2005 quake: little to show for billions spent on rebuilding

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Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Despite the billions supposedly spent on the reconstruction of areas wrecked by the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, on ground development does not reflect much improvement.

Mansehra – one of the regions worst-affected by the Oct 8 earthquake – remained a top priority for the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra).

However, according to a recent report submitted to the Senate, of the 266 development projects conceived for Mansehra, only 153 have progressed beyond the halfway mark.

As of mid-October, when the Prime Minister’s Office presented the latest figures on the development of quake-affected areas before the Senate, Erra claimed to have utilised a staggering Rs33.367 billion just in this one district. However, projects to build infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads still remain unfinished.

Although it contained no details on the number of projects started in other areas devastated by the 2005 quake, the report gave a breakdown of the money spent in each district. It said Erra had spent a total of Rs141.774bn across Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

Abbottabad and Battagram, according to the report, received Rs13.64bn and Rs13bn, respectively. Shangla was provided Rs6.36bn, followed by the remote district of Kohistan, which received Rs3.3bn.

Following Monday’s earthquake, Erra is once again in the spotlight. In background discussions, serving and former senior Erra officials blame both the incumbent PML-N as well as the previous PPP governments for the inordinate delay in completion of its projects.

Created under General Pervez Musharraf, the two successive governments had always shown reluctance to accept ownership of the body. While the PPP adopted a go-slow policy over the annual release of funds earmarked for Erra under the federal budget, the PML-N decided to do away with the body soon after taking over.

“What else can one expect from the employees of an institution that has been deemed unnecessary by the government? Worse still, the government wants to terminate the authority’s operations as soon as possible,” a former Erra official remarked.

A serving Erra official corroborated the fact that the current government’s lack of interest in Erra had adverse effects on its working. Even if the government had decided to make Erra answerable to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), something should have been done, instead of dragging the issue out, he said.

“After this latest earthquake, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may wake up and take some concrete decisions regarding the authority’s future, since thousands of unfinished development projects would only see light of the day if the government began taking ownership for them,” he said.

Asked to comment on the uncertain fate of Erra, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told Dawn that the government had – after coming to power – asked a three-member committee to decide the authority’s fate. Consisting of the secretaries for Establishment Division, Cabinet Division and Finance, the committee has yet to deliver a verdict on the future of Erra. “We are still waiting for the committee’s recommendations,” Mr Dar concluded.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2015

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