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For the orphans of the earthquake life will not be the same again

© UNICEF/Shams/CP_0001
Owais with his grandfather Abdur Rahman and Noor Mohammad with his aunt Zenat

By Shamsuddin Ahmed

I was at Ehsus internally displaced people’s (IDP’s) camp at Meera Tanolia in Muzaffarabad. The tented camp sprang up in the wake of Pakistan’s devastating October 8 earthquake and today it is nearly four weeks old. It is housing more than 1,200 earthquake affectees - and is growing in size every day as more and more people are leaving their ruined homes in outlying villages, travelling to the camp locations and registering themselves as IDPs.

Among the new arrivals I came across two children: eighteen months old Owais and two year old Noor Muhammad. The boys are too young to register the devastation of the earthquake or remember it when they grow up – but, as orphans, it has changed their lives forever.

Owais was the only son of Muhammad Safir, a day labourer who mainly worked as a porter in the Kashmiri Bazar and Nazmun, a house maid in the residential Upper Plate area of the city across the Jhelum River. Two days after the earthquake struck Muzaffarabad, reducing large parts of the city to rubble, Safir’s body was found trapped under a damaged shop. Nazmun’s body still lies buried beneath the rubble of the house where she worked.

Orphaned Owais is now being taken care of by his 70 year old grandfather, Abdur Rahman. Widowed  five years ago, Abdur Rahman shared his son’s house. As a retiree, his main occupation had been looking Owais while the boy’s parents were out for work.

“Now that Owais’ parents have left forever, I find myself alone rearing the baby boy until he grows up as a young man”, he said, with a desperate effort to conceal his tears. “I do not know if I will live that long” - Grandfather

In a cracked voice Abdur Rahman described how for about ten days following the quake Owais refused to accept bottle feeding, as he had been used to being breastfed by his mother. <>“He would also cry all the time, perhaps in the hope his mother would come and console him. With passing time however, he’s accepting the bottle and now he doesn’t cry so much any more.”I asked Abdur Rahman, “Do you have a dream for Owais? What do you want him to be when he grows up?” He answered, “I just want him to remain alive. I do not dream for anything other than this.

The other orphaned boy, Noor Muhammad, 2, is the son of Sajjad, who was a salesman at a medical store and Nasima, a housewife. Sajjad died in his workplace while Nasima was killed by a landslide caused by the earthquake. Sajjad’s sister Zeenat, who herself lost her husband and a daughter in the disaster, has now taken on the responsibility of bringing up Noor Muhammad.

Owais and Noor Muhammad are not alone in this valley of death. They are among  thousands of children who have lost one or both of their parents and are now being taken care of by their extended families.

Pointing a finger at Owais and Noor Muhammad, one of the volunteer workers at the Ehsus camp, Muhammed Munir, said to me, “Houses will be rebuilt. New roads will be cut to replace those that disappeared with the landslide. Kashmiri Bazar will again buzz with vendors and buyers. Even the cracked mountains will one day grow vegetation. The wounds will heal. But life will not be the same again.”






Child Registration in Process

UNICEF has lead responsibility for protection of children in the aftermath of the huge disaster that has hit Pakistan.

All children living in internally displaced people’s (IDP’s) camps are being registered.

Communication Officer Shamsuddin Ahmed observed the process whereby information is gathered about children whose parents died as a result of the earthquake. Here he describes the situation of two orphaned boys he came across.


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