Happy to be Home with the Living and the Dead

For survivors, it seemed a major challenge to return to their normal lives so soon after the disaster, but continuous efforts by the government and humanitarian agencies have made possible for most people to overcome harsh weather conditions and inhospitable terrain to return home, start rebuilding their homes and resume their livelihoods.

In the Muzaffarabad district of Pakistan-administered Kashmir more than hundred families who migrated to the eastern province of Punjab immediately after the earthquake returned to Khanian village in the Neelum Valley at the end of July 2006.

IOM helped them to leave the town of Fateh Jang in Punjab and return the 150 kilometres to Khanian. It provided medical screening and transport first to Chattar Kalas camp, on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad city, and then on to the village in the Neelum Valley.

“It was very difficult to take care of my kids in the camp, where we had to live for nearly a year. I am happy that I have returned to my village and I have built a temporary shelter for my family. My children are going to school and I have started to work as a tailor again,” says Younas Khan Awan, whose family returned home with IOM.

Younas, who had tailoring business in Karachi and then in Lahore before the earthquake, had to leave his job and rush home to help his family in Khanian after the quake. His father, who was looking after his family in his absence, died in the disaster. His wife and five children survived, but sustained minor injuries.

“I have a feeling of great satisfaction that I am living in my village again, where my father and forefathers are buried. It’s now almost seven months since I returned to the village and I am getting enough work here to support my family,” says Younas.

Besides providing transport assistance to returnees last year, IOM’s Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), funded by American International Group Disaster Relief Fund (AIG DRF), also provided medical and evacuation assistance to Khanian villagers suffering serious cases of diarrhoea and pneumonia during the winter, saving several lives.

Younas’s five children were among 90 children screened and given medication during the health scare. Seven severe cases were moved to the AIMS Hospital in Muzaffarabad.

The RRTs also distributed blankets, warm clothing and hygiene kits donated by UNICEF to families in the village.

In Khanian, most of the village’s 500 families are now living in shelters made from corrugated tin sheet (CGI). Many have started building permanent houses using a first compensation payment from the government to buy concrete and steel reinforcement wire for the outer walls.

But transporting the materials to the village is expensive. “It costs Rs 3,000 per vehicle to move any construction material to this village, which is 15 kilometres from Muzaffarabad. How can we afford enough construction materials if we have to pay half the compensation money for transportation?” asks Younas.

“If it is like this for us, living a few kilometres away from a main urban area, what can it be like for people in remote villages which are only accessible by mule train? They must be paying twice as much,” he observes.

Often described as “a logistical nightmare”, the cracked, mountainous landscape of the earthquake zone is subject to severe, Himalayan winter weather including snow and heavy rain, resulting in landslides and blocked roads.

But over time, the continuous efforts of the government and the humanitarian community to help families affected by the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, seem to be paying off. Life in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and North West Frontier Province seems to be gradually returning to normal.