Footprints: Trying to rebuild life yet again

Published October 30, 2015
Afghan boys walk to look at a destroyed house following the earthquake.—AP/File
Afghan boys walk to look at a destroyed house following the earthquake.—AP/File

MOHAMMAD Bashir, 35, knows all too well what it takes to rebuild your life after a natural disaster.

When he moved his family to Kabul in 2010 it was after a series of devastating floods that destroyed everything he worked more than two decades to build in Pakistan.

Prior to the floods of 2010, his business, producing and selling candied-goods, had afforded his family a comfortable life in Nowshera district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

But the rushing waters destroyed everything, his business, his home and most importantly, the life he had built for his family.

At the time, he tried to turn to Pakistani authorities and neighbours for help, but each time he reached out for a hand, Bashir said he was given the same rebuke.

“‘Go to Karzai’, they would say.”

Also read: Responding to flood devastation in Chitral

Realising they would never receive the assistance they needed, Bashir and his three brothers left Pakistan, where they had spent more than 25 years, and moved their families back to Kabul.

In the Afghan capital the brothers managed to slowly rebuild their lives over five years. They resettled in a house in the Shor Bazaar neighbourhood of Kabul, where Bashir now makes a living selling salt.

Their lives in Kabul were simple, but steady.

“We use scrap wood and cardboard to keep warm in the winter,” Bashir said. However, the forces of nature would once again interrupt their lives.

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake last Monday afternoon nearly toppled their mud brick home in one of the capital’s oldest and poorest neighbourhoods.

“We were in the yard arranging scrap cardboard for the winter when the ground started to shake,” Bashir recalls.

At first they thought the tremors would pass, but when the ground continued to shake — the quake lasted for more than 60 seconds — they rushed outside onto the street.

It was there on the dirt road that they saw one of the outside facing walls and roof of the house collapse.

In the days since the quake, the family’s home, now missing an outside wall and a roof, has been left susceptible to the elements.

With the frigid winter of Kabul, where the temperature can drop below zero, fast approaching, Bashir’s family is an example of the troubles facing residents in the capital’s older, less-developed areas.

Initially, many Kabulis turned their attention to the dozens of elaborate high-rises that have come to dot the city, but it is poor neighbourhoods like Shor Bazaar that have suffered the most damage.

All told, more than 7,630 homes across nine different provinces were damaged as a result of the earthquake.

Unlike his neighbours, who have already started to repair their homes themselves, Bashir cannot afford to rebuild the wall.

He estimates the repairs — including filling in the cracks that have come to line the remaining walls of the house — will cost several thousand dollars.

Making only a few dollars per day, the cost is too high for Bashir to afford on his meagre wages.

Though in Pakistan he was told to turn to the then Afghan president Hamid Karzai for help, Bashir has little hope that the Kabul government will be able to come to his aid.

A local representative, who serves as a liaison between the community and government, said aside from a few journalists, no one has come to assess the damage in Shor Bazaar.

Lawmakers in the parliament also criticised the government for what they say is an insufficient response to the devastation.

“The help given to earthquake-hit families is not sufficient. We have reports that the families are still suffering … The aid process should be hastened,” Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, the speaker for the upper house of the parliament, said during a Wednesday session.

Despite the criticisms lobbed against them, the government of President Ashraf Ghani responded immediately to the news of the quake.

Ghani’s Chief Executive, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, convened a meeting of officials shortly after the quake.

“We have asked aid agencies to work with the Afghan government, help those in need and come up with relief packages,” Abdullah said.

Wais Ahmad Barmak, director of the nation’s National Disaster Management Authority, said they are working diligently to reach the affected families.

“We are distributing relief packages to the people while in some areas we distribute food parcels for the affected residents. We are using every means available to help them,” Barmak told lawmakers on Wednesday.

According to government estimates, 115 people have been killed and another 583 were injured in the quake.

The international community has also pledged their support. Promises of humanitarian aid have come pouring in from India, China, Turkey, the United Nations and the United States.

The Kabul government maintains that they will be able to meet the needs of the people, but Bashir says his family has yet to see any help.

“We just buried my mother only two weeks ago, and now this. What can we do, who will come to our aid?”

For the time being, he is once again left to try and rebuild his family’s life on his own.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2015

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