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Most Pakistan Quake Survivors Face Uncertain Future (2006)

Almost two years after a powerful earthquake ripped through parts of northern Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, there are over 13,000 people still in tented camps across the quake zone facing a number of problems, including food aid and land to relocate to.

"A large caseload of displaced people has been repatriated and those remaining are being dealt with on a case by case basis," said Andrew McLeod, adviser to the government-established Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA).

"We have reached the global benchmark where one and half years after the natural disaster it is normal to have 10 percent of the residual population in camps," McLeod added.

One of the major problems is food distribution among vulnerable families. Food supplies had come to an end on June 30 and confusion abounds as to whom to ask for food for the coming months.

The authorities in Pakistani-administered Kashmir want ERRA to release funds for the said purpose but ERRA intends to request UN World Food Program (WFP) to continue the food supply for 400 vulnerable families.

Raja Abbas, additional commissioner for Pakistani-administered Kashmir, said the residual caseload of quake survivors in camps would further reduce to 10,000 as non-specified internally displaced persons (IDPs), not falling in either category of landless or vulnerable, would return to their places of origin. The remaining camps after maximum repatriation shall stay on till December 2007.

Of the over 13,000 people left in 40 camps, 98 percent became landless due to the earthquake and landslides, or are vulnerable people, including the elderly, disabled, orphans and pregnant women. Another group are those who have land in areas declared hazardous by the Geological Survey of Pakistan, and are waiting to be relocated to safe areas.

In March, the camp authorities said they would close all tented camps by end of June 2007 and quake-displaced families were to return to their areas in two phases. In the first phase, IDPs possessing land but who had lost their houses and livelihoods had been assisted to return. In the second phase starting in May, landless families were to be assisted through an additional grant of about US$1,250.

"We have reached the global benchmark where one and half years after the natural disaster it is normal to have 10 percent of the residual population in camps."

With the onset of premature monsoon rains, subsequent flooding and landslides have aggravated the situation of camp residents. "Some of the shelters made of corrugated sheets collapsed while others leaked badly. This has adversely affected water and sanitation systems in the camp. Help has arrived and partner organizations have started fixing it," said Assistant Camp Manager Khawaja Javaid of Camp Mera Tanolian I, 30 minutes drive from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

"Last week my shelter collapsed in the night due to gusts of wind and rain. We were without a roof and had to take refuge in another shelter that night," said Saeed Ali, a landless IDP who had later pitched a small tent and was living in it with six family members. It has been exactly one year since he arrived in Camp Mera Tanolian II; he is awaiting compensation for his lost land.

In order to settle the issues facing the landless among the residual caseload, Land Verification Units (LVUs) are being established in collaboration with UN Habitat, the Government Revenue Department and officials from affected areas -- Pakistani-administered Kashmir and North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

In one of the two existing camps in NWFP the registration process has already started but an effective information campaign needs to be galvanized in the other 39 camps still functioning in earthquake hit areas.

The forms of the landless would be filled out with the help of social workers, and their eligibility determined by the LVUs. The whole process would be monitored by social protection monitors and completed by the end of July. Eligible families shall get a sum of Rs 75,000, ($1,250) to purchase land and they will not be able to sell it for five years.

As for the extremely vulnerable population, the social protection cell of ERRA, involving NGOs and UN agencies, has formed subgroups to tackle the type of vulnerability and find a way to help them.

Incentives are being given to encourage families to go back to their areas and start the reconstruction process without unnecessary delay.

For each family leaving a camp, the government has promized a return package including free transport to their area, two months of rations, 14 corrugated iron sheets, and medical screening before departure. And for the non-specified group of IDPs who choose to stay in camps, the government has clearly reiterated its policy of no assistance.

Most humanitarian organizations working in the camps had phased out their operations by 30 June, but challenges remained for the local authorities.

© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   July 3, 2007   (

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