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Three months on, signs of progress in Pakistan quake recovery

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Zaidi
Girls study at the Kashtara camp school.

By Julia Spry-Leverton

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 9 January 2006 – The conditions in Pakistan’s earthquake-affected areas are difficult indeed: the weather is bitingly cold, windy and wet. Many displaced people are living in tents; the tents’ thin canvas bends under the weight of snow. Bedding is soaked by rain, and deep mud squelches underfoot everywhere.

Yet despite the circumstances, UNICEF staff working with children whose lives were profoundly affected by the quake say there are increasing signs of hope and progress. According to Communication Officer Shamsuddin Ahmed, who has been in Muzaffarabad for the past few weeks, optimism is gradually replacing the pessimism that gripped people affected by the earthquake in the first few weeks. “At first all I heard was repeated stories of the disaster, but now young people have different things to say,” he said.

As an example, Mr. Ahmed described the situation in the Bela Noor Shah camp, on the banks of the Neelam river. When the first displaced people arrived at the camp, there was no school; according to the residents, children simply wandered about the camp with little to do.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Zaidi
Yasir, 10, returns home after receiving UNICEF winter supplies delivered by helicopter.

On 1 November a tent school was opened at the camp, and things changed. “From that day we began to attend school and since then we’ve never missed a single day,” said Muhammad Ishwaq, a student in the school’s fifth class.

“School is the best place for us,” added class four student Tazeem Yunus. “We attend classes. After school hours we play in front of the tent. Then we come home and in the evenings we have homework to do.”

Medical care available

In another camp Mr. Ahmed encountered Zeenat Bibi, 16, living with her parents and two sisters. The family were in their village, Gajju, located about 45 km from the camp in the Neelam valley, when the quake hit. Zeenat was pulled unconscious from the rubble of their home, badly hurt by a heavy beam that had fallen on her back.

Zeenat’s family brought her to Muzaffarabad, where she was admitted to a local hospital. Zeenat spent 21 days there, and when she came out she joined the family in their tent.
Zeenat is able to walk, although only with the help of crutches. Her father Altaf said: “She has improved a lot in last couple of months. When we brought her here she could not sit up, but now with the crutches she can move around the camp.” Altaf realizes that a displaced persons’ camp is not an easy place for Zeenat to be while she’s recovering, but he’s glad that medical care is within reach in the camp.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Zaidi
Razia Bibi at the school set up by UNICEF in Kashtara camp, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Razia lost her brother as their house collapsed in the earthquake on 8 October.

Reaching remote communities

Photographer Asad Zaidi has been covering the emergency since the first days after the disaster, capturing the initial relief interventions when supplies of high energy biscuits, tents and blankets were thrown out of helicopters hovering above affected villages located at high altitudes.

On his recent return to snow-clad Machiara village, at an altitude of 7,000 feet, the helicopter was able to land safely. Asad photographed the distribution of thousands of blankets and winter clothing kits for children. “Eid [a major Islamic holiday] is approaching and I was so glad that we could hand every child a kit,” he said. “It was almost like the gift of a new outfit, which they would normally receive at this time of year.”

Videographer Kitty Logan was on the same mission, which sought to reach the most remote communities before the snowfall cuts them off completely. “When you look closely at children, their faces are drawn and tired,” she said, “but somehow they still manage to have fun.” Ms. Logan filmed scenes of boys tumbling in the flurries of heavy snow swept up by the helicopter downdraft.

“Children are coming to collect their [winter clothing] kits in plastic sandals and flip-flops,” she said. “But it’s really heartening when we see them put on their warm padded boots and trudge off into the distance.”

Yasir, age 10, who had trekked through the drifts for over a kilometre to reach the distribution point, told Ms. Logan: “This is the first time we children got something especially for us. It makes me very happy.”



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