15 years after the 2005 earthquake, students in Battagram continue to suffer

Published October 8, 2020
Students attend class under the open sky at Government Primary School Pashtu Tangai. — Photo by author
Students attend class under the open sky at Government Primary School Pashtu Tangai. — Photo by author
The roofless building of the Government Primary School Pashtu Tangai. — Photo by author
The roofless building of the Government Primary School Pashtu Tangai. — Photo by author

Akhtar Ali, a third grade student at the Government Primary School Pashtu Tangai in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Battagram district, has been attending his classes under the open sky.

"We fall ill due to the dust and other harsh weather conditions as the school building lacks a roof and a boundary wall. We study on the floor as there are no chairs available," he says. The school "building" looks more like a construction site than an educational institute.

Fifteen years have passed since a massive earthquake devastated Azad Kashmir as well as Hazara and Malakand divisions. However, students living in the affected areas continue to suffer in the aftermath of the natural calamity.

The 7.6 magnitude earthquake, that resulted in more than 80,000 fatalities and also affected Shangla, Battagram and Kohistan, caused damage to the buildings of government schools and hospitals in addition to displacing more than four million people.

Yet many government schools still await reconstruction.

Faiz Wali Khan, a fourth grade student at the same primary school, says he walks for two hours on a daily basis to reach the school which he described as "overcrowded" as tents were used to accommodate the students of some classes.

The head teacher at the school, Nazim Shah, said that the educational institute was demolished by the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) after the earthquake struck.

"Reconstruction work started in 2010 but was stopped in 2012," he said, adding that it had still not resumed. He said that the contractor had built only the walls of two classrooms and an office before abandoning the project.

He added that there were 160 students enrolled at the school who were facing issues due to the lack of a proper building.

According to the education department, Erra had demolished a total of 363 primary, middle, high and higher secondary schools for boys across Battagram district. Of these, 281 were reconstructed and handed over to the department and 19 are currently under construction. Work on 63 schools was never started.

In the same way, 26 schools for female students were razed by the authority after the quake. Of these, 12 are under construction while the tenders of 14 have not yet been floated.

Saifullah, a planning and development officer for the education department, said that several requests have been submitted to the authority. However, Erra always cites a lack of funds as the main issue, he said.

He stated that this was one of the reasons behind the low literacy rate in Battagram district, adding that the government was not even the least bit interested in completing construction work on these schools.

Lack of funds

Speaking to Dawn.com, Muhammad Jafar, planning director at the Provincial Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Perra), said that currently there were 2,927 projects concerning the education sector across KP. "Of these, 1,955 have been completed while the remaining 927 await reconstruction."

He said that the authority also had 7,053 projects concerning other sectors, of which 5,425 have been completed. Another 317 were under construction while the remaining schemes were awaiting the tendering process due to a shortage of funds.

He said that there were 529 schools under the authority in Battagram district. "Out of these, 423 have been rebuilt, 25 are under construction and the tenders of 81 have not yet been floated."

The official stated that Erra had diverted funds allocated for repairing schools to fixing the damage caused by widespread flooding in 2010. "As a result, 81 schools and some health facilities have still not been reconstructed."

He said that the budget allocation was the main obstacle in reconstructing these schools. "As soon as the government provides funds to Erra, work will begin," he said.

However, the words of officials offer little comfort for the people and the students of the district that still continue to suffer 15 years after the quake.

Anayatullah, a teacher at Government Primary School Saeedabad, said that his school was demolished after the natural calamity struck. Ever since, he has been teaching his pupils under the open sky.

"Without a proper school building, we are facing severe problems," he said, adding that this had adversely affected the student body strength over time.

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