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Pakistan - Jordskælvets ofre fryser og søger mod teltlejre!

PAKISTAN: Number of tented camps to increase

IRINnews.org, 3. november 2005

Vinteren trænger sig på og mange ofre for jordskælvet søger fra bjerglandsbyerne til de lavereliggende (men dog fortsat kolde) teltlejre i under 1.500 meters højde. Forholdene i lejrene er helt utilstrækkelige, med udendørs madlavning, utilstrækkelig vandforsyning, hvoraf hovedparten end ikke er rent og yderst mangelfuld sundhedsassistance. Dertil kommer de mange landsbyer, der endnu ikke har fået nødhjælpsforsyninger, og hvorfra afstanden er for stor til at befolkningen har mulighed for at vandre til teltlejrene.

Det er vanskelige forhold, der møder nyankomne til teltlejrene ved Muzaffarabad - ©  David Swanson/IRIN
MUZAFFARABAD, 3 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Saleem Akhtar arrived at the Bela Nur Shah tent camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir for one thing only: help.

Originally from Khania, a mountainous village of some 3,000 inhabitants in quake-affected Neelum Valley, 40 km east of Muzaffarabad, he wonders out loud about his future.

“I had no choice but to come here,” the 32-year-old day labourer explained. “There is nothing left for me back home. My house and village have been destroyed. What else could I do?” he asked.

That’s a question being asked by thousands of quake survivors like him, many of whom have yet to receive any assistance and may soon come to quake-affected cities like Muzaffarabad for help.

Spontanious Camps

On Thursday, Akhtar joined more than 1,000 camp residents at Bela Nur Shah, a burgeoning makeshift facility of some 150 tents, nestled on the banks of the Neelum River, one of at least 12 that can be found in and around the city.

Despite an outwardly chaotic appearance, residents here can at least receive a tent, food and rudimentary healthcare – everything that the majority of people interviewed by IRIN would prefer to receive at home.

But with access to surrounding areas still problematic – with many roads into the affected areas still blocked or washed away, coupled with reoccurring avalanches - bringing assistance to affected areas isn’t always possible, prompting many survivors to come down instead.

“There are more and more people arriving every day,” Wali Malik, an information officer with the Sialkot-based Islamic charity, Mutayab-ul-Islam Foundation, at Bela Nur Shah, said. “We’re practically full. Space is limited so we’re only providing tents and encouraging them to go back.”

Possible Population Movement

But for many recent arrivals, having lost everything in the disaster, going back is simply not an option, particularly at the onset of winter – making the potential for a further influx of people into the city and areas throughout the quake-affected region all the greater.

More than 73,000 people are known to have been killed and 79,000 injured after the powerful quake ripped through Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir on 8 October, rendering over 3 million homeless in the worst disaster to strike the South Asian nation in over 100 years.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), this week the homeless estimates reached 3.2 million, scattered among 15,000 villages over an area of 77,700 sq km. It is increasingly recognised that all the delivered tents will not be sufficient to address the enormous shelter needs.

Seventy percent of houses in the area had been destroyed, with 30 percent damaged, OCHA said.

Condition Within Camps

With that reality, already innumerable spontaneous camps have sprung up throughout the city and its peripheries, most of which have limited standards of sanitation, health or anything else. Many are nothing more than a group of tents joined together by families upon arrival.

Women cook openly outside, with no access to clean potable water, while an acute lack of latrines has forced thousands of camp residents to defecate outside; a serious and deadly recipe for infectious diseases to spread.

The Lahore-based Islamic charity group, Jamat-ud-Dawa, which has established six camps of up to 1,000 each in the area, has tried hard to remedy some of these issues but simply doesn’t have the necessary resources.

“We need to do more, but we can’t,” Haji Javed ul Hassan, director of the Dawa tent camp in Muzaffarabad, said openly, referring to plans to establish model villages for survivors, complete with schools, hospitals and proper toilets.

But with the number of tented camps in and around the city set to rise over the coming few months, it’s clear time is running out.

Role of UNHCR

In support of the Pakistani government, and working closely with affected communities and local NGOs, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is assisting in the management of six tent cities within the city, as well as three more in quake-affected Jelum Valley.

“This is to ensure that people living in the camps receive basic services – many of these camps were spontaneous and began with nothing,” Christine Neveu, senior emergency officer of the agency’s emergency preparedness and response section, said in Muzaffarabad.

Keeping with that effort, UNHCR provided residents of Bela Nur Shah with 320 tents, 975 blankets, 320 plastic sheets and 640 jerry cans.

Although the UN refugee agency does not want to prepare camps, the challenge of assisting those who do is daunting.

“It’s very difficult,” Neveu said. “We think it will increase as more and more people in higher altitudes come down.”

If people at those levels are unable to fix any type of shelter for themselves soon, the onset of snow will drive them down, she warned.

UNHCR is currently assisting those camps located where roads are open; however, there are communities beyond that who would also like some type of camp to be established.

“At the moment, we are discussing the possibility of airlifting tents with the Pakistani army and for the communities and local NGOs to manage the camp themselves,” she explained.

In the villages of Langla and Kotli in Jelum Valley, a local NGO and the people there mobilised themselves in establishing a camp.

UNHCR is keen to mobilise communities in an effort to boost their capacities to help themselves, as well as involve partners, including local NGOs, in water and sanitation, health and food.

“We will of course try to visit them and provide support but it won’t be as easy as those we can reach by roads,” Neveu maintained; an effort that may be replicated throughout Pakistan-affected Kashmir.

In neighbouring NWFP, the Pakistani army estimates there are already well over 100,000 people in high altitude zones who will need to be moved to camps at lower altitudes before winter and is actively encouraging them to do so.

At the same time, however, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, authorities there are keen for residents to stay where they are.

Whether they will be able to do so as a matter of policy is difficult to say as it’s clear many survivors may move anyway if pushed. To date, UNHCR has distributed over 2,700 tents for close to 17,500 people in the area, as well as blankets, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets and jerry cans.

“We do see people moving, but not on a massive scale – at least not yet,” Mohammad Musa Khan, UNHCR field assistant, said.

“As roads become cleared and we reach out to communities, we will see more of these camps being opened with the onset of winter fast approaching,” he added.

WFP Assessment on Situation

However, according to a recent survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) with support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), less than 10 percent of the affected population had left their communities for safer areas, the majority preferring to stay close to their lands and livestock instead.

While larger movements of people are expected to move into camps as winter sets in, this is seen as a last resort, the assessment said.

“These are people traditionally very attached to their land and livestock which up to now have been their sole means of survival. They are not ready to leave them behind to move into camps,” Anette Haller, a WFP programme adviser, who headed up the assessment team, said.

The survey also found, however, that 2.5 million people had lost their homes, most of them in rural areas, and were living in tents or makeshift shelters, making the risk of a possible further influx all the greater.

Upwards of 2.3 million people may now require food aid to get through the winter, WFP maintained.

Markets have also not recovered in three of the hardest hit areas, with trading virtually coming to a halt in many areas. And where markets were functioning, prices had soared. In addition, banks were closed, restricting cash and credit flow, the food agency said.

Meanwhile, back at Bela Nur Shah, another quake survivor has just arrived, but he has no plans to stay – at least for now.

Having walked for 10 hours from the Neelum Valley village of Chakkrain, 35 km north of the city, he wants to return home after picking up some blankets, a bit of food and a shovel.

“I mustn’t leave her alone,” Barkkat Ullah said, referring to his now childless wife.

“My three-year-old son is still buried under our house. My other children’s bodies have already been taken out, but I can’t reach him,” the 45-year-old man explained.

More than three weeks after the disaster, but now armed with a shovel, he hopes to finally do just that.

© IRIN - This article appeared originally on IRIN News.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is a project of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
[This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]


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Opdateret d. 9.1.2006