Earthquake Displaced Face A Warmer Winter

A Camp Support Team set up at the request of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and comprising the government’s camp management organizations, UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council and IOM spent the final weeks of 2006 racing to improve living conditions for displaced people facing a second winter under canvas.

In just five weeks, ten IOM construction teams, each comprising 3 carpenters and 4 labourers, built nearly 350 shelters made of wood and bamboo and roofed with corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets in three camps in Muzaffarabad district - Chattar Kalas, Agro Tech Industrial Area and Agro Tech.

The shelters, which were built with funding from the American International Group Disaster Relief Fund (AIG DRF), are designed to protect people against harsh weather conditions including heavy rains, snowfall and strong winds. They are also safer than tents.

"In the tent it was really dangerous to light a fire to keep my family warm and dry, but in this shelter I can," says Ghulam Muhammad, who has lived in Agro Tech Industrial Area camp with his wife and two sons for over a year.

They are unable to return home to Makri Bela village, 3 kilometres from the camp, because a landslide following the earthquake swept away their house and land.

At least 6,500 families are still living in camps across the 38,000 square-kilometre region devastated by the earthquake, which killed nearly 75,000 people and displaced 3.4 million others.

“Relief agencies and the government have been making a major effort since November to winterize camps to ensure that people don’t have to experience the same conditions which they faced last year,” says IOM project manager John Sampson.

According to ERRA, 90 percent of the winterization process has been completed in the camps with the provision of shelters and winterized tents. Where shelters were not deemed necessary, new winterized tents replaced old ones.

“Life in a tent is difficult – it is wet during the rain, sometimes blown away by strong winds, and can collapse in heavy snowfall. But this new wood and tin sheeting structure is a great relief,” says Hukam Jan, who lives in the Agro Tech Industrial Area camp. Jan, aged 27, is a mother of five who moved to the camp a year ago.

IOM construction teams have been asked by other district governments to provide construction assistance in other camps in Muzaffarabad district in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and other districts in NWFP.

“The winterization process is moving fast and I’m fairly confident that we are really making a difference to the quality of life for these people, most of whom were left destitute by the earthquake,” says John Sampson.