Earthquake Survivors Face Another Freezing Winter
By Vilani Peiris
13 October 2006
World Socialist Web
Last Sunday marked the first
anniversary of the devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit Kashmir.
More than 70,000 people were killed in northern Pakistan and the Indian-
and Pakistani-controlled areas of Kashmir. Around 3.5 million people
were left homeless as cities, towns and villagers throughout the region
A year later, politicians
and officials held ceremonies to pat themselves on the back, while survivors
organised protests against the slow pace of reconstruction, lack of
compensation and government corruption. Many refugees face the dangers
of another Himalayan winter without proper shelter, basic supplies or
adequate health services.
Two demonstrations took place
in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Thousands of people travelled
from the quake-affected areas of Bagh, Muzaffarabad, Battagram and Mansehra
to voice their anger last Saturday against the government’s woefully
insufficient aid effort. Wearing black and red stripes around their
heads and arms, they complained about intimidation, flawed policies,
lengthy procedural delays and rampant corruption.
The Pakistani government
claims to have paid most families the first installment of 25,000 rupees
of a promised 100,000-rupee contribution. Demonstrators insisted that
the scheme is plagued with corruption. They held up placards and banners
declaring: “Who is the killer of thousands of children in earthquake?”
Stop taking bribes” “Spend the winter with us” and
“Build our homes before snowfall”. Some displayed cheques
which they said had bounced.
Hundreds of survivors from
Kotli Sathian and Murree staged another demonstration in Islamabad on
Sunday over the failure to pay compensation. Placards included: “Where
is the $6 billion in donations?” “Stop discrimination against
the quake-affected people of Murree” and “5,000 rupees as
compensation not acceptable”.
Across the border in Indian-controlled
Jammu and Kashmir, hundreds of survivors held a protest in the town
of Uri at the centre of the affected area. The demonstrators complained
that the authorities had done little to rebuild their homes and address
their other pressing needs. Many are still living in temporary accommodation
Sakina from the Baramulla
camp told the Hindu that her husband had died in the quake. She and
her four sons had no place to build a home. “I suffer from asthma.
My husband would earlier take me to hospital but now I am left with
no one to care for me,” she said. Chaudhury Farooq explained:
“There are no job opportunities and we demand the government should
The character of the official
ceremonies was on display in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled
Kashmir. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf flew into the city
by helicopter and spoke at the Azad Jammu Kashmir University, surrounded
by heavy security.
“It is a victory for
the government, for the army, for the people, for the non-governmental
organisations and for the world that supported it,” General Musharraf
declared. “It was due to the help and generosity of the whole
world and the NGOs that we were able to improve the situation.”
It was not much of a “victory”,
however. According to official statistics from Pakistan’s Earthquake
Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), some 600,000 rural
and 30,000 urban homes were damaged or destroyed by last year’s
quake across a 30,000 square kilometre region of mountainous terrain,
covering nine districts and 4,000 villages.
The ERRA annual report released
last week admitted that rehabilitation work has been limited. It noted
that the pledges of $6.5 billion made by international donors at a conference
in November 2005 had not materialised. On October 5, Musharraf revised
the cost of reconstruction from $3.6 billion to $4.4 billion and made
another appeal for international assistance.
After hearing Musharraf’s
speech, Abdul Khaliq, a grocery shop owner in Muzaffarabad, commented:
“[These] things ... we have been hearing for the past couple of
weeks. There was nothing new. We are yet to see anything concrete being
done to help us reconstruct our houses.”
Aid agencies point to a looming
disaster with the onset of another winter. An Oxfam report published
on October 4 warned: “[T]he progress of recovery has been patchy,
and the pace of construction of housing and infrastructure has been
slow. At least 1.8 million people have not begun rebuilding their homes;
most of them are in makeshift shelters that offer limited protection
against the coming cold.”
Musharraf has dismissed the
Oxfam figures, citing the number of refugees still living in official
camps. Even this figure is high—35,000 in Pakistani-controlled
Kashmir and 5,000 in the North West Frontier Province. The Oxfam report
pointed out that many more people remain in unofficial camps, in tents
or other makeshift shelter. Many are believed to be landless.
Anisya Thomas, managing director
of the Fritz Institute, told the press: “Our findings are alarming.
Too many earthquake survivors are facing another winter without basic
services and adequate shelter.” Saima Ghazal, a surveyor with
the International Organisation on Migration, said 90 percent of people
in the Neelum Valley were still living in tents.
Essential services have also
been affected. More than a million schoolchildren were affected by the
quake. Around 8,000 schools were destroyed or damaged across the region.
Many children still go to school in tents. Saima Anwer from the UK-based
charity Save the Children told the media: “It will take five to
seven years to rebuild the education system, meaning some children will
never get to attend a real primary school.”
According to an Asia Tribune
report, poverty is increasing in the area. Some 63 percent of survivors
report a loss of income, with those on the lowest income levels worst
affected. More than 30 percent of people said they now have inadequate
income for survival, compared to 3 percent prior to the earthquake.
Unemployment and underemployment is widespread.
In the aftermath of the earthquake,
there was speculation in the South Asian and international media that
the terrible disaster would bring India and Pakistan closer to resolving
their longstanding rivalry and conflict. There was much publicity when
Indian Prime Minister Manhoman Singh rang Musharraf to offer Indian
assistance in relief and rescue operations.
The empty gestures of cooperation
soon evaporated on both sides, however. Despite the urgency, the two
governments could not agree on even basic joint measures. Many of the
quake-stricken areas in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir were more readily
accessible from Indian territory, yet proposals to open the Line of
Control became bogged down in endless argument about protocol and security.
Finally, two crossing points were opened more than a month after the
quake, but only on a very limited basis.
Pakistan and India were more
concerned about the precedents that might be set in allowing free passage
between the two areas, than in helping the victims. The same priority
is reflected in their budgets. While refugees in both countries are
desperate for assistance, Pakistan and India have bolstered their military
spending over the past year. India raised its defence budget by 7 percent
in February, announcing ambitious plans to modernise its 1.3 million-strong
military. Pakistan increased its military spending by 3.8 percent.
As far as the ruling elites
in Islamabad and New Delhi are concerned, political and strategic rivalry
over Kashmir was far too important for any concessions to be made to
the needs of the quake victims. At the official ceremonies last weekend,
neither side renewed their calls for cooperation across the Line of
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