Returns pick up pace from quake zone in Pakistan
BATAGRAM, Pakistan, Mar 28 (UNHCR) - The first relief camps in Pakistan's quake zone have been emptied after more than 36,000 people left for their homes as part of the return process that started earlier this month.
In North-West Frontier Province, eight camps are now empty in the Mansehra area, with one camp - Kund - emptied in the Batagram region to the north.
In and around Batagram alone, some 15,000 people have left the camps for home since March 10. Kund camp closed last Friday after the last 22 families climbed on board vehicles facilitated by the civilian authorities for the hour-long journey back to their village of Sakargah Payeen.
Gul Bashir and his family of six were among the group. He said he hopes to rebuild his home that was destroyed in the earthquake. In the meantime, he plans to pitch his tent next to where his home - still in rubble - once stood in the village. Asked how he felt about heading home, he described his situation as "very difficult." "I am not happy staying here but then I will not be happy back in my village either because I will have no home yet."
The local civilian authorities who ran Kund camp would like to transfer communal facilities such as toilets from the camp to the villages of return. Community facilities like kitchens have already been dismantled and taken by the homebound families.
As lead agency for camp management in this operation, UNHCR provides a supportive role to the Pakistani government in the running of the camps set up for earthquake survivors. The agency has 130 emergency staff in Pakistan. In addition, it has 54 mobile quick impact and camp management teams funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Affairs (ECHO) and UK's Department for International Development (DFID) that are helping the authorities to care for over 126,000 earthquake survivors in over 150 of the larger camps.
Camp dwellers say some of their main concerns are the availability of land, repairing damaged roads, shelter, drinking water and food in their villages.
In Batagram's Maidan camp, where almost half of the population has returned home, Rahim, holding his one-year-old son, recalls how his home "came tumbling down", his land "cracked" and his "cattle were lost" on the day of the quake almost six months ago.
He is happy to leave Maidan camp along with members of his extended family and head home to Allai Guntaar village. Like many of the camp dwellers returning home, Rahim's house is still in ruins and he plans to pitch his tent next to the pile of rubble that was once his home, in the hope that he will rebuild it in the near future. He is pinning his hopes on the compensation cheque he recently received from the government. Once he cashes it, he hopes to be able to use the 25,000 rupees (about US$415) for the reconstruction of his home.
A few metres away from Rahim, two women and some children huddle in their own tent. Like most of the tents in Maidan camp, theirs is covered with blue and white UNHCR plastic sheeting. When this family leaves Maidan, they will, like hundreds of other camp dwellers, be able to take with them their plastic sheeting, tent and all other relief items that were supplied to them in the camp.
The elder woman, Zaynab Bibi, introduces her husband's second wife, Tasleem, the mother of the five children encircling them. Asked how old her baby boy is, Tasleem replies: "He's one month older than the earthquake." Bibi smiles and says: "We had a good life in the camp but now it's time to go home."
By Fatma Bassiouni in Batagram, northern Pakistan