October 8, 2005, was the day Pakistan was struck by its worst natural disaster in nearly 35 years when an earthquake shattered Azad Kashmir and parts of the North-West Frontier Province. In a matter of moments, thousands of people were killed, a greater number injured and over half a million homes destroyed.
Given the mountainous terrain of the affected areas, rescue efforts proved to be a herculean task. To mark the first anniversary of the tragedy today, we dedicate the front page of Dawn to the victims, survivors, and the relief workers.— Editor
MUZAFFARABAD, Oct 7: More tears will be shed on Sunday but there were also signs of hope one year after the earthquake that killed so many people in Azad Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province.
While survivors remain without proper homes, destined to spend a second — and predictably harsher — winter in temporary shelters, the government insists it has done well to tackle the disaster with international help.
Sunday’s first anniversary of the October 8, 2005 earthly blow will be a day of mourning for more than 73,000 people who died and also serve as a day of reckoning for what was done for the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of 3.5 million people made homeless in four districts each of Azad Kashmir and the NWFP.
Despite a widely acclaimed job done by foreign and domestic governmental and non-governmental agencies to lessen the pain of Pakistan’s worst earthquake, government agencies face a storm of complaints ranging from a meagre compensation to delayed payments, costly construction materials, lack of trained work force, corruption and repeated changes of designs of earthquake- resistant dwellings.
Government functionaries, sometimes angered even by well- meaning criticism, have engaged in a lot of self-praise to defend the performance of their agencies.
“...the foundations of a sustainable recovery have been laid with money and technical advice disbursed to thousands of affected households to help rebuild their homes to earthquake- resistant standards,” Britain’s Oxfam relief agency said in a report.
But an air of despair was evident on the streets of Muzaffarabad when a Dawn reporting team visited parts of the destroyed Azad Kashmir capital before the anniversary of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake whose aftershocks have continued up to now — totalling 2,111 so far — as chilling reminders of the Oct 8 morning cataclysm a year ago that changed the face of the region.
Reports of similar feelings came from other worst-hit towns such as Balakot in the NWFP and Bagh, southeast of Muzaffarabad, and rural swathes that suffered most of the casualties: a total of 73,338 killed, including 35,000 children, and 128,304 injured in 30,000 square km of affected area where infrastructure, communications and crop and land were severely damaged and 42,600 families deprived from earning members.
Government estimates say some 600,000 houses, 6,298 schools and 796 health facilities were demolished, about 6,440 km of roads damaged and 50-70 per cent of water supply, sanitation, telecom and power infrastructure made non-operational.
On Thursday, Pakistan asked for $800 million more in foreign aid because of 200,000 additional homes to be built than previous estimates, in addition to $6.8 billion pledges at an international donors’ conference last year.
A.K. SUCCESS CLAIMS: Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan said things were moving well in the state good and said he was seeking even direct and foreign help for long-term development of the territory where 700 square km area was affected by the earthquake, with 46,000 people killed, 35,000 seriously injured, 40,000 disabled and 1.5 million displaced.
“We have gone through all phases — rescue, relief, rehabilitation — well so far ... despite the much bigger scale of the tragedy compared to other recent disasters like Katrina (hurricane in the United States) and tsunami (under-sea quake in Southeast Asia),” he said in an interview with Dawn.
“If it is not very satisfactory, it is not unsatisfactory either,” he said of the rehabilitation process, and added only a small portion of the affected population had complaints he blamed on “technical reasons” such as delay in disbursing compensation.
But he said even completion of the rehabilitation process would not end the survivors’ psychological discontent due to the loss of so many of their dear ones, permanent disabilities and relocation of families, though in the same district or tehsil,
A positive picture painted by Sardar Attique included what he called a better law and order situation in Azad Kashmir “compared to the rest of the world”, higher enrolment in schools, better educational results, and said “100 per cent of our social services” were now functional.
While the NWFP’s Balakot town will be shifted 20 km southwest of there to Bakrial site, he said Muzaffarabad would be rebuilt at the same place though some of its population would be relocated.
The state premier would not agree that the prospect of survivors spending their second winter in tents or other temporary shelters represented a failure of government agencies and said it was actually “a big success” that temporary shelters were provided with help from government agencies like the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra), the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Serra) and non-governmental organisations and destroyed hospitals, schools, a university, and other facilities now functioned in semi-permanent structures.
SEETHING ANGER: But Muzaffarabad’s worst-hit Khwaja Mohallah seemed seething with anger when this reporter visited the locality on Thursday, with residents complaining they got no compensation for their homes yet except the Rs25,000 given to each family to build a temporary shelter.
“There are less givers and more swallowers,” Mrs Mir Abdul Rehman said about government functionaries as she stood beside her business family’s destroyed three-storey and 17-room home, whose cracked walls and roofs were awaited removal.
She said her family had “even fought” to bring unspecified people into power “but they did nothing for us. They are all thieves.”
“It is a government of thieves,” said an old woman of the locality who complained no government minister had even visited the area after the quake.
Another woman, Mrs Farzana Ali Mohammad, sat on a cement slab wailing for son Mohammad Ashraf Ghanai, a mechanical engineer, who was on leave from his job in Saudi Arabia when he was buried under family house while his wife and three sons survived.
HOPEFUL ADMINISTRATOR: But Muzaffarabad Municipal Corporation’s youthful and respected administrator Zahid Amin, whose wife was among an estimated 4,000 fatalities in the city, sounded optimistic about the future of the state capital, which he said would be rebuilt on modern lines with help coming not only from Pakistan but also from other countries including Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.