See no suffering

    The 8 October 2005 earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan-administrated Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), but the after-effects could be said to be equally catastrophic. Up to 140,000 were left injured, around 11,000 orphaned and up to 2.8 million made homeless in the immediate aftermath. And according to the international aid agency Oxfam, roughly 1.8 million remain living in temporary and inadequate shelter today – nearly as many as were forced to face the high-altitude winter last year. While no one could rectify the loss of life, reconstruction and rehabilitation should have been possible on a far larger scale than what has been witnessed. Despite an international outpouring of support, both the relief work and funding process, particularly by the Islamabad government, have been problematic from the start.   Winter fell almost immediately after the 7.6-magnitude quake struck, and many died from the cold. With snow already falling by early October this year, aid agencies say that close to a billion more dollars is needed immediately to avoid a second wave of suffering in quake-hit areas.   In conjunction with the Pakistani government and several INGOs, in mid-May of this year the United Nations launched an Early Recovery Plan (ERP), detailing recovery activities for the subsequent year in several sectors. By 10 October, speaking at a one-year anniversary commemoration of the quake at the UN headquarters in New York, former US President George H W Bush said that just two-thirds of the USD 255 million requested for the ERP had been fulfilled. "I'd like to highlight the fact that we're still missing USD 94 million, which is critical for bridging the gap from relief to recovery," Bush noted. "The sectors that remain under-funded are water and sanitation, housing and support to vulnerable people."   While appealing in late September for full funding for the Early Recovery Plan, Kathleen Cravero, the UN's Global Director for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, noted that even with topped-up assistance, recovery in the area may take a full decade. While the ERP itself is less than two-thirds filled, Cravero emphasised that the shortfalls have been particularly substantial in the health sector, which is currently just 35 percent funded. In its report released in early October, Oxfam alleged that victims' difficulties have been compounded by administrative problems and corruption.   Pakistan's Minister for Economic Affairs and Statistics, Hina Rabbani Khar, disputes such pessimistic figures. She says that only about 35,000 people are currently living in tents, and emphasises that efforts are being made to provide permanent shelters for those in need. Of the USD 6.7 billion pledged by the international community after the quake, Khar says that Pakistan's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) has dispersed about USD 5.4 billion. But she, too, has sought more funding to help with the rehabilitation of the survivors. "One of the challenges continues to be to be able to manage the transition between relief and reconstruction," she said recently. "That is one of the reasons why the UN and the ERRA launched the Early Recovery Plan." Khar's statistics leave out the hundreds of thousands of survivors who are not currently living in the tent camps, but also have not yet been able to rebuild their homes to sufficiently guard against the coming winter.   Surplus, shortfalls
There has been important progress made. When the Early Recovery Plan was created, its aim was to restore livelihoods, reduce disaster risk and protect vulnerable groups. The UN's preliminary assessment of the ERP's progress shows that the projects planned thus far have indeed been largely successful in addressing the priorities of the people, and consistent with the government's reconstruction plan to "build back better". After the ERRA review, the plan now consists of initiatives in eight sectors totalling USD 270 million, for which around 62 percent of the funding is on hand.   International support is making it possible for the initiation of nearly 80 percent of all activities in the education sector, 71 percent of the governance initiatives and 64 percent of the livelihoods-funding requirement. One third of all funds received, USD 55 million, has already been expended by projects within the plan. Given such figures, Pakistani authorities express confidence that the rest of the funding gap will soon be addressed.   Substantial obstacles remain, however. The World Bank estimates that the cost of reconstructing shelters along prescribed criteria has increased dramatically from the early estimates. About 70 percent of particularly vulnerable families live in areas where winter conditions are extremely harsh. More than a million people also lost their jobs after the earthquake. With Bank assistance, 85 percent of the more than 240,000 eligible families are currently receiving livelihood support in the form of cash grants of PKR 3000 (USD 50) per month. This six-month livelihood-support programme is currently nearing completion, however, and an extension is needed until permanent arrangements can be made to accommodate these individuals and families.   To improve access in these remote areas, a roads-reconstruction programme has been approved by ERRA. Of the USD 467 million needed for the roads project, USD 296 million (including USD 100 million from the World Bank) is currently available through various donor commitments. The Bank notes that this leaves a financing gap of about USD 170 million, with poor or unreconstructed infrastructure having a drastic impact on the ability of housing reconstruction to continue on schedule.   The Bank estimates that 2.8 million people lost their homes in the earthquake, and over 570,000 more houses were damaged, of which 90 percent require complete reconstruction. A year on, close to 75 percent of those in need are in the process of receiving ERRA housing grants worth around USD 467 million. Under the plan, homeowners with demolished houses will receive a total of around USD 2500, while those with damaged houses will receive a third of that amount. Reconstruction has begun on just a quarter of these cases, however.   The groundwork has indeed been laid. Meanwhile, 450,000 people have signed the paperwork required to reconstruct their homes, and over 80,000 supervisors and homeowners have been trained in earthquake-safe construction designs. Adherence to designs approved by ERRA is being required for all rebuilding activities. But late or nonexistent disbursal of funds, as well as damaged infrastructure, has forced many to put off any rebuilding plans until spring – two winters after the quake.   Islamabad's response
Pervez Musharraf has been optimistic about the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. On 5 October he claimed, "Pakistan is now being referred to as a model for meeting tragedy of such epic proportion." He has also hit out at Oxfam for predicting that quake survivors would spend a second winter in makeshift homes, saying that only five percent of affected peoples were still living in tents. "These doomsday predictors have said that 1.8 million people would be in tents this winter," the president told ERRA's first annual conference. "It is unfortunate how anyone can say this. We challenge anyone to come and see how many people are living in tents." But while 'only' five percent continue living in tent camps, hundreds of thousands more are estimated to have returned to dilapidated houses that have not been rebuilt and cannot withstand the winter.   President Musharraf also defended Pakistan against criticism of its post-quake relief efforts: "They said that nothing was being done to save people, but nobody died due to lack of medical attention. Then there were predictions of famine, but nobody died of hunger. They said that people will freeze to death, but it did not happen."   The president promised that reconstruction would be completed within five years, with 600,000 homes built by the end of 2008 to accommodate 3.5 million people. That number was originally pegged at 400,000, leading President Musharraf to declare an urgent need for an additional USD 800 million. The president largely dismissed charges of corruption, saying that any dishonesty that may have happened took place at lower levels, and lauded the transparency of Pakistan's funding disbursement. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz concurs that the reconstruction and rehabilitation work is in full swing. He said recently that the government has distributed almost USD 743 million among affected people, and that Islamabad's main priority now is to shift all those who have been living in camps to permanent homes. Towards that end, the prime minister announced a donor conference to be held in Islamabad in October and November of this year. The last such conference, backed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 19 November 2005, raised around USD 6.7 billion. Much of that came from the World Bank, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE and several European countries.   Quake survivors, meanwhile, are wondering where all of those riches have gone. Despite the government's optimistic assertions, survivors have been staging protests, including outside the Pakistani Parliament, accusing reconstruction officials of corruption. Many placards waved at these demonstrations are full of anger – Stop taking bribes and Spend the winter with us – while others simply beseech whosoever will listen, Build our homes before snowfall.

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Himal Southasian