|© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Ahmed|
|Carried by his 70-year-old grandfather is 18-month-old Owais, while 2-year-old Noor Muhammad is held by his aunt. Both children’s parents died in the earthquake. They are now being taken care of by their extended families.|
By Shamsuddin Ahmed
UNICEF Communication Officer Shamsuddin Ahmed is on the ground in earthquake-ravaged Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, to gather information about children who survived the quake, but are left behind without their parents. The following is his eyewitness account of a little boy struggling to cope with his parents’ death.
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 1 December 2005 – The tented camp sprang up along the foothills of Meera Tanolia, Muzaffarabad, where more than 1,200 earthquake survivors now make their home. The camp is growing every day as more and more people abandon their ruined homes and come here to seek refuge. Among the new arrivals I came across a little boy: 18-month-old Owais, orphaned by October’s earthquake.
Two days after the earthquake struck, levelling most Muzaffarabad, the body of Owais’ father, Safir, was found under a damaged shop. Owais’ mother Nazmun died, buried under the rubble of the house where she once worked as a maid. Owais now lives with his grandfather, 70-year-old Abdur Rahman.
In a cracked voice Abdur Rahman described how Owais refused to accept bottle feeding for about 10 days after the earthquake. He had always been breastfed by his mother.
“He would cry all the time, perhaps in the hope that his mother would come and console him. With the time passing by however, he is accepting the bottle and now he doesn’t cry so much any more,” he said.
“Now that Owais’ parents have left forever, I find myself alone rearing the baby boy until he grows up as a young man,” said Abdur Rahman, trying hard to hold back tears. “I don’t know if I will live that long,” sighed the old man.
I asked Abdur Rahman what he dreams Owais will be when he grows up. He answered: “I just want him to remain alive. I don’t dream for anything else other than that.”
Owais is not alone in this valley, where death is so common. He is just one of the thousands of children who have lost one or both of their parents, and are now being taken care of by extended families. To protect children from trafficking and exploitation UNICEF has taken the lead responsibility to register all children in the relief camps.
“Houses will be rebuilt. New roads will be cut, and the Kashmiri bazaar will again buzz with vendors and buyers,” said a volunteer worker at the camp, Muhammed Munir. “Even the cracked mountains will one day grow vegetation. But life will not be the same again.”
South Asia Earthquake
‘Child-friendly spaces’ help young survivors [with video]
Girls’ education in the quake zone [with video]
In the earthquake zone, one year later [with video]
‘Eye See’ photo project for young quake survivors [with video]