Kashmir quake survivors face uphill battle to restart their lives
Some 39 people died in the 24 September earthquake. The government is slow in handing out reconstruction funds. Caritas hands out aid in Mirpur district.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – It is hard for life to get back to normal in Pakistani Kashmir after the violent 5.8 earthquake that hit the Mirpur area on 24 September, this according to some survivors who spoke to AsiaNews.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), at least 39 people died and more than 700 were injured. Some 7,456 houses and 200 vehicles were damaged whilst 580 head of cattle have been lost.
The federal and provincial authorities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir announced assistance worth a million rupee (US$ 6,400) per victim.
Gul Shehzad, a real estate worker, is one of them. On the day of the quake he was in Islamabad when his village, Kalri, was hit. His six-month pregnant wife was home alone.
"The roof of our five-room house collapsed as she stood outside [watching] helpless. I asked her to go down on the ground and pray.”
For him, the distribution of funds is very slow. As the aftershocks continued, he applied to the assistance commissioner to demolish his house.
“The neighbours were complaining of bricks falling from damaged walls during the rains. They warned me of dire consequences if anybody died from the falling structure,” he explained. “My house was located on a small rock. I was worried for the lives of pedestrians on the road beneath as well,” he added.
Eventually, Shehzad was forced to sell his wife's jewellery in order to pay for the demolition of the house. Now the couple is living in a nearby village.
“I grew up in that house,” he said. “I won’t be able to rebuild it in another 30 years. An office worker earning 15,000 per month can either feed his family or build a house.”
Adnan Ghos, an activist with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Party in the same village, blames political rivalries for undermining action.
“More than 30 houses, mostly made of stones, were damaged,” he explained. “Most of those affected by the quake are poor. We are being ignored because Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider is of rival Pakistan Muslim League (N) party.”
Meanwhile, Caritas is bringing aid to earthquake areas. On Monday, Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, who is president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, handed out relief supplies and basic necessities to 42 families in the Mirpur district.
Together with him were Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, and two priests. The aid included beddings, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.
“This is a small grant on behalf of the Catholic Church. We cannot compensate your grief but we can stand by you in this difficult time,” the prelate said.