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In Pakistan, reconstruction and resilience in earthquake’s aftermath

By Midhat Ali Zaidi

On 26 October 2015, a powerful earthquake centred near Jurm in north-east Afghanistan killed 115 people and injured hundreds more in Afghanistan, while in neighbouring Pakistan, some 272 people died and more than 2,000 were injured, and 14,000 homes were damaged.

In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which suffered the majority of casualties and damages, families are trying to recover quickly before the onset of winter, but the remoteness of many villages makes relief and reconstruction efforts a major challenge.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Zaidi
Students at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School Lilownai, in Pakistan's Shangla district, sit outside for their lessons after their classrooms were damaged by the recent earthquake.

SHANGLA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, 3 November 2015 – Deep in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, the 26 October earthquake that struck Afghanistan and Pakistan has ravaged the lives of many people. Some 272 deaths have been reported from different areas of Pakistan, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, while the number of injured exceeds 2,000 people.

Shangla district has endured the highest number of deaths in Pakistan. Most casualties were caused by buildings collapsing in the earthquake.

Here in Alpuri, the district headquarters of Shangla, the staff of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), a partner of UNICEF, is working to assess damages to schools in earthquake-affected areas, in order to respond to the urgent needs for reconstruction before the harsh winter sets in.

“Many of the schools have sustained partial damages in the earthquake, with cracks appearing in the roofs and support columns,” says Rashid, District Project Manager for NCHD, emphasizing that many of the buildings were already in dire need of repairs, having weathered snow and floods in the past. “We are making all efforts to collect data on the intensity and scope of destruction, in order to acquire funding and support for reconstruction of these buildings.”

Back to school

The Government Girls Higher Secondary School Lilownai is one of the schools that was damaged. The blocks of classrooms for the primary and higher secondary grades were severely damaged, and students are now sitting outside for their lessons.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Zaidi
Luiza Rehmat, a student in grade 5, stands in her damaged classroom at the school.

“When we arrived at school the day after the earthquake, our teacher had already set up her desk in the compound,” says Luiza Rehmat, a student in grade 5 whose classroom is now in ruins. “It is scary to see what has happened to our classroom, and sometimes it is very cold when we come in the morning, but we are glad that our studies can be continued.”

Luiza recalls how she felt during the earthquake. “We had just reached home when the earthquake struck, so we ran out of the house,” she says, explaining that her house is situated high on a mountain.

Although her family did not suffer serious losses, she is scared of what might have happened. “It seemed like the earth would also shatter and we would fall, just like everything that was falling off the tables and shelves in our house.”

Difficult access

Many in these impoverished communities high in the mountains were not so lucky. Hundreds of houses were destroyed, and with little access to roads, it is difficult to bring in building materials for reconstruction.

Several miles from Alpuri is Basi village. Residents have to walk for hours to reach the roads connecting them with the outside world. Most of the inhabitants are women and children, as many of the men work far away in the coal mines of Balochistan province.

Hadia, 8, a student in grade 2, and her brother Hanifullah, 6, had just walked home from school down in the valley when their mother, Shabana, shouted for them to get out of the house, as the earth started shaking. Soon after Shabana came outside carrying her 2-year-old son, part of the house came shattering down behind her.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2015/Zaidi
Hadia, 8, and Hanifullah, 6, outside what remains of their home following the quake.

“I was scared that mother would never come out of the house, as the roof started falling,” Hadia confides, looking towards what is left of their house.

Her family now resides with relatives downhill, but Hadia is often sent back to look for household items they may be able to salvage from the rubble.

“I have found some of the toys my little brother played with, but most of it is gone,” she says.

Urgent need

Hundreds of children like them are in dire need of assistance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the winter months will bring heavy snow. At the time the earthquake struck, most people were making arrangements by stocking up on food and supplies to see them through the winter, when they would not be able to leave home for months. Now their lives seem to have taken a turn for the worse, with their homes now destroyed and their belongings gone.

There is an urgent need for humanitarian organizations to join the government in the effort to restore normalcy in the lives of these people, who lost so much so quickly.



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