Pakistan camp doubles in size as more Kaghan Valley villagers arrive
KAGHAN VALLEY, Pakistan, November 9 (UNHCR) - For weeks, they waited anxiously in the ruins of their villages in the Himalayan foothills for the world to reach them. Now that the way out has been cleared of rubble, thousands of earthquake survivors are packing up and leaving the Kaghan Valley in northern Pakistan, fearing the imminent arrival of the first winter snows.
A steady stream of people has hit the main road between the Kaghan Valley and Balakot since it was opened last weekend, almost a month after the October 8 earthquake. Today, UN refugee agency staff reported seeing heavy traffic in both directions - jeeps and small trucks heading up with relief items, and other vehicles and livestock coming down with families and their belongings.
Traffic jams and continuing landslides were bringing the traffic to a standstill from time to time, but the road is being quickly cleared again by the Pakistan army with heavy machinery provided by Islamic Relief.
"There's already snow in the mountains," said Sattaqad Hussain, walking down with his herd of goats and cattle. "We finished all our rations after the earthquake, so we're coming down to escape the harsh winter."
Packed with his family of 12, Abdul Wakil's old jeep stalled in the middle of the road. He had been driving the same car when the earthquake hit on October 8. The ensuing landslide injured him and his four colleagues. Three of his family members were killed in the disaster.
"We were desperately waiting for the roads to clear," he said, finally restarting the engine. "Now we will go to find our relatives in Mansehra."
Another Mansehra-bound villager, Abdul Rahim, said he had been walking for four days with his luggage-laden horse and mule from Meera Bella village. His family of 15 trailed behind.
"We won't stay there because although our house was not completely destroyed, it's damaged to the point where no one can stay inside," he said. "We were getting supplies from the army, but now we're going to find our relatives in Mansehra."
Meanwhile, Sher Ahmed from Hassamabad village sat by the roadside with several mattresses, a washing machine, two sofas and a dented steel cabinet. He told UNHCR he was joining relatives in Rawalpindi near Islamabad, but was looking for a car to move his precious but bulky possessions.
Livestock keeper Sattaqad Hussain faced a similar problem. "The biggest problem for us right now is that we can go to a camp, but we know we can't keep our animals there. We'll go to Mansehra first, find a place for our livestock with relatives, then move to Ghari Habibullah camp. I have another house nearby that's damaged but can be fixed."
Located in Balakot, Ghari Habibullah camp - already home to more than 2,400 people - is not the only one expecting newcomers from the Kaghan Valley. Jaba camp, about an hour's drive away, saw 30 to 40 new families arriving today. Among them was Khan Zaman, who drove there with his family in a small van packed with clothes, blankets, cooking sets and live chickens.
Zaman joined a crowd of men at the reception tent while his family waited on plastic mats. After registration, they were allocated a tent and given two UNHCR plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items.
UNHCR has distributed 235 tents, as well as plastic sheets and jerry cans in the camp. It is working with Oxfam to set up the water and sanitation system, while Islamic Relief is providing cooked meals. Médecins du Monde is in charge of health care, treating several new arrivals who had leg injuries.
Overnight, the camp population has nearly doubled from 260 to 475 people. Many more are expected to arrive in the coming days.
By Babar Baloch in Jaba camp, northern Pakistan