Rebuilding Kashmir A Huge Job After Quake
8 December 2005
Muzaffarabad: Shakeela Yousef was one of the lucky few. When the earthquake flattened much of the rugged city of Muzaffarabad high in the mountains of Kashmir, no one in her family was injured. Now, however, she lives in a tent near her partially collapsed home. 'We don't have the money to move somewhere else,' she said. 'We will try to manage somehow.' In some ways, life has started to return to normal in the quake zone, with electricity and running water restored in most places and the main market bustling with people. But now that the region has dug itself out from under the rubble, it faces an even harder task: rebuilding. Muzaffarabad is the capital of the Pakistan- controlled portion of Kashmir, a Himalayan territory also claimed by India but divided between the two rival countries. About 100,000 people live in the city, and hundreds of thousands more in surrounding mountains and valleys. With the city's infrastructure still fragile, many basic services are being augmented by foreign aid agencies. Aid workers have been distributing food and water and providing shelter materials since just after the Oct. 8 quake. Refugee tent villages dot the city. Aftershocks have weakened, but many whose homes weren't destroyed by the initial jolt also choose to sleep in tents rather than risk a second calamity. 'Our city is in sleep mode right now. We are in shock,' city official Asif Ghulab said after a recent damage-inspection tour. 'It will be a very long process. But we shouldn't be dependent on others. We have to rebuild ourselves.' The government is providing residents whose homes were ruined with debt compensation and reconstruction vouchers worth about $420 per household. 'We are happy to get this money, but it is hardly enough,' Yousef said as she clutched her check. Adding to its immediate woes, Muzaffarabad could soon have to accommodate an expected wave of refugees from high-altitude villages in the surrounding mountains as the severe Himalayan winter sets in. Aid workers estimate as many as 200,000 villagers could migrate down from the snow line, severely stretching Muzaffarabad's resources. Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan played down concerns about large-scale displacements, saying soldiers have built more than 50,000 temporary shelters of iron and corrugated steel at elevations above 5,000 feet. After the winter cold eases, construction will begin in April for more than 400,000 permanent homes in quake- affected areas, Sultan said. Col. Iqbal Hanif Orakzai, commanding officer at the Combined Military Hospital, Kashmir's largest medical facility, said he expects it will take at least five years for Muzaffarabad to recover. The newest building at Iqbal's hospital is about all that remains standing - but it is tilted, and one story shorter than before because the basement caved in. 'My ambulances were crushed just when I needed them most,' Iqbal said. 'I lost 37 staff and 71 patients.' Although water and electricity have generally been restored, Iqbal said they are frequently disrupted by newly broken mains or severed lines as people continue to clear roads and lots. 'The civil government alone can't do this,' he said. 'The army must intervene.' However, he said the situation was improving. 'Compared with before, we are in heaven now,' he said. 'Right after the quake we had nothing, no food or water. There was not a light in the city. We have to get over it and get on with our lives as soon as possible.'