MUZAFFARABAD: It has almost been a decade-and-a-half since the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir lived through one of the most horrific earthquakes in the region’s history. But as they observe the 14th anniversary of the devastating natural disaster, they still await the fulfillment of the myriad promises successive governments made to them.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, survivors of October 8, 2005 earthquake revealed the education and health sectors in their areas still haven’t fully recovered from the calamity’s destructive aftermath. While millions of rupees were spent on new government buildings to replace the ones destroyed by the quake, they said most of them are still not fully functional. On top of that, the survivors complained that the AJK government has been unable to properly rehabilitate them.
“Every earthquake victim only received between Rs75,000 and Rs200,000 to rebuild their demolished houses from authorities tasked with reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts,” said quake survivor Ghulam Mustafa Lala. “Can you even imagine? How could a person who lost their entire house and belongings construct a new one with such a measly amount?”
The government, Lala complained, never came up with a proper plan to resettle those hardest hit by the disaster.
Chaudhry Nawaz, another survivor of the October 8 quake, said the government did demarcate an area named Satellite Town to resettle those who lost their homes. “But the plots were distributed among those who did not lose anything to the quake,” he alleged.
Rab Nawaz, who also suffered the devastation visited by the tremor, claimed more than Rs750 million earmarked to provide relief to quake victims were spent on the AJK prime minister’s official residence in Narrul Jalalabad.
“This newly constructed Prime Minister House has been waiting to receive the prime minister for three years now,” he said. “This is criminal negligence, to sideline schools, hospitals and other infrastructure damaged or destroyed in the quake to build a house in which the AJK premier is still not ready to stay in.”
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Khawaja Farooq criticised the decision, saying “If the government does not want to use the new Prime Minister House then it could let it be used for some other useful purpose instead of letting it collect rust.” He pointed out that despite spending billions of rupees on reconstruction in Muzaffarabad, sewerage lines and roads in the capital are still in shambles.
Education, however, is the sector worst affected by the October 8 quake. More than 2,800 schools were destroyed by the tremors but only a few hundred have been rebuilt. The rest are either still under construction or worse, just moving forward on paper. According to sources, work on as many as 500 schools has not even begun.
“It has been 14 years since the earthquake, but the AJK government still could not launch a comprehensive plan to rebuild and repair the devastated schools,” said AJK resident Safeer Ahmed.
In Muzaffarabad city, a sewerage line was reconstructed at a cost of Rs4.5 billion its manhole near Satara Mor still has not been repaired. “Why did the reconstruction and rehabilitation departments allow contractors to do substandard work? Who will grill the people involved in the poor construction of the sewerage lines of the capital city,” said Muzaffarabad resident Imtiaz Hussain.
Health and other sectors continue to suffer a similar fate in the earthquake-hit areas, according to residents and survivors.
On the other hand, those who lived through the earthquake and suffered its fallout have nothing but good words for all nations that stepped in to help AJK and Pakistan in that time of need. “We salute both the Arab countries and the West, particularly the UK, the US, Canada, and Germany, along with Turkey and Cuba for helping rebuild schools, hospitals and other buildings,” said Abdul Majid Khan, who lost his parents, brother and 14 other family members in the quake. “We will never forget the support they provided in helping reconstruct all damaged buildings, even mosques,” he said.
“All the pink government office buildings in Bagh, Rawalakot, and Muzaffarabad have been constructed by Turkey and UAE. Canada and Cuba played a vital role in reconstruction and rehabilitation as well. We will also never forget the Americans who carried out round the clock rescue operations with their Chinook helicopters. The people of AJK are indebted to all these countries,” Khan added. He also praised the Pakistan Army for providing “matchless rescue and relief” before any other department or country stepped in. “We will never forget the army’s services in those months after the quake.”__Tribune.com