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Earthquake Victims Still Stranded In Pakistan

A young girl waits for relief aid outside her home destroyed in Chitral in late October.
A young girl waits for relief aid outside her home destroyed in Chitral in late October.

Rozeena Bibi, 10, sits outside her makeshift tent in the Gughoor village of the Chitral district in northwestern Pakistan. Her eyes fill with tears as she recalls how her schoolbag was destroyed along with her two-room house in the earthquake that rocked parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in late October.

"My bag including books, pens, and notebooks have disappeared in my house. I searched for it, but the roof and walls collapsed," said Rozeena, who is now living with her five-member family in a tent provided by the government.

In the Gughoor village, around 100 houses were completely destroyed, and Zarshee, a girl Rozeena's age, died in the strong quake.

As well as her schoolbag, Rozeena lost her school, which was razed to the ground. It was among the nearly 1,200 schools destroyed or damaged in the October 26 earthquake that killed nearly 400 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chitral and neighboring districts in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunhkwa bore the brunt of the natural disaster.

While his daughter cried for her lost schoolbag and education, her father, Khan, said the rest of the family were concerned about where they would live in the future. "When the earthquake destroyed our house, we worried about our house while she cried for her schoolbag," he said.

Khan, is a laborer and cannot afford to reconstruct his home but said the tent is cold and snow has begun to fall in the nearby hills, meaning they need more stable emergency accommodation.

According to a report by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), 232 people were killed and 1,577 were injured in the province. The report said 85,752 houses were completely damaged, while around 10,000 were partially damaged.

It said compensation would be paid to families of the 213 people who were killed and the 311 people who were injured, and checks had been distributed among 6,268 people who lost their homes.

However, Fayaz Khan, a resident of Chitral, voiced concern that snowfall would increase the suffering of victims. He said hundreds of vehicles were stuck in the Lowari tunnel because of heavy rain and snowfall, leaving passengers, including women and children, stranded.

He said people displaced by the quake in Chitral Valley were forced to live in extreme cold, adding that thousands of people had been made homeless, deprived of necessities. Chitral and several neighboring districts are known for persistent freezing conditions in winters.

Some had managed to flee to lower areas but many were stuck in the valley, exposing them to cold. He said the government would have to shift these people, many of whom had no accommodation, or they will die from the extreme temperatures.

Idress Jamal, who lives in Jaghoor village, said 100 of 500 houses had been destroyed but at least residents were near to Chitral City and were therefore in a better position compared with those struggling in remote mountain valleys who lacked food and protection against the elements.

However, some warned that the compensation offered by the government was much less than what was needed. In provincial Peshawar Muhammad Sajid Khan, an engineer at the University of Engineering and Technology, said the government's payout of $2,000 per house fell short of the estimated cost of $5,000 to build a single-room house and added the costs of building is higher in mountain regions.

However, PDMA spokesman Latif­ur­Rehman said $6,000 is being distributed to the families of people killed in the earthquake. The badly injured get $2,000 while those with minor injuries receive $100.

He added that people in mountainous areas will be temporarily accommodated in school buildings as an emergency solution. For the long term, he said, they have called a donor conference to discuss how best to help people rebuild their lives.