Survivors of Pakistan’s devastating earthquake still face dangers and difficulties 100 days after the country’s worst natural disaster, warns Oxfam International today.
Conditions for earthquake survivors in the official camps remain difficult, especially with the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter, while inhabitants in many spontaneous camps are finding that even their most basic needs are not being met.
“It’s 100 days since the earthquake struck and we’re still in full lifesaving mode as this crisis shows no sign of abating. We’ve been very lucky that the heavy snowfalls have only just struck and the challenge now is to reach vulnerable people before it’s too late,” says Farhana Faruqi Stocker, Oxfam’s Pakistan Country Director.
The difficult Himalayan terrain and rudimentary infrastructure have presented local authorities and relief agencies literally with a mountain to climb, with scores of villages entirely inaccessible by road.
Many existing roads were damaged during the quake and have been frequently blocked by landslides caused by subsequent tremors and rainfall, or by heavy snow brought on by the onset of a harsh winter.
The UN’s relief operation has been hampered by a lack of pledges to the UN’s earthquake appeal fund. Barely half of the funds appealed for – $300 million of the $549 million required – has materialized to date.
“The international community must support the Pakistani authorities and the UN to improve co-ordination and management of the relief effort,” says Stocker.
“Internationally agreed minimum standards for camp management – the Sphere standards – must at least be reached and the transition from military to civilian responsibility must proceed carefully and sensitively.”
People in smaller spontaneous camps have missed out on aid provisions owing to confusion over responsibility for food distribution as well as other urgently needed items.
The worsening weather has brought new – albeit predictable – dangers. Most tents rushed to the earthquake zone in the aftermath of the quake were unsuitable for winter conditions. Like many other NGOs, Oxfam has been busy winterizing the tents it provided as well as providing materials to build sturdier shelters.
But Oxfam’s warnings of a possible second humanitarian disaster still apply to the most vulnerable – children and the elderly – trying to shelter in flimsy tents in remote areas above the snowline where access to aid deliveries has been difficult.
Cold-related illnesses such as pneumonia have risen as temperatures have fallen, and several deaths have been reported across the region.
The struggle to stay warm – especially in crowded spontaneous camps – has posed its own hazards, with reports of several fatalities and injuries from tent fires that blazed out of control. However, with temperatures plummeting to 5 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, authorities in Pakistani-administered Kashmir have decided to provide paraffin stoves to camp residents.
Oxfam strongly believes the reconstruction planning and implementation must accelerate to help earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. In Pakistani Kashmir alone, 80% of crops and 50% of arable land was destroyed and more than 100,000 cattle were killed.
Attention must also be paid to the issue of land and relocation, especially for women – many of whom have been left widowed and without legal proof of property.
Moreover, these efforts must do more than return people to the dire poverty many suffered before the disaster- what is needed is “reconstruction-plus”. The authorities should also ensure that reconstruction lessens vulnerability to future earthquakes. The awarding of building contracts should include references to earthquake-resistant standards, for example.
At a meeting of 65 international donor countries on 19th November, $5.8 billion was pledged to Pakistan’s government for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
“Worryingly, a large amount of the pledges (about $4 billion) are in loans – albeit soft loans – and concerns remain over the sustainability of debt repayments,” explains Oxfam spokesperson Stocker
Over three million people were affected when an earthquake registering 7.6 on the Richter scale rocked northern Pakistan on 8th October, reducing hundreds of towns and villages to rubble.
An estimated 73,000 people were killed and a greater number left injured in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and neighbouring North West Frontier Province.
Around 2.5 million people were left homeless. About 185,000 of the displaced are living in over 40 official and 333 spontaneous registered camps. Numerous smaller unregistered ‘tent villages’ have also sprung up.
More than two million have been dependent on food aid – roughly half of those relying on relief agencies. Serious problems in the provision of food to many earthquake survivors remain.
Oxfam is involved in over 131 camps across the earthquake-hit region, providing water and sanitation facilities to more than 300,000 people so far.
More than 180,000 have received shelter assistance, including tents and materials to build sturdier structures known as bandis.