MANSEHRA: Victims of the October 8, 2005 earthquake are yet to come out of shock and miseries and return to normal life even after passage of three years of the devastating tremor that hit the Himalayan region of Hazara in NWFP and Muzaffarabad, Bagh, etc, in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Disappointment and fear still loom on the faces of survivors, marking the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake while spending life in houses made of steel sheets. Facilities like latrines/bathrooms, sanitation and clean drinking water are still a distant dream for the ill-fated victims who are waiting for relocation and rehabilitation.
A visit to the most-affected Balakaot town that had about 20,000 population and 90 per cent of its infrastructure was destroyed by the jolt revealed the residents have not yet reconstructed their houses and waiting for relocation as the area has been declared ‘Red Zone’.
The government has initiated a project by the name of New Balakot City that is being developed about 23 kilometres west of the destroyed town to relocate the population of two union councils of Balakot, demarcated as Red Zone.
However, the Rs13 billion project of New City at Bakrial is still in the process of ground levelling. Only machines like bulldozers could be seen working at the site. Former president Pervez Musharraf had inaugurated the project in 2006 with a pledge to provide shelter to the earthquake victims, but it could not go beyond land acquisition and levelling.
Now it is planned to provide plots to the affected people and not the constructed houses. However, there are still hindrances to the project, as those who have already settled over the land are demanding plots for every married person while the government plan includes single plot for a joint family.
Though the town has been rebuilt with the assistance of a Saudi relief organisation, the Saudi Public Assistance for Pakistan Earthquake Victims (SPAPEV), the residents are not satisfied with the performance of the government and non-governmental organisations.
Majority of the off-white-colour houses with blue roofs in the town have been erected by Michigan Company and are inscribed with words ‘A gift from the people of Saudi Arabia to the earthquake victims.’
“A Saudi relief organisation has constructed the houses with two 10+10 rooms and a kitchen. But there are no bathroom, water and sanitation facilities. Other NGOs like Islamic Help have shown their presence by erecting just a few makeshift houses while Sahara and Pepsi have provided 40 and 20 sheet kitchens in 1,100 houses of Upper Garlat, though they had enlisted more than 400 names for the houses, etc,” Abid Hussain told ‘The News’.
He said he had received Rs175,000 compensation, but could not reconstruct his house and was awaiting a plot at Bakrial. “We have not put even a single block because the area has been declared Red Zone. Now we are confused what to do as we can neither reconstruct our old house nor have got shelter in the New City that is still a dream,” he complained.
Mujeebur Rahman, the owner of a colour laboratory, also had a similar complaint against the government and NGOs. To a question, he alleged the NGO employees had done nothing except accumulating money in the name of relief and rehabilitation. “They are just roaming in expensive vehicles and established offices at spacious bungalows, but doing nothing for the victims,” he said.
Waliur Rahman of Garlat said he had received the compensation amount but had not reconstructed his house and was waiting for relocation at the New City. Umair Abid, a grade five student, complained about wastage of his precious time due to absence of school building.
“At the time of earthquake I was studying in class 5 at International Islamia Public School, but I abandoned studies and now got admission at the government school in the same class, thus my three precious years have been wasted,” he said. “Had our school building been reconstructed timely, our precious time would have not been wasted,” he added