Islamabad (AFP) Oct 04, 2006
Pakistan's earthquake relief chief says reconstruction is on track one year after the disaster that killed 73,000 and made three million homeless, despite widespread complaints from survivors. The 7.6-magnitude quake on October 8, 2005 destroyed more than 600,000 homes, 6,000 schools, dozens of healthcare centres and thousands of kilometres (miles) of mountain roads.
"If you go today you will see tent population right now is five percent of what it was at its peak last year," Altaf Saleem, chief of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, said in an interview with AFP.
Saleem did not give exact figures but the United Nations says that 33,000 survivors are in tents. This is in fact just over 10 percent of the number of 300,000 people the UN says was living in tents right after the earthquake.
"In the last several months, our main challenge has been while permanent homes take a while to be built, one-room shelters were provided," Saleem said, referring to the wood and corrugated-iron huts that have sprung up across the region.
The big fear after the earthquake, of a "second wave" of deaths from the bitter Himalayan winter, was was prevented by Pakistani authorities and international agencies led by the UN, Saleem said.
Now they are ready for this year's cold conditions, he added.
"This year we are much much better prepared for the winter. There is no comparison with last year."
The authority, known by its acronym ERRA, has faced numerous protests by quake victims who complain that rebuilding is happening too slowly and that the compensation process is riddled with corruption and incompetence.
"They are beast people," shouted Noor Hussain, 76, a retired shopkeeper from the devastated Pakistani Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad when asked his opinion of the body.
Hussain lost his son, daughter and two grand-daughters when the top floor of his house collapsed. But he says it has been classified as inhabitable, despite huge cracks running through the remaining walls.
This means that instead of the 175,000 rupees (2,916 dollars) in government compensation given to those whose houses were destroyed, he only gets 75,000 rupees, the sum allocated for damaged dwellings.
"If you asked them (ERRA) to live in this house, would they? Never," he raged, saying he was too poor to bribe a local official to classify his house as unfit to live in.
Another Muzaffarabad resident, baker Abdul Qadir Mir, said: "The compensation isn't enough to remove the rubble."
But Saleem defended ERRA's work.
"The complaints are there and we are handling it according to a mechanism which has grievance redressal at the local level," he says, adding that money has been distributed to 475,000 of the 600,000 houses affected by the quake.
Work in the disaster zone's two main cities, Muzaffarabad and Balakot, was stalled by special projects, he explains.
In Muzaffarabad it has taken a year to approve a Japanese-backed town plan complete with earthquake-proof buildings, while Balakot, which lies on a fault line, is to be replaced by a new town 30 kilometres (19 miles) away.
Meanwhile the fabric of society is being repaired, he said.
All of the schools and health facilities that were lost in the earthquake are now up and running in transitional sites, "in some case even better than what they were before October 8," Saleem said.
Senior UN officials have agreed with this assessment, although they warn that the health sector is underfunded for the winter.
The ERRA chief also thanked international donors who pledged around six billion dollars at a conference in November 2005, two billion of which is in the form of grants.
"We are on track with the pledges and we have a very good relationship with the donors because we believe that... our performance on the housing has been appreciated by all the donors," Saleem said.
earlier related report
"With snow already falling, this winter seems to have arrived early," said Farhana Faruqi Stocker of Oxfam International.
Only 17 percent of people living in the 450,000 households destroyed or severely damaged by the quake have started building permanent homes, Oxfam said, quoting government estimates.
"Oxfam estimates at least 80 percent of the remaining families, equivalent to 1.8 million people, are still living in temporary shelters with the rest staying with friends and relatives."
More than 40,000 people were known to be in tents in the official camps while thousands of others were believed to be in unofficial camps and tents close to their home villages, it said.
The sheer scale of the catastrophe, difficult terrain, poor infrastructure and harsh weather have hindered reconstruction, meaning that many are still at risk with snow already falling in one of the world's highest regions, it said.
A recent Oxfam survey of 17 earthquake-hit villages found that virtually all those who were living in tents lacked adequate protection against winter weather, the group warned.
"Oxfam believes up to 60,000 people could be forced to move from their mountain villages because of harsh winter conditions and would need accommodation in camps," it said.
Thousands of others in rural areas were also at risk because roads and paths for the supply of vital food, fuel and medicine are often blocked by snow and landslides, Oxfam added.
Stocker said that besides materials to protect their homes against the harsh conditions, people in temporary shelter in rural and mountain areas needed sustained access to safe heating and other essential items.
"When we see that one year after Hurricane Katrina, the world's richest nation, the US, is struggling with the reconstruction of New Orleans, it is no surprise that Pakistan has faced difficulties in the recovery across a much bigger area and much more difficult terrain," she said.
However Pakistan's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority chief, Altaf Saleem, said authorities were well prepared for this year's cold conditions.
"This year we are much, much better prepared for the winter. There is no comparison with last year," he told AFP in an interview, dismissing complaints from quake victims about the pace of rebuilding.
The British Red Cross, meanwhile, estimates that 66,000 families lack permanent housing. The organisation is working with the Red Crescent to provide 13,500 temporary shelters.
The warnings came as visiting British Minister for International Development Gareth Thomas visited the disaster zone and announced the release of a further nine million pounds (17 million dollars) in relief funds. The amount is part of a 70-million-pound pledge made by Britain last year.
The United Nations said recently that it would take the quake zone 10 years to fully recover. It said that around 33,000 people were still in tents and that a further 20,000 to 30,000 could descend from the mountains this winter.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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WFP Creates Emergency Aid Hubs To Improve Disaster Response
Nairobi (AFP) Oct 4, 2006
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday announced the creation of a global network of emergency aid depots to speed responses to the growing number of humanitarian emergencies around the world. The agency said the five hubs -- in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America -- would be stocked with "strategic supplies of relief goods and equipment" that could be delivered to crisis zones within 48 hours.
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