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Most vulnerable victims from Pakistan's quake zone on road to recovery

News Stories, 15 June 2006

© UNHCR/M.Cierna
UNHCR community services officer Catherine Harding (centre, green jacket) tends to a sick quake survivor in a Muzaffarabad camp.

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, June 15 (UNHCR) On a sunny autumn morning, Pakistani housewife Lubna was cleaning up after breakfast the next minute her life changed for ever. One of her nine children was killed, and Lubna had both legs amputated after she was pinned under a beam when a massive earthquake shook the Kashmir region on October 8 last year.

Nine months on, a heavily pregnant Lubna sees her kids off to school each morning from her bed at the Daharian Sayedan camp, where she and her family have been staying for the past five months. With the help of UNHCR and its partners, the 35-year-old and other vulnerable victims of the natural disaster are recovering from their injuries. But the pain is still there.

"We lost everything. Our home was completely devastated," Lubna says, recalling the huge tremor which killed 73,000 people in the Pakistani and Indian-administered areas of divided Kashmir. She is one of many quake victims classified as "extremely vulnerable individuals" by the UNHCR community services team.

The team, with the assistance of local implementing partners BEST (Basic Education & Employable Skills Training) and the Institute for Development Studies and Practices, routinely identifies vulnerable individuals from camps in the Muzaffarabad area and then arranges for immediate medical attention.

Depending on their need, the patient is either referred to a sister United Nations agency such as the World Health Organisation or the UN Children's Fund or to a local, or international, non-governmental organisation that can provide the necessary treatment.

Lubna's will for survival is evident in her eyes, which light up when she is told that she will be diagnosed by an orthopaedic specialist from Helping Hand, an international non-governmental organisation that provides relief and rehabilitation for quake victims. The specialist hopes to design prosthetic limbs for her.

"I have never heard about artificial legs. I am very surprised to hear that they exist, but this may mean that I will be able to walk again, insh'Allah (God willing)", Lubna says, wiping away tears.

"We can't promise you that you will be able to walk like before, but your condition will improve. What we can promise is that you're going to see a lot of us from now on," UNHCR community services officer Catherine Harding tells her.

Meanwhile, at the Helping Hand clinic, 17-year-old Farah is receiving treatment from physiotherapist Dr. Hazart Islam for a broken leg suffered during the earthquake. Doctors were able to save her limb fractured in three places but for many months she feared she would be permanently crippled. "I thought I would never walk again," says Farah. "When I was first injured, I could not move at all. Now I can at least stand and walk with some help."

More good news is on the horizon. Dr. Islam explains that with daily therapy and stretching exercises, the teenager is expected to make a full recovery. Since the earthquake, Farah's family has been living in the Lower Plate camp in central Muzaffarabad. Like so many others, she lost her house but was lucky that none of her family were killed.

Although Farah had two successful operations, her parents could not afford to pay for the physiotherapy needed for her full recovery and so she suffered from stiffness and muscle contraction in her legs. The UNHCR team found the medical student one afternoon lying in her bed, and in pain. They sent her to the International Catholic Migration Commission clinic, which referred the case to Helping Hand.

UNHCR's referral mechanism with its partners enables patients to receive timely and appropriate treatment. Farah's case is one of 37 recently submitted to the International Catholic Migration Commission by UNHCR's community services team.

In another case, UNHCR and its partners referred six-year-old Insha Afsar to Shriners Hospitals for Children in the United States. The girl lost a leg in the quake and she needs prosthetics, physiotherapy and trauma counselling. She and her father are waiting for visas and are expected to leave for Massachussetts in July.

© UNHCR/K.Chang
UNHCR community services officer Catherine Harding explains to Lubna that she may be able to walk again.

Meanwhile, Helping Hand director lauds the UNHCR for its help. "We are really appreciative of the role UNHCR plays and we are proud to work in partnership with you. The more you come to our clinic and visit our patients, the more you inspire them on their road to recovery," says Yasi Janbaz.

More than 130,000 earthquake survivors have returned home from relief camps since March. Close to 67,000 remain in dozens of camps in the quake zone.

By Kevin Chang in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan

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UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Pakistan: Pushed to SafetyPlay video

Pakistan: Pushed to Safety

Thousands are forced to flee the fighting in Pakistan's Khyber Agency on the border with Afghanistan.