(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Focus on earthquake recovery 12 months on

[Pakistan] In quake-ravaged Pakistani-administered Kashmir, carrying wooden beams to higher altitude areas where roads are poor or inaccessible remains a significant challenge for local inhabitants.[Date picture taken: 09/01/2006]
David Swanson/IRIN

One year after the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s 59-year history, which left 75,000 people dead and another 3.5 million homeless, progress on earthquake recovery has remained slow and many reconstruction programmes are facing a funding deficit.

People in the affected areas have begun the slow process of rebuilding their lives but reconstruction efforts are being held back by a host of administrative difficulties and a continuing information gap between the authorities and the survivors, aid workers say.

“Survivors have begun rebuilding their homes, communities and livelihoods. But, the rebuilding process has, so far, been very patchy, slow and complex,” Farhana Faruqi Stocker, head of international aid agency Oxfam, said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

“People need to be clearly informed about the financial and technical support they are entitled to and the guidance on building earthquake-resistant homes must be easily available and understandable,” Stocker explained.

Private housing suffered the most extensive damage from the 8 October earthquake last year, which ripped through parts of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Some 600,000 rural and 30,000 urban housing units were affected across a 30,000 sq km mountainous terrain, covering nine districts and 4,000 villages, according to the revised damage assessment of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA). Initial estimates put the number of homes to be rebuilt at 400,000.

Under ERRA’s housing reconstruction grant, some 422,777 owners have already received money – a quarter of whom have started rebuilding, according to ERRA.

Building Back by 2009

On Thursday, speaking at ERRA’s first annual review conference, Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf promised that 80 percent of the reconstruction work in quake-hit areas would be completed by 2009, with housing units finished by December 2008.

He added that the addition of 200,000 homes, following a revised assessment, has increased the overall cost of reconstruction.

“The cost of US $3.6 billion calculated earlier for the reconstruction phase has now increased to $4.4 billion, creating a shortfall of $800 million,” Musharraf said.

He appealed to the international community and philanthropists to bridge the funding gap.

Funding gaps in Early Recovery Plan

The lack of funds is also hampering efforts to get sectors such as health and education up and running again.

In May, the United Nations and ERRA launched an Early Recovery Plan (ERP) to bridge the gap from relief to reconstruction in the country’s quake-affect north. The total cost of the plan was revised from an initial $190 million to $255 million.

“As of the end of August, in total, some $161 million had been mobilised, leaving a funding gap of $94 million,” Shoko Noda, a recovery coordination advisor at the UN Integrated Office of the Resident Coordinator (UNORC), said in Islamabad.

The ERP, covering a 12-month period from May 2006 to April 2007, charted concrete proposals in eight sectors, including education, health, water and sanitation, housing, needs of vulnerable groups, disaster risk reduction and coordination.

However, many of the sectors have been facing a serious funding crisis. The health sector has received less than 50 percent of the total $40 million needed to fund its programmes.

“A serious crisis for health of vulnerable people could occur if the coming winter were to be severe – as some predict it to be,” Noda said.

The other least-funded sectors include water and sanitation, housing and support to vulnerable people.

The annual review report of ERRA, released on Thursday, noted: “The pledges made in the donors’ conference in November 2005 did not materialise through the Government of Pakistan as envisaged earlier; rather funding was being channelled directly through implementing NGOs working in various sectors with communities on the ground.”

Missing quality education

While some progress is being made in the provision of the basic needs of shelter, food and drinking water and rehabilitation of infrastructure, education experts feel the education sector is missing out.

More than a million schoolchildren were affected by the quake and around 8,000 schools were destroyed or damaged across the affected region.

While thousands of children spent the last year without proper education in tent schools, education experts estimate they will have to face many more years without proper classrooms.

Saima Anwer, education director at the Pakistani branch of UK-based charity Save the Children said: “It will take five to seven years to rebuild the education system, meaning some children will never get to attend a real primary school.”

“So far bureaucracy, a lack of commitment and insufficient funding for the education sector has meant that the permanent reconstruction of schools has been extremely slow and in some places non-existent. School enrolment rates have also plummeted,” Save the Children-UK said in a statement.

“Despite the problems they face, children and teachers walk for hours through difficult terrain every morning to get to school. But inadequate shelter, lack of water supplies and sanitation facilities, shortage of teachers and learning material – all provided for a poor learning environment,” Anwer said.

“But, even after an emergency, every child has the right to a quality education. We think they deserve the same enthusiasm from the government to give them back a safe and conducive learning environment by stepping up the pace of rebuilding," she added.

Nevertheless, reconstruction and recovery has never been easy.

“When we look at Japan, which is the world’s 2nd largest economy, it took five years to rebuild 140,000 homes after the 1995 quake in Kobe. Obviously, the Pakistani government does not have that wealth, technical expertise, institutional framework and experience to deliver faster than Japan,” Oxfam’s Stocker said.

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