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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Rebuilding lives in the Pakistan earthquake zone, one year later

© UNICEF/HQ05-1469/Pirozzi
Parents sit with their children outside a makeshift tent in a camp for earthquake survivors set up next to Mansehra District Hospital in North West Frontier Province.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 6 October 2006 – It has been an extremely difficult year for children living in the earthquake-affected regions of northern Pakistan.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck on 8 October 2005, just as children, who make up more than half of the quake zone’s population, were starting their school day. Nearly 75,000 people were killed and millions displaced. Young people were hit hard.

UNICEF and its partners were on the scene with emergency relief shortly after the disaster struck. Essential supplies pre-positioned in Pakistan helped ensure that blankets, high-protein biscuits and basic health supplies got to earthquake victims quickly. The organization has been assisting those who desperately need help ever since and will remain in ravaged areas for as long as necessary – with an eye on the particular needs of children.

“UNICEF is an agency that advocates for children, and in the whole reconstruction program, the voices of children are not very often heard,” says Emergency Planning and Coordination Officer Zeba Bukhari. “I feel that we have been able to make a mark.”

© UNICEF/HQ06-0311/Pirozzi
Children attend school outdoors at a camp for people displaced by the earthquake in the district of Muzaffarabad, Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Water, sanitation and health

Providing safe water to the millions affected by the quake has been a top priority. In a matter of days after the disaster struck, UNICEF partially repaired water supply systems in Muzaffarabad and other shattered cities, providing safe water to more than 400,000 people. It also helped repair nearly 200 rural water systems and built 35,000 latrines, benefiting some 700,000 people.

But continued difficult access to safe water, exacerbated by recent monsoons, has increased cases of waterborne illness, including diarrhoea and cholera. 

Besides disrupting water supply, the earthquake devastated northern Pakistan’s health facilities. With the help of the government as well as international and local partners, UNICEF has financed the rebuilding of over 150 health centres and facilities. It is also supporting vaccination campaigns and helping to train thousands of community health workers.

Education and child protection

Education is another top priority for UNICEF and its partners in northern Pakistan. The goal in this case is not only to get every quake-affected child back into school but also get other children to school for the first time – especially girls. It has not been an easy task.

© UNICEF/HQ05-1442/Pirozzi
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, a girl waited to be attended to in a camp for survivors.

The earthquake destroyed more than 7,500 schools and killed, seriously injured or displaced some 2,000 teachers. To begin rebuilding the education system, UNICEF will complete construction of 125 permanent schools – all earthquake-resistant and child friendly – by the end of 2007.

Meanwhile, the organization has provided and equipped 2,500 tent schools to bring some normalcy back into children’s lives and help them complete their education.

There are also psychological issues to consider. Tens of thousands of children lost one or both parents in the quake. Many more were separated from loved ones. To help children left vulnerable by the tragedy, UNICEF and its partners have created more than 100 ‘child-friendly spaces’, which provide about 11,000 children with recreation, psychological support, counselling and care.

Focus on rebuilding

A total of 3.5 million people were forced from their homes by the earthquake a year ago. Today, more than 30,000 of them are still living in camps throughout Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. As people across the region slowly pick up the threads of their lives, foundations are starting to appear next to flattened houses. But the trauma is still present.

“I’m afraid of earthquakes now,” says Nazia Azeem, a 10-year-old orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle. “I don’t go inside buildings.”

Many of the remote mountain communities affected by the disaster never had proper health, education and social welfare services prior to the earthquake. UNICEF is committed to change that by building back better. Since March, in cooperation with the government, UNICEF has shifted its relief operations from emergency aid to focus primarily on the more difficult job of rebuilding.

“We hope that the quality of schools, the quality of hospitals, the quality of roads, and the quality of life would improve to a great extent once we are done with all these programs,” says Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed, Deputy Chairman of the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority.

One year on, much has been accomplished but much work lies ahead to help earthquake survivors – especially children – resume their lives.




5 October 2006:
One year after a devastating earthquake struck northern Pakistan, UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on UNICEF’s work in the region and the situation of quake survivors.
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