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Water, school bring semblance of normalcy to Pakistan camp


Water, school bring semblance of normalcy to Pakistan camp

First they received tents, blankets and food. Now, water points are sprouting up and informal classes have started. Earthquake survivors at Ghari Habibullah camp in Balakot are slowly piecing their lives together as basic services improve. Meanwhile, a new aid route is opening up from Iran.
27 October 2005
In Ghari Habibullah camp, Mohammad Aslam points to the huge gash on the side of the mountain where his village used to be.

BALAKOT, Pakistan, October 27 (UNHCR) - "That's my village up there, but now there is nothing left," says Mohammad Aslam, pointing towards a massive brown scar on the wood-covered mountain behind Ghari Habibullah camp in Balakot district of northern Pakistan.

"The earthquake made the whole village homeless as house after house collapsed once the ground started to shake," says Aslam. "We had to move down in search of shelter, otherwise our survival chances would have been low."

After walking for two days from his mountaintop village of Dhandaar, he and his family reached Ghari Habibullah camp. "When we moved from our village, I thought this must be the end of the world for us," says Aslam. "I have never seen so much destruction in my lifetime and I pray that nobody else will witness something similar. When my family was given a tent in the camp immediately after we arrived, I was overjoyed that there is finally going to be a roof over our heads."

Ghari Habibullah is one of two relief camps in Balakot. Set up by the Pakistan army and supported by the UN refugee agency, the camp is now home to more than 1,400 people who survived the tragic earthquake of October 8 that left over 53,000 people dead and more than 75,000 injured in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"The devastation the earthquake brought was visible on the faces of the survivors," says Lieutenant Colonel Atif, who runs Ghari Habibullah camp. "Children, especially, were traumatized by the magnitude of the destruction."

Nazia Bibi, 13, is nursing a broken arm. "I was in school at the time of the earthquake," she recalls. "Our teachers were screaming to get students out of the classrooms. While running for safety, I fell on the ground and fractured my right arm."

"Fortunately, one can now see normalcy returning to the lives of the people sheltered in the camps," Aslam observes. "There are children playing, women washing clothes, and the sense that through social activities life is back on track."

As part of the joint UN relief effort, UNHCR is helping the Pakistan government to establish and manage temporary camps for earthquake survivors where needed.

"We are coordinating with the Pakistan Army currently responsible for camp administration," says Guenet Guebre Christos, UNHCR Representative in Pakistan. "We identify different services needed in the camps and help to arrange for different partners who can provide services like water, health and sanitation. Our efforts have paid off and we're seeing improvements in these sectors."

As life goes on in Ghari Habibullah camp, local NGO Taraque Foundation has set up a school in UNHCR tents to start non-formal education for hundreds of children missing their classes after the disaster.

Water in the camps is being trucked in for the residents, while UNICEF and its partners are working to erect tap stands near the tents from where camp residents can get water.

Noting that different UN agencies, government departments, NGOs and private charities have been working day and night to help the affected population, Aslam says "Now I am able to see some hope at the end of a dark tunnel."

By mid-morning on Thursday, the total number of aid flights in the UNHCR/NATO airlift from Turkey had risen to 30, carrying 435 tonnes of tents, blankets and stoves, out of a total of 860 tonnes from the UNHCR stockpile in Turkey.

The UN refugee agency set up a new relief supply line from Iran on Wednesday, as a truck convoy set off from the agency's Kermanshah warehouse - near the border with Iraq - carrying 10,000 blankets, 3,000 plastic tarpaulins, 3,000 plastic mats, 1,000 mattresses and several tonnes of other non-food items. It will take the convoy two or three days just to reach the Pakistan border where the aid will be transferred onto Pakistani trucks. This latest consignment of UNHCR aid will have to travel some 3,500-4,000 kilometres in all before it reaches the earthquake zone in northern Pakistan, after traversing almost the entire length of these two large neighbouring South-Asian states.

By Babar Baloch in Balakot, Pakistan