An old, bearded man launched an angry tirade at aid agency officials who had come to visit a quake-displaced community living in tents in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
“We have had no water, no electricity for weeks,” he shouted. “There are no bathrooms and people are falling sick in the cold and rain.”
Nearly a year and a half after a devastating earthquake ripped through northwest Pakistan, survivors say that living in shelters, whether tented or pre-fabricated, can be unbearable at times.
“The organisers try to help us as much as they can but sometimes conditions can be very rough and we face many problems – such as these open drains which pass very close to our tents,” an old woman, who declined to give her name, said from her tent.
Parents say their children struggle with cramped living quarters, poor hygiene and makeshift educational facilities.
“I’m not happy here. My children do not have any space to themselves and we worry about their education,” another old man said.
In a little ‘village square’ formed by a nexus of several rows of tents, octogenarian Roshan Bibi remonstrated with an aid agency official she had mistaken for a doctor.
“It is bitterly cold and my daughter, who has four children, is not well. I want you to take a look at her,” she exclaimed.
Resettling the displaced
The 7.6 magnitude earthquake that shook northwestern Pakistan on 8 October 2005 left more than 80,000 people dead, tens of thousands of others injured and more than three million people homeless. Hundreds of thousands of quake survivors were put in tents or other temporary shelters.
According to the United Nations, about 35,000 of them continue to live in 48 tented camps across Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the hardest hit region, as well as parts of the adjacent North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan.
Yasir Josh, assistant manager of Al Harmain camp, said the biggest conundrum facing the government, as well as aid agencies, is how to resettle the displaced.
“Some of these people are landless and have nowhere to go. Others might have land but they fall in the red zone – areas designated as dangerous by experts because they are prone to landslides,” Josh said, adding that a phased plan had been drawn up by authorities to help relocate quake victims by the end of March 2007.
“It is going to be difficult to resettle these people,” said Naseer Ahmed Awan, president of the Jammu Kashmir Welfare Association, a local NGO. “Where are they going to go once they have to leave these camps? At least here they have shelter and access to schools and medical treatment,” he said.
According to Rehman Awan, a social mobilisation specialist with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) in Muzaffarabad, there is still much to be done to provide landless families with an alternative choice of future residence.
“According to one government estimate, there are still about 1,200 landless families that have nowhere to go. Yet nothing is being done to help these people,” he said.