8,955,102 was Austria’s estimated population.The Conversation

Michelle Cull, Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Financial Planning, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: Bushfire Crisis Update


To improve firefighters’ mental health, we can’t wait for them to reach out – we need to ‘reach in’


Erin Smith, Edith Cowan University

Many firefighters will by now be exhausted, having been on the front line of Australia’s bushfire crisis for weeks or months.

This bushfire season has been unrelenting, and the hottest months of summer may still lie ahead.

In part, the toll is physical. The flames are high, they are intense, and they move fast. It’s hard to breathe because the air is so hot.

At the same time, first responders have witnessed widespread devastation. To land and livelihoods, to people and animals. Meanwhile, grief for the death of fellow firefighters feels raw, and the risk to their own lives very real.

We’re right to be concerned about firefighters’ mental health.




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Emergency responders already have poorer mental health

Every 4.3 weeks, a firefighter, paramedic or police officer dies by suicide – and that’s when it’s “business as usual”.

Research shows our first responders are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than the overall Australian population. They are more than twice as likely to think about suicide, and three times as likely to have a suicide plan.

This paints a grim picture of the well-being of a population who dedicate their professional lives to helping others.




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As bushfires intensify, we need to acknowledge the strain on our volunteers


It’s likely responding to a disaster on the scale of the current bushfires could increase the risk of mental illness for some.

If firefighters are not coping, they may develop psychological disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

PTSD

PTSD develops when a person isn’t able to recover after experiencing a traumatic event.

Some firefighters may develop symptoms while they’re still fighting the fires. They may feel on edge, but push down their fears to get on with the job. However, it’s more likely symptoms will only appear weeks, months, even years down the track.

PTSD is associated with significant impairment in day-to-day functioning socially and at work. For firefighters and others with PTSD, typical symptoms or behaviours will include:

  • reliving the traumatic event. People with PTSD describe vivid images and terrifying nightmares of their experience

  • avoiding reminders of what happened. They may become emotionally numb and isolate themselves to avoid any triggers

  • being constantly tense and jumpy, always looking out for signs of danger.

Volunteers in regional communities are particularly susceptible to trauma. They have often joined fire brigades to help protect their own communities, and then face trying to save their own homes or those of neighbours and friends.

We also need to be mindful of retired firefighters for whom these current bushfires will have triggered painful and disturbing memories. They may not currently be on the front lines, but they only need to turn on the television, open the newspaper, or look at social media to be taken straight back to Black Saturday or whatever particular event is distressing for them.




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The problem with reaching out

The increased prevalence of mental health issues among emergency responders suggests many existing emergency service well-being programs are failing those who need them the most.

In Australia, these programs are largely based on a what’s called a “resilience model” that focuses on people “reaching out” and seeking help when they need it.

First responders may be unlikely to take this initiative in the middle of a mental health crisis, when it’s often a struggle even to pick up the phone to a loved one, friend or colleague.

Some firefighters might not reach out for help when they need it.
Jacob Carracher, Author provided

Instead, we need an approach to well-being that removes the onus on the individual. We need to shift our thinking from a model that requires the individual to “reach out”, to a model that also values others “reaching in” to identify those who may be struggling.

Ambulance Victoria’s Peer Support Dog Program, which allows staff to bring in accredited dogs to create social interactions and conversations, is a good example of how “reaching in” helps with first responder well-being. This kind of approach empowers people through social connections and the appreciation they are also supporting others.

While employers need to do more in to facilitate “reach in” programs, anyone can create informal support networks. Whether friendship groups, community groups, sporting groups, or something else, the underlying thread should be a committment to each other’s well-being.




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As we continue to contend with this crisis, ensuring firefighters feel supported can make a difference to their well-being. If you see a responder in the street, say thank you. If you see one in a cafe, shout them a cuppa. If you have kids, get them to write a letter or draw a picture and drop it off to the local emergency services station.

We can’t eliminate the risk firefighters will suffer with mental health problems after what they’ve been through, but these little acts of kindness can make a difference.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Erin Smith, Associate Professor in Disaster and Emergency Response, School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As bushfires intensify, we need to acknowledge the strain on our volunteers



The vast majority of bushfire fighters in Australia are volunteers. And their job is only getting harder.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Blythe McLennan, RMIT University

The early and ferocious start to the bushfire season in Australia this year has raised questions about the impact on those at the frontline – the tens of thousands of volunteers helping to put out the blazes.

In Australia, the vast majority of bushfire fighters are volunteers. In the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, for instance, volunteers account for 89% of the workforce.

And with fire seasons due to become longer and bushfires more intense due to the impacts of climate change, this will place even more demands on the men and women undertaking this vital and demanding work.

Given this, it’s important for us to understand how our worsening bushfires are affecting the mental and physical health of volunteers. Is this causing burnout? And if so, is that making it more difficult for fire and emergency services to recruit new volunteers and keep the ones they have?

Challenges for volunteer recruitment and retention

Of course, the impact of today’s bushfires needs to be viewed within the context of other challenges to volunteer recruitment and retention.

Two of the key factors are greater competition for people’s time – for example, due to changes in the nature of paid work – and the increasing difficulty of balancing work, family and volunteer commitments.




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The ways people choose to volunteer are also changing. Many people are choosing more flexible, shorter-term and cause-driven ways of volunteering and eschewing the kind of structured, high-commitment volunteering that is common in the emergency services.

At the same time, rural communities are facing a shrinking volunteer base as people either leave for better opportunities in cities or can no longer perform strenuous volunteering roles.

Father and son volunteers with the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Dan Peled/AAP

Meanwhile, a lot has been said about younger generations being less motivated by altruistic values to volunteer.

However, there is considerable evidence that younger people are highly committed to making a positive contribution to society. They are just doing it differently than their parents – they are tapping into the power of social media and working outside of formal, structured organisations.

Changes to emergency management services are also at play. One of the most significant shifts has been the professionalisation, corporatisation and modernisation of volunteer-based emergency services in recent years.

While this has undeniably brought improvements to volunteer safety and the quality of service, it has also caused headaches for volunteers in the form of more bureaucracy and additional training requirements.

There is a risk this could drive a wedge between the corporate goals of fire and emergency service agencies that focus on risk management and efficiency, for example, and their more traditional, community-based roots – the reason many people choose to volunteer in the first place.




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Improving support for volunteers

This type of volunteering can be demanding. Bushfire volunteers face a range of significant stresses that can be physical, mental and emotional. Volunteer fatigue and burnout are real concerns.

There are also economic burdens for both volunteers and their employers, as well as strains on their family members.

Additionally, with the likelihood of more intense bushfires in the future, volunteers will increasingly be asked to travel outside their own communities to fight fires in other regions, further complicating their lives.

Having said this, support for volunteers is available and improving. In my ongoing research with other academics at the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre, interviewees report improvements in operational equipment, technology and procedures that are enhancing volunteer safety.

Emergency services are also increasing mental health and well-being support for volunteers and developing more diverse and flexible ways for people to fit volunteering into their lives.

There is also a strong commitment to improving diversity and inclusion across the sector.

The reasons people want to help

Even though fighting fires is obviously demanding work, it is also extremely fulfilling and rewarding. Core reasons that people choose to volunteer include helping the community, learning new skills, feeling useful and doing something worthwhile, and experiencing camaraderie with others.

In our ongoing research, we are consistently hearing that the personal fulfilment and rewards of volunteering are not being adequately communicated to the public. If they were, a lot more people would offer their services.

In addition, many volunteering roles do not require people to be on the front lines at all. There are a large number of opportunities to support fire prevention, response and recovery well beyond the fires themselves.

A volunteer-run donation center in Taree, NSW.
Dean Lewins/AAP

We also know that everyday people are deeply motivated to help others in the face of disaster. Indeed, NSW RFS and QFES are likely to see an upswing in people inquiring about volunteering in the aftermath of the current fires.

However, there is one important thing to note: the best time to approach emergency services about volunteering is before an event, rather than during one.

Volunteering at a crossroads

If we are fighting bushfires into the next decade with the same or declining numbers of volunteers, using the same approaches we use today, then clearly the job will be much harder and the demands on volunteers will become more extreme.

The key variable that will make the most difference for volunteers is the willingness and commitment of emergency services, governments, society and volunteers themselves to embrace change to current practices.




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This includes a greater investment in risk reduction, new operational approaches and involving volunteers more in organisational decision making. Emergency services providers should also be working more closely with community organisations to better understand and target the particular needs of different communities.

Whatever choices we make, we cannot leave it to our front line volunteers to bear an increasing burden of fighting the bushfires of the future.The Conversation

Blythe McLennan, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Putting homes in high-risk areas is asking too much of firefighters


Mark Maund, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, University of Newcastle, and Thayaparan Gajendran, University of Newcastle

The impacts of the bushfires that are overwhelming emergency services in New South Wales and Queensland suggest houses are being built in areas where the risks are high. We rely heavily on emergency services to protect people and property, but strategic land-use planning can improve resilience and so help reduce the risk in the first place. This would mean giving more weight to considering bushfire hazards at the earliest stages of planning housing supply.

The outstanding dedication of emergency agencies such as the NSW Rural Fire Service and Queensland Fire and Emergency Service is obvious in their efforts to save lives and properties despite the increasing intensity of fires. However, strategic land-use planning could help reduce the risks by being more responsive to such changes in hazards.




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Comprehensive management of bushfire risk should include a strategic planning focus on reducing the pressures on emergency services and communities. We may have to rethink land-use planning approaches that prove inadequate to deal with the increasing intensity and unpredictability of natural hazards.

Strategic planning policies and practices provide the opportunity to be more attentive to changes in bushfire hazards in particular. Planning decisions that fail to do this may leave communities exposed and heavily reliant on emergency services during a disaster.

Planning to build resilience

The Australian government has identified land-use planning as a key step in managing natural hazards. In 2011, the Council of Australian Governments declared:

Locating new or expanding existing settlements and infrastructure in areas exposed to unreasonable risk is irresponsible.

The increasing intensity of hazards associated with climate change makes strategic planning even more relevant. Land-use planners could help greatly with building resilience by placing natural hazards at the top of their assessment criteria.




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Coordinating land-use planning reforms is itself a challenge. Planning in Australia involves many policies, institutions, professions and decision-makers. Policies and processes differ depending on the state or territory.

Furthermore, planners must reconcile the demand for residential land from population growth and the need to protect the environment. Deciding where to locate housing is often fraught with complexity, so the process needs expert early input from relevant scientific communities and emergency services.

Anticipate risk to reduce it

Land-use planning offers an opportunity in the earliest phase of development to manage the combined pressures of population growth, urban expansion, increasing density and risks of natural hazards.

When rezoning land for residential development, many issues have to be considered. These include environmental sustainability, demand for housing and the location of existing buildings and infrastructure, as well as natural hazards. It’s a complex and intricate process, but clearly the strategic planning stage is the first opportunity to minimise exposure to bushfire risk.

Existing policy and processes may defer the detailed review of bushfire risk and other natural hazards to development stages after land has been rezoned. There’s a case for policy to increase the importance attached to bushfire hazards at this early stage.

Ultimately, strategic planners aim to locate settlements away from risk of natural hazards. However, bushfires continue to have disastrous impacts on people and properties. Ongoing demand for housing may add pressure to build in areas exposed to risk.

Settlements are pushing into undeveloped areas that are more likely to be exposed to bushfire risk. The role of strategic land-use planning then becomes even more critical. The devastation we have seen this month shows why this risk must be given the highest priority in land-use planning, particularly when zoning land as residential.




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Key steps to reform planning

The increasing intensity of bushfires points to a need to rethink planning processes and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to such hazards before they arise. This will help ease the burden on emergency services of managing a disaster when it happens. We can’t ignore the opportunities to minimise the risks at the early stages of land-use planning. Key steps include:The Conversation

  • a policy review to mandate natural hazards, including bushfire risk, as one of the highest priorities in policy, with an objective framework for making land-use decisions
  • mandatory consultation with relevant science disciplines to model natural hazard risks when land is considered for rezoning
  • involve emergency services in the strategic planning phase to help minimise future risk.

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, Discipline Head – Construction Management, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, and Thayaparan Gajendran, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS BURNED TO DEATH IN ISLAMIST ATTACKS


14 believers reportedly killed; more than 100 homes burned in Gojra town, Korian village.

 

GOJRA, Pakistan, August 1 (Compass Direct News) – Islamic extremists today set ablaze more than 50 houses and a church in this town in northeastern Pakistan following an accusation of “blasphemy” of the Quran, leaving at least 14 Christians dead, sources said.

The dead include women and children, with several other burn victims unable to reach hospitals for medical care, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The attack came amid a protest by thousands of Muslim Islamists – including members of banned militant groups – that resulted in another six people dying when participants shot at police and officers responded with tear gas and gunfire.

The same rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to today’s massive protest and attack in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad, also prompted an arson assault on Thursday (July 30) by Islamic extremists on the village of Korian, seven miles from Gojra, that gutted 60 houses.

Punjab Minister for Law Rana Sanaullah reportedly said an initial investigation of allegations of the Quran being blasphemed indicated “there has not been any incident of desecration.”

Because of the earlier assault in Korian, Pakistani officials were already in the area and had sought reinforcements to help control the 11 a.m. demonstration today in Gojra, but security forces were slow to respond, according to CLAAS.

“There were unaccountable people in the mob and they were out of control because only four police constables were trying to stop the mob of thousands of people,” a CLAAS report said.

Crowd size and attacks grew, and Islamists managed to block main roads and railways to keep fire brigades from fighting the house fires, according to CLAAS.

With authorities also blocking roads to keep more Muslim extremists from entering from neighboring villages, clerics at local mosques broadcast messages that those “who love Muhammad and Islam should gather with them to defend the Islam because it is in danger,” according to CLAAS.

Asam Masih, a Christian in Gojra, said that that women and children were severely burned and had no way to get to a hospital, according to CLAAS, which was helping to transport victims for medical care.

Islamists set on fire a Catholic church on Sumandri road and destroyed it using firearms and explosives, according to CLAAS.

“50 houses are burned and totally destroyed,” the CLAAS statement read. “14 people including children, women and men are expired.”

Wedding and Funeral

As Christians have begun defending themselves against the onslaughts, mainstream media have already begun referring to the overwhelmingly Islamist aggression as “Christian and Muslim rioting.”

Compass investigated the facts of the trigger incident in the village of Korian, where more than 500 Muslims, responding to calls from a mosque, attacked Christians in Toba Tek Singh district. Local sources said nearly all village Christian families fled. The fires destroyed their homes – collapsing their wooden roofs or melting T-iron roofs – and all belongings within that the attacking Muslims had not first looted.

“Our house is burnt and everything is gone, but Muslim neighbors around are not willing to give us a loaf of bread or a sip of water to us,” 80-year-old Baba Sharif Masih told Compass.

He and his wife Hanifa Bibi, 73, were the only Christians left in the village in the northeastern province of Punjab. Masih, who is paralyzed, said the attackers let them live when they pleaded that they were unable to run away.

Two church buildings were ransacked but not burned, Compass sources said.

One Christian resident of Korian identified only as Shabir said the blasphemy accusation grew out of an incident at a wedding on Sunday (July 25). During the ceremony, Christian wedding guests tossed currency notes and coins into the air according to custom, with children catching most of them as they fall. Shabir told Compass a Muslim funeral was taking place at the same time, however, and that mourners told wedding celebrants to stop their music; they apparently declined.

The next day, Muslims met with the parents of the bride, Talib and Mukhtar Masih, and told them that their sons had cut pages of the Quran the size of currency notes and had been throwing them in the air the previous night, Shabir said.

“Talib said that nothing like this has happened, but that if there was anything, ‘I’ll call my son and he will definitely apologize for it,’” Shabir said. “But then they immediately began beating them and left Talib when he fell unconscious.”

Shabir said that afterward when Christian women went to the Muslims and told them that they were wrong to beat Talib Masih, the assailants yelled at them and tried to attack them, but they were able to flee to their homes.

On Thursday (July 30), Shabir said, Muslim clerics announced from the village mosque that “if any infidel Christian wanted to save his or her life, then get out of here or they would be killed.”

As the Muslim mobs gathered, he said, Christians immediately fled – leaving their meals prepared and fires burning in stoves.

“These assailants first looted these houses and then set them on fire and closed the door,” he said. “Since then, not a single Christian is left there except a very old couple.”

Islamist’s Version

Village Muslims declined to open their doors when Compass reporters called on them.

But one of three Muslim leaders standing with a crowd of turban-clad Islamists at the entrance to the village, Qari Noor Ahmed, told Compass the story of the alleged cut pages of the Quran at the marriage ceremony.

“Because it was night, no one noticed, but in the morning we saw that the pages of the Quran had been cut to currency note size, and they were trampled under people’s feet,” he said.

Ahmed said that village authorities later met and called in Talib and Mukhtar Masih. He said that council authorities decided that their son should apologize.

“But when his son came in the meeting, he by no means seemed apologetic, rather he was aggressive,” Ahmed said. “This was the root cause, and we told Talib and Mukhtar to tell their children to apologize.”

Ahmed said that afterwards they searched for Talib and Mukhtar Masih and their sons but could not find them.

“Then Muslims became furious that first they had profaned the Quran, and now they had fled and were not apologizing,” Ahmed said. “Then the villagers attacked their houses. All the Christians who are visiting here are armed, and we are sitting here to avoid any untoward incident. It is better for you to leave now or you may be attacked.”

Munawar Masih, a 20-year-old Christian in Korian, said that he was preparing supper around 7 p.m. when he heard the announcement from the mosque that “infidel Christians had profaned the Holy Quran, and let’s teach them exemplary lesson.”

He looked outside as his family was about to sit down to dinner and saw a large mob approaching.

“We just fled from there to save our lives, and since then we are hiding in Gojra,” he said.

Private TV channel reporter Ghulam Muhauddin told Compass that after the Korian houses were set on fire, the Islamic extremists blocked the Faisalabad-Gojra Highway to keep firefighters from arriving.

“When the attack was unleashed, several people were injured and even some domestic animals were killed,” he said.

Muhauddin said that after negotiations between the District Police Officer and the protestors, Station House Officer (SHO) Jamshed Iqbal Nasir was suspended for not properly handling the incident.

Christians Accused

Officials at the Sadar Police Station, in whose precincts the attack took place, were not available for comment, but a deputy called Imam Din said that a First Information Report (FIR) had been filed under Section 295-B, or blasphemy of the Quran, against Talib and Mukhtar Masih.

He said that the complainant in the case was Muhammad Ashraf, and that police had possession of the alleged burnt or cut papers of the Quran. Din said that after SHO Nasir was suspended and Ashiq Hussein replaced him, Hussein was willing to file an FIR against those who had ransacked and burned houses of Christians. He said the accused were still at large and that police would arrest them after Christians returned to their homes.

Asked if police were under pressure from Islamists or the government, Din declined to comment.

Advocacy group Community Development Initiative (CDI) field officer Napoleon Qayyum said that the group had informed high officials about the Korian attack, including the presidency, and that soon afterward the president issued a notice. Qayyum noted that the Korian and Gojra attacks follow a July 1 attack in Kasur, where swarms of Islamists ransacked and damaged 110 homes.

“It is a clear sign that violent attacks against Christians have dramatically increased in recent days,” he said, adding that CDI would provide legal help to victims. CDI works with assistance from the American Centre of Law and Justice.

Muhauddin of the private TV channel added that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had taken the notice of the attacks and was forming an investigative team comprising the Faisalabad Regional Police Officer and Faisalabad Commissioner, which will send a report to him.

A spokesman from the Pakistani president’s office, former Sen. Farhatullah Babar, told Compass that President Asif Ali Zardari had taken a notice of the attack and had asked the provincial government to investigate. He said the president has condemned the attack and that there was no justification for anyone taking the law into their own hands.

Asked why the committee constituted by the provincial government did not have any Christians on it, he responded that it was the discretion of the provincial government to determine the make-up of the panel and that the federal government was concerned only about the report. Asked why an FIR had been filed against Christians and not Muslims for ransacking and vandalizing, he said only that appropriate action would be taken after the inquiry.

Member of National Assembly Farahnaz Ispahani, wife of Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, told Compass that President Zardari had directed Federal Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti to visit the area and “express sympathy with the victims.”

Report from Compass Direct News