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Much needed to mitigate suffering of calamity-hit Chitralis

Chitral’s inhabitants, including 69% Sunni Muslims, 31% Ismaili Muslims and about 2,000 households of the ancient Kalash tribe, have been facing “the wrath of nature” in form of all the above calamities since 2010 when floods destroyed hundreds of households.

Since then the frequency of the occurrences have increased and in 2015 many people lost their precious lives in addition to losses to properties on high scale due to flood in the last two weeks of July and the high magnitude earthquake on October 26. Government agencies and dozens of NGOs reached the people in the aftermath of both the calamities and were successful in providing emergency relief to a certain extent but their rescue and relief rhetoric seemed more eloquent in the media than on the ground.

Moreover, criminal silence about rehabilitation and restoration on part of the stakeholders is a concern for the affectees and must be one for international community and the other stakeholders. The affected people shivering in tents in freezing temperatures with piled up relief items by their side look towards a messiah, who could give them shelters which may inhibit the harsh temperatures from piercing the fragile bodies of their infants and aged. It is said God helps those who help themselves but helping those who can’t help themselves is more noble in the sight of God.

I am writing the following lines in order to bring the plight of the calamity-hit people of Chitral into the notice of the global community with the hope that it may help the privileged, if there are any, to extend their assistance to the less-privileged, who are living under abject conditions after the calamities of 2015. The following line presents a look at the two high intensity destructions which Chitral witnessed during 2015 and the response by different stakeholders followed by some suggestion which may be helpful in rehabilitating the affectees.

Floods of July-Aug 2015 During the third and fourth weeks of July 2015, different parts of Chitral were hit by glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) which resulted in highly destructive torrents and flash floods washing away anything on its way. Villages, roads, bridges, water supply installations, powerhouses, livestock, privates business, schools, mosques, jamat khanas were destroyed. Besides destroying agricultural lands, the whole process left 293 houses fully damaged and 154 partially damaged in lower Chitral and another 510 houses fully damaged and 529 partially damaged in upper Chitral.

Whereas, six and 29 people lost their lives in lower and upper Chitral, respectively. Snapshot of sectoral-based damages and the required fund for recovery is given in the following table. The information is taken from government sources except serial number 13, which has no mention in the report published by the concerned govt agency.The effectiveness of government response to this calamity was evident from the fact that financial relief announced by the government were not provided to the effectees till the time when another calamity in form of the October 26 earthquake hit Chitral. During his visit to Chitral in the aftermath of the earthquake, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the delay in providing the announced amount to the owner of the perished houses that the administration woke from slumber and expedited the process of giving the cheques.

NGOs like FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance and Al-Khidmat Foundation were seen in providing relief to the affectees. However, till date the affectees are living in tents with an added sorrow gained from the earthquake. The local people and volunteers also took part and rendered valuable services in relief and rescue operations. Thanks to the sense of voluntarism which does not lack in the people of this under-privileged part of the world. Earthquake October 2015 On October 26, 2015, an earthquake of 7.5 magnitude on Richter scale with epicenter in Hindukush near northeastern Afghanistan struck areas of Pakistan. The Meteorological Department of Pakistan reported about 120 aftershocks of varying magnitudes felt across Pakistan but more intensive in KP (13 districts) of Pakistan especially Chitral. In the process, 188 lives were lost and 1,138 were injured in the KP province.

The earthquake played havoc in the area, including irreparable loss to lives, destroying residential houses, farmland and livestock, Government buildings, water supply and irrigation schemes, Roads and bridges and energy infrastructures. Based on the sector wise need-based recovery assessment of KP government, the government needs 317.97 USD during the coming two years for recovery of the affected areas from the earthquake. Sector wise distribution of recovery needs as identified by the KPk government is as follows:The earthquake and aftershocks were severely felt in many districts of KP and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB); however, the intensity in Chitral was extraordinary because of its proximity to the Hidukush range, says, the KP government.

The government is right in reporting the intensity of the destruction in Chitral but miserably failed to identify the number of fully and partially damaged houses. This lethargy is perhaps because of giving itself relief from the burden of compensation which it is going to pay for the fully and partially damaged houses or due to the apathy involved in the survey conducted by government officials. The government has announced compensation package for the earthquake victims, viz; USD 5725.72, USD 1908.57 and USD 954.29 each for a deceased, fully damaged and partially damaged houses respectively. An additional amount of USD 1908.57 has been declared to be the right of those who may have lost their leg or limb. Even the survey of the affectees conducted by the NGOs is not accurate.

There have been even public agitations against the survey conducted by an organization as prestigious as FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance. The report published by Provincial Disaster Management Authority on December 7, 2015, shows 3,378 fully damaged and 15,921 partially damaged houses in Chitral. The same report identified 33 deaths and 200 injured. This is ridiculous, one can agree with the report as far as the statistic about the fully damaged houses and human losses are concerned but the figure about partially damaged houses is far from truth. As many as 90% of houses are partially damaged in form of cracks in walls, having 2 to 5 inches separation of wall from each other which the government is not ready to consider.

The survey has not taken into consideration such damages. I personally know poor people who came to me to write applications for them addressing the government authorities to include their names in the partially damaged list but no one paid any heed to their grievances. A 75-year-old widow from my village, who survived the earthquake when the villagers came to rescue her under the debris of the razed boundary wall of her mud-constructed house, came to me to accompany her to the administration office to get relief items for her. She couldn’t keep pace with me on walking to administration office. Unable to walk properly due to pain in her legs and back, because of surviving under the razed wall, she reached the office in an hour which otherwise is a distance of about five minutes.

This widow never got any relief despite of her feeble struggles. This is the situation of poor affectees living in the administrative headquarters, what to say of those living miles away from it. The following table illustrates the sector based costs in USD for rehabilitation in Chitral as identified by the provincial government report. The report takes into account partially and fully damaged infrastructure but do not gives any figure as to the cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation of damaged houses. However, data on Rehabilitation and Reconstruction cost on damaged houses could be provided to interested organizations and individuals who may want to involve in any way in reconstruction and rehabilitation process.As for as the damaged houses are concerned, which have not been identified in the above table, a help of 5 t0 6 thousand USD and 2 to 3 thousand USD each for every fully damaged and partially damaged houses respectively could help in rehabilitation and reconstruction of each respectively in addition to the Pakistan government’s promised amount. The affectees looking towards the government, NGOs, donor agencies for help in the reconstruction of their damaged houses, which could start in March once snow recedes.

External response and shortcomings The aftermath of both the calamities witnessed external responses from the government and NGOs. Few NGOs reached Chitral in the relief and rescue phase and their number exceeded a dozen in the aftermath of the Earthquake. These included the subsidiary organs of the AKDN, especially the FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan, Karachi Welfare Trust, Al-Khidmat Foundation, CRS, Islamic Relief, HANDS, WFP and others to name a few. The relief which these NGOs provided were food Items, kitchen utensils, cash by some NGOs extending to the limit of 143.14 USD to each household in selected areas, tents, warm garments and the like things. All these were laudable, but were not sufficient to help the effectees who are living in tents in freezing temperature. The urgent need was of temporary shelters which were never provided. However, FOCUS is saying that it will provide shelters in the coming few weeks. Perhaps it is waiting for the freezing temperature to recede! Another NGO – perhaps Karachi Trust – is providing shelter but requires the affectees to contribute some 50% of the total cost in the installation of the one-room shelter.

There were some short comings as well, of the external response. Lack of correct survey and delay, inefficiency and mishandling in the distribution of relief items tops the list of the external response shortcomings. In many instances, provision of the same items by different stakeholders piled up bags of flour in an affectees possession with no rice to boil. Furthermore, no agency paid any attention to provide emergency shelters which are still direly needed, for people are living in tents amid snow. If the people are alive under such circumstances is due perhaps to the hope of any assistance in the coming few months. Under this sorry state of affairs, the involved stakeholder must expedite their activities to provide emergency shelters and it is the moral responsibility of everyone to play our part in helping the really deserving poor people of Chitral. What you can do It is a moral obligation of everyone to help others in need you can do much in any capacity you are in. You may be an individual donor, an NGO, a trust, a think tank, a policy making body or any individual with no personal capacity to fund, but can raise the concerns of the poor affectees in relevant platforms who may help them. If you are an NGO/trust/think tank, policy body or research institution: In any of the above capacity you can help

Many NGOs, civil society organizations, local support organizations are active. Connecting with them could bring positive repercussions. If you are not a donor: Not everyone could be a donor. You may be a student, a writer, a researcher etc. In any capacity you can raise the concerns of the people in your own circles, in print and electronic media and in other number of forum. Giving general awareness to the people clearly informing them about ground realities could be effective in facilitating others to extend their attention to the affectees.

Mother Teresa once famously said, “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples”. The ripples crated by your endeavors may become a precursor of the breeze of happiness which the calamity hit people of Chitral are waiting for. Currently, most of the dwellers of the fully damaged houses are living in tents in freezing temperatures. If nature inflicts no more cruelties they will withstand the harsh weather and in March they will start reconstructing their abodes. The people looking towards each and every one of us to help them in whatever capacity we are through whatever means we could.

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