Authorities in Pakistani-administered Kashmir have announced plans to close by the end of June all tented camps housing thousands of people displaced by a massive 7.6-magnitude earthquake in October 2005.
About 30,000 quake-displaced people, comprising more than 5,000 families, continue to live in about 44 makeshift settlements in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
More than 600 families living in camps are landless while another 1,700 households are categorised as vulnerable, including orphans, the elderly and female-headed households, according to camp management officials.
"The return process is set to start from 1 April and would be completed in phases," said Shahid Malik of the Camp Management Organisation (CMO).
"In the first phase, some 2,700 families [in camps], whose houses and livelihoods were damaged by the earthquake, would be assisted to return to their villages," Malik said.
As part of the plan, each returnee family will be eligible for an assistance package of 14 corrugated iron sheets, two months-worth of food rations and free transportation from the camp to their place of origin. Moreover, the families have already received a house reconstruction cash grant of about US $1,660, officials say.
The second phase will target landless families, who will be given an additional grant worth about $1,250 to help them buy land for housing.
Hesitant to return
The decision to close the camps has added to the misery of many displaced people living in these makeshift settlements.
"Some [camp residents] say they were living in rented houses, which are now destroyed and they have nowhere to go. For some, there are no livelihood sources left," said Arshad Aziz, a field coordinator with the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Impact of 2005 earthquake
As the return plan has only been announced informally, only about 350 families have registered with Pakistani-administered Kashmir camp management authorities.
Officials conceded that they anticipated challenges to convince people to return. “Here [in camps] they have free access to education, healthcare, electricity and other facilities," said Malik.
Several national and international aid agencies have been operating in the region to assist people in reviving their livelihoods, he noted.
Camp management authorities are planning to start an information campaign for camp residents starting from next week to raise awareness on the return process and available assistance.
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