Pakistan: Quake victims despair as wait for land drags on

    16th August 2006

    MUZAFFARABAD, 16 August 2006 (IRIN) - Thousands of survivors are still waiting for land to be allocated so they can rebuild their homes more than 10 months after the devastating earthquake that struck northern Pakistan.
    The 8 October quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale killed at least 75,000 people and left more than 3.5 million homeless when it ripped through Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

    Many survivors are living in camps and have no idea when they will be allocated land by the government.
    Mohammed Sadiq, who also survived a landslide that killed 12 people two weeks ago, said the delay was frustrating.
    “I have been living in camps for the past 10 months and I’m waiting for the government [of Pakistani-administered Kashmir] to give land to me so I can start my life again – to be a farmer and to have a good life like before,” Mohammed said from the Chehla Bandi camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

    The 30-year-old said he was no longer thinking about the earthquake or the risk of landslides during the monsoon season - what mattered now was the future and having a real home.

    Thousands of displaced people are waiting for the government to implement its plan to give each landless family a quarter of a hectare in a ‘safe area’ - meaning land that is not at risk from earthquakes, landslides and flooding.
    Ershad Bibi, 30, a widow with two children, survived the quake and lives in a camp run by the UK-based Ummah Welfare Trust, an NGO focused on helping orphans, widows and landless people from the quake-hit area.
    “I cannot go back [to where she lived before the earthquake] because my land is gone. I lost six family members, including one daughter and my husband, Hafis Erman. He was a farmer and I am a dressmaker. The family have much less money but I still have hope about land and a house for my family,” Ershad said.

    Kashif Murtaza, Chief Secretary of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, said its land plan would hopefully be finalised by the end of the year, with resettlement beginning next year.“The landless people, from both rural and urban areas, are not more than about 10,000 -11,000 families [in Pakistani-administered Kashmir] and we must find the most suitable sites for these people. We are working on land identification. We do not have any government land, only private land, and we need to purchase it first.

    “We have initiated the processes of acquiring that land, which will be finalised this year. We hope we can resettle the people at least before the end of next summer,” Murtaza said.

    But survivors remain unaware of how long this process could take, leading to a sense of despair.

    “I can’t live in camps anymore - I’m depressed. My father is not healthy and is getting weaker here. I heard about people starting reconstruction but I don’t even have land. The government has no clear policy for us [landless people] and they are wasting their time. I don’t care where I will live, just give me land,” Mohammed said.

    Giovanni Zanelli, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) hub coordinator in Muzaffarabad, said the agency had identified two kinds of people who needed land – earthquake victims, who accounted for the majority of the displaced, and the victims of landslides.

    “These people need land but it takes time. There are two questions they would like to know - when and where? When they can move and where the new location will be,” Zanelli said.

    Ershad said there would be a lot of changes compared to when the family had her husband’s steady income.
    “It is a very difficult situation for me now. I don’t have a steady income as a dressmaker but if I get the land I will try hard. I can only guess when I will get land. Now I’m just waiting, but it is a very long wait, ” she said.

    Original article can be viewed here.