Earthquake Families Return Home
MANSEHRA, 17 April 2006 – Six months after the earthquake killed more than 70,000 people in northern Pakistan, a massive return process is underway.
Around 160,000 earthquake survivors have managed to outlive the harsh Himalayan winter, in camps and tented villages in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
UNICEF, working with the Pakistan Government, other UN agencies and NGOs, has been providing assistance in the camps in the areas of education, water and sanitation, health and nutrition and child protection.
As of mid-April, about 8,500 families have returned to their places of origin. As the people return home, UNICEF is literally pushing many of the services it has been providing in the camps up into the mountain villages.
Javad Aslam, UNICEF’s Protection officer, is closely monitoring this returning process.
“People have been living in camps for months and now they have to face tough reality. We need to urgently address their needs, otherwise they will feel abandoned.”
Among the families about to leave a camp are Aziz-Ur-Rehman and his four son and three daughters.
Originally from Gulbanjhu, Aziz lost five grandsons in the October earthquake. A helicopter took her family to Abbottabad hospital, saving her injured 14 year-old-daughter.
Jaba relief camp, one hour from Mansehra, hosted the family survivors for the next months. “During this time, we were provided with all basic essentials, we didn’t suffer a great deal of hardship,” said Aziz.
As the harsh winter drew to a close, Aziz and his family were among the first to leave the camp. “It’s better leave now when transport is available. I live in a dangerous village, with constant landslides, and my house is still destroyed.”
As return package, UNICEF provided returnees like Aziz with quilts, jerry cans, winter clothes for children, and school stationery, among other items.
Kathi Ghnool is one of the villages in the Kaghan Valley near Balakot where people have been returning home.
Despite tons of debris and stone blocks covering the landscape, most families have started rebuilding their lives.
Mussart-Nisa has placed a family tent in a field owned by relatives. Her house was totally demolished when the earthquake hit the village. UNICEF’s immunization program has vaccinated all her children.
UNICEF, in collaboration with the Pakistan Government, is establishing Basic Health Unit centers in key returning locations. In Kawai, a brand new operational health center with forty beds is ready to serve newcomers.
Paras, sited in the middle of the valley, is a critical town for returnees. Lacking basic services and facilities, the town gets daily influxes of returnees. Two weeks ago, a UNICEF assessment team identified major immediate interventions: Basic Health Units, schools, and water schemes for the whole Paras area.