Five Months Later...

Kashmir is still standing despite being hit with one of the most devastating catastrophes of this century. On Oct. 8, 2005 Pakistan endured a tragedy that killed over 70,000 people.

Five Months Later...

On Oct. 8, 2005 Pakistan endured a tragedy that killed over 70,000 people, displaced millions and reduced cities and towns to rubble. Arab News visited the devastated areas shortly after the earthquake when bodies still remained under collapsed buildings and foul smells hung in the air. At that time, talk of a second wave of deaths with the coming of winter worried the world.

Five months later, we visited the area again. This time there were few grudges and few complaints. There were no more long queues of people waiting to receive milk powder and complaining of not receiving their share. The foul smells had vanished and fresh air swept the mountain plains. Life in Muzaffarabad was back to normal while Balakot, which bore the worst of the earthquake, was limping slowly back. Thank God, the winter was not as harsh as had been originally feared.

Food, clothes and a warm place to sleep have all been made available. As the helicopter swirled around the city of Balakot preparing to land, we got a bird's eye view of a city of tents and small tin huts. No building was standing and debris covered most of the city. The old and the young began waving as we landed; the sight of a helicopter brings joy and relief as the people were rescued and provided help by helicopters a few months earlier. When our helicopter had landed, the residents of the refugee camp gathered around to greet us.

"We have enough food, clothes and a roof over our heads. Yes, the house is made of tin but it keeps us warm at night and we are out of the cold winter wind," said Iqbal, an elderly resident of Balakot. Arab News asked the question — What do you lack and what are your needs? The majority of people we met answered, "Our primary needs have been taken care of and we thank the people, NGOs and government organizations which helped us during our terrible time of great need."

Ghazi Shah, 65, said: "People from all over the world and governments, especially our own, have helped immeasurably. Had they not, most of us here would have died." Rashan Khan, comes from a village 14 kilometers north of Balakot, and he said, "We have no electricity and no water because the water pipes were destroyed."

As we continued our tour of the demolished city, three young boys playing cricket caught our eye. "We are playing our favorite game," they said. The oldest said that we haven't forgotten our dead. We visit their graves (pointing to marked graves surrounded by a number of residents to his right) and pray for our loved ones everyday. We are living and we need to keep our spirits high to bring back life to the living."

Next to the Kunar River, signs of that spirit was visible, three little girls aged between two to six were laughing and giggling as they were washing there clothes in a shallow branch of the river. The shy little girls seemed to have no care in the world, no signs of hurt but signs of joy. They didn't say much as we approached them but giggled some more and shyly continued washing their cloths ignoring our presence and questions.

Do these kids go to school we asked residents? Yes they replied. Fifteen schools have reopened in the city.

All schools in the devastated areas have been reopened, a government spokesman told Arab News during a briefing at the Azad Kashmir headquarters in Muzaffarabad.

According to government officials, all roads in the affected areas were open within six weeks of the tragedy. "International experts told us that it would take us up to 6 months to open certain roads in the north; we managed it in 5 to 6 weeks," said the spokesman.

A number of residents questioned the government compensation given to them, complaining that they had only received 100,000 rupees. (SR1 = roughly 16 Pakistani rupees). "I had eight deaths in my family and I only received a hundred thousand rupees," said Mohammed Rafiq, an elderly resident. "All of us here are familiar with loss; we have all lost loved ones but now we want to move on with our lives and that's our biggest concern."

Mohammed's complaint about the money, officials explained, is that people think that the government compensation is one hundred thousand rupees per death when it is actually one hundred thousand per family. So why, we asked, have we heard of some families receiving 200,000 rupees? The answer from officials: "Because the government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) also gave 100,000 rupees to its residents in addition to the money given by the central government. That was their decision and we cannot force them not to help their people." The same officials assured us that most families who lost members in the earthquake have received compensation. For those who haven't, they should realize that the distribution is taking place in three stages and their money will soon be delivered.

Rehabilitation is the principal concern at present. There are now some 6,000 troops in the area, and teams have moved out over all the devastated areas and have been building small tin huts. This assistance is in addition to the property compensation they will receive which is over and above the compensation for family members killed by the earthquake.

According to officials, over 100,000 huts were built so that people would not be exposed to the harsh winter weather. The same officials admitted, however, that people had to get back on their feet as soon as possible since the government could not permanently provide this level of help.

Reconstruction, we were told, has not yet begun. The government will rebuild the major towns and cities. Villages, on the other hand, will have to be rebuilt by their inhabitants who will use the property compensation money. Some cities, such as Balakot and Bagh in fact, will not be fully rebuilt because of the amount of debris that has yet to be cleared away and removed.

Source: Arab News

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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