Two and a half years after the devastating quake of October 2005 that killed 73,000 in Pakistan administered Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province, thousands of victims are still without adequate housing.
While reconstruction work - supervised by Pakistan’s Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (ERRA) - is under way in all quake-affected areas, in some instances (as in Kashmir’s capital, Muzaffarabad) delays due to administrative issues mean many people are still to be housed.
Balakot - with a population of around 30,000, and about 100km north of Islamabad - was one of the worst-hit towns, and is an example of the complexities of reconstruction. About 80 percent of houses were destroyed by the quake and it was subsequently declared a “red zone” by the Pakistani government, which deemed it vulnerable to future quakes.
“There are two extremely active fault lines over which Balakot is located,” said Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed, the former deputy chairman of ERRA, soon after the announcement was made.
It was decided in 2006 to re-locate the city to Bakrial, 25km away. However, people who have lived in Balakot for generations are reluctant to move.
“My father and his father before him are both buried here. How can we just abandon a place where we have had roots for centuries?” asked Muhammad Waheed, 40. Waheed, like other residents, is angry about government plans to abandon Balakot.
Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN
|Two children sit on the rubble of a destroyed home in Balakot in October 2005. The town suffered total devastation with one official stating Balakot has ceased to exist|
The situation called for an intermediate arrangement of some kind, and the Saudi Public Assistance for Pakistan Earthquake Victims (SPAPEV), a Saudi relief organisation, stepped in. It has put up 4,000 pre-fabricated houses at Balakot, worth US$18.5 million, to offer shelter to the Balakot quake survivors.
Khalid M. Al-Othmani, the regional director of SPAEV, speaking at a ceremony in Islamabad on 7 July, said the houses had been handed over to families from Balakot displaced by the earthquake.
He said the Saudi public had “responded from the depths of their hearts to help their brothers and sisters”. Hundreds of millions of Saudi riyals were collected.
So far, SPAEV has provided 230,000 blankets, 150,000 quilts, 12,500 winterised tents, medicines, stoves and 100,000 food parcels to those in need of aid in the quake zone. SPAEV has also provided US$700,000 to the READ Foundation for schoolbooks, uniforms, stationery and other education materials.
The pre-fabricated homes offer an alternative to those people in Balakot who had refused to move to Bakrial and had been living in tents.
Some have said Bakrial is situated in an inhospitable wind corridor, unsuitable for a new town. Local people in Bakrial are also against the location of New Balakot City there.
“I have seen the place. It is desolate and barren. The winds are fierce. I will never go there,” said Muhammad Waheed. But the authorities are determined that Balakot be moved, and until the matter is sorted out the new pre-fab houses at least offer the people of Balakot better accommodation.