Six years after a devastating earthquake hit northern Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) survivors are still haunted by the tragic events of October 8 and reminisce over what they have lost.
A visit to various schools and health institutions reconstructed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under The Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project (EEAP) which has been recently completed, revealed a host of issues survivors have to contend with.
“Our parents have now restricted our movement because of strangers who stare at us when we go out, which makes us feel uncomfortable and insecure,” said Shiza, 18 and Mahnoor, 15, confiding in The Express Tribune. Both girls study in Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Lower Chatter, Muzaffarabad, and were pleased with the new school building. They were studying in tents and attending classes in the rain was a challenge. “My city was very beautiful, it has lost all its scenic after the earthquake, however,” Shiza commented.
Khalida Gilani, assistant director education department told this scribe that many girls went missing after the earthquake. To date, they have not been traced, however, it is believed that the majority were kidnapped. She said there were some sexual harassment and even rape cases. Khalida Khaleeq, the school principal said there was a phenomenal increase in the dropout rate, but it has been controlled now after the new building went up. The school was converted into a high school without the requisite facilities. One teacher has 16 subjects to teach and out of a total of five, two senior teachers tutor eleven classes. Due to shortage of space, students of various grades share a classroom. The school is on a mountaintop and all the students have to trek for more than two hours to get there. Amongst the students there is a 25-years-old woman studying for her matriculation.
Four sisters studying in the school who lost their father in the earthquake wanted to share their story. “Life has become terribly difficult after our father’s death. We did not get any compensation from the government. Our maternal uncle is bearing our expenses,” said Aqsa Daud, one of the sisters. She wanted to become a doctor but her school does not offer science subjects. Another student, Farwa Farooq’s mother’s backbone was fractured in the earthquake but her family cannot afford treatment.
Ismail, 70, was glad with the construction of Majhoi Steel Bridge, as he believed it has made their lives easier. However, he was of the view that after the earthquake there has been a massive change in the mindset and lifestyle of locals. “The arrival of outsiders has eroded respect the young had for the old,” he said. Many Kashmiris have lost their loved ones and the arrival of outsiders for reconstruction and rehabilitation makes them feel like strangers in their own land. But Tariq Gilani, who works for an NGO in Hattian Bala, was quick to point out that women are still deprived of their rights, including education, decision making and inheritance and are victims of physical violence.
EEAP Superintending Engineer Tariq Mahmood said another 1000 schools are required in AJK. The ADB has reconstructed 300,000 houses, 309 schools, three major hospitals, 26 basic and rural health centres, nine hydro-power stations, 10 grid stations and government buildings have been rebuilt to seismic-resistant standards. Around 800 kilometres of roads and bridges have also been rebuilt.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2011.