In October 2005, the provinces of northern Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan were hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake which left over 73,000 dead and more than 3.5 million homeless. Over 6 billion dollars in aid was pledged by the international community after this disaster, more than half of which was meant for the long-term reconstruction of the region. However, not all the money promised was forthcoming and the government of Pakistan has been left to fund many key projects, such as the rebuilding of hospitals and schools.
The earthquake destroyed over 2,800 schools in Kashmir, killing over 16,000 children who were in their classrooms at the time. 532 schools have now been rebuilt and these new buildings are constructed to be more resilient in earthquakes. For example, light-weight roofing materials have been used on all public buildings, to make them safer and less top-heavy. But many Kashmiri children are still learning out in the open, during the cold winters and hot summers of the region, as more than 2,000 schools are still awaiting construction. And only 68 of the 179 health facilities have been completed.
Now, the continuation of these projects is at risk, as the government may need to redirect money towards the flood-devastated areas of Pakistan. This becomes ever more likely if a shortfall in foreign aid remains. In its appeal following this summer’s floods, the United Nations asked the international community for 2 billion pounds. However, so far, only 640 million dollars has been raised by the appeal, a third of the amount required. This money will be needed for the early “emergency relief” work and will not cover any long-term rebuilding.
Aid workers and government officials continue to battle in responding to the immediate needs of the millions affected by the floods. Some improvements had been made in how the country tackled natural disasters following the earthquake of 2005. A National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was set up and this has been helping to organise response in the flood-hit areas. But the NDMA had not had sufficient time to build a fully-fledged system, especially one able to cope with the enormous scale of this year’s disaster. The flood waters covered 100,000 square kilometres, over one fifth of the entire country and have affected more than 20 million people.
At this stage, it therefore looks as if many ordinary Pakistanis will be left to fend for themselves when it comes to rebuilding their homes, since the 230 dollars being distributed to each family will by no means be enough. As for having the necessary funding and organisation to reconstruct damaged public buildings like schools and hospitals, as the Kashmiri region knows, many towns and villages are in for a long wait.