Forgotten 2005 quake victims still need help

Report
from IRIN
Published on 12 Aug 2011

ISLAMABAD, 12 August 2011 (IRIN) - Most people in Pakistan and around the world have forgotten the victims of the 8 October 2005 earthquake which killed 73,000 people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP).

Other disasters have since intervened such as the 2010 floods, diverting attention and assistance.

For the victims of the quake itself, forgetting is much harder. Some, like Zahoor Khan, 40, from a village in the Battagram District of KP, have been able to get on with their lives, resuming work as a farmer, though he says: "I will never be able to forget my wife and teenage daughter who were killed after our house collapsed. The sounds of their screams haunt me, but my priority now is to care for my younger daughter and son who survived. I have moved on with life."

But moving on, or putting the past behind them, has been impossible for some victims. These include, in particular, those left permanently disabled. The aftermath will live forever with the children - many now teenagers - who have been paralyzed for life, or the disabled women who struggle to live with dignity.

"Most of those paralyzed in the quake were women and children, since they were mainly in their homes while the men were at work when the calamity struck in the morning," Zahoor Uddin of the Islamabad-based Hashoo Foundation [ http://www.hashoofoundation.org/ ] NGO told IRIN.

The Foundation has been working with the North American-based Spinal Cord Injury Project for Pakistan Earthquake Rehabilitation [ http://scipper.webs.com/background.htm ] organization to help the most vulnerable quake victims. "Some 700 people suffered spinal cord injuries. We are supporting 33 women and children who most need help," he said.

Among them is Muhammad Kaleem, about eight when he was buried under the debris of his school in a mountain area of Balakot in the Mansehra District of KP; 29 of his 31 classmates died, as did his father and brother. Kaleem survived, but broke his back and can no longer walk. "Because of the mountainous terrain here and the fact that the school is located a distance away, Kaleem cannot get there since he is in a wheelchair. Someone must come here to tutor him. He says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up," Kaleem's older brother, Muhammad Khalid, told IRIN.

With the help of a group of children in Los Angeles, Kaleem has received support. A tutor, Muhammad Ishfaq, has been going up for some time to help him with his school work, and says "the boy is a willing learner."

But many problems remain. Ishfaq has been forced to resign to pursue his own studies - and medical help is hard to access.

"These people have very little access to medical care as two to three people are needed to carry them to an often distant medical facility in the mountains. They are part of a SCIPPER Tele-Medicine Programme in which people in the USA call them once a month to get an update on their condition and to give them psychological support. If problems are discovered we try and address them, if possible," Zeba Vanek, the director of SCIPPER, told IRIN.

About 360km from Kaleem, in the town of Bagh in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sadia Noor, now 15 and paralyzed when she was 10, struggles with grave problems of her own. She is desperate to complete her schooling. "My father is sick and cannot push my wheelchair to my school any longer. My brothers are too young to do so, and we also have many financial problems as my father cannot work and we are currently living in rented premises in Bagh so he can get treatment rather than in our village - so the rent must be paid too," she told IRIN.

Wheelchair-friendly houses

A key need for many of the victims is wheelchair-friendly houses. "About six such houses are complete. Ten will be ready soon, but there is a desperate need for funds for more to be built," the Hashoo Foundation's Zahoor Uddin said.

Beneficiaries have included paraplegics like Mian Rafiq, now 21, for whom a house adapted to the disabled has now been built in Balakot. He has also been home educated through donations and receives a stipend.

Other victims have been far less fortunate. Some 14 paralyzed quake victims remain at the government-run National Institute of the Handicapped in Islamabad. Among them is Salma Akhtar, 25, who was paralyzed in Bagh. She has been divorced by her husband; her parents have died and she has lived with a young daughter at the institute for more than five years.

Despite their hardships, people like Kaleem, Sadia, Mian Rafiq and Salma are fortunate to have support. Other quake victims are far worse off.

In the streets of Murree, a town in the Punjab about 140km from the Pakistan-administered Kashmir capital, Muzzafarabad, Haseeb Ahmed, 17, begs on the pavement. Paralyzed from the waist down when he was 12, he has never been mobile since.

"My family lost six family members in the quake after our house near Muzzafarabad caved in. My father and uncle were among them. There was never money for a wheelchair. My older brother tried to manage, but he has his own family now and I feel I must not add to his burden. I do not like to beg, but I have no choice. My schooling ended after the quake as I was very sick for a long time."

There are many other quake victims in desperate need of help - but not enough people are coming forward to offer it to them.

kh/cb

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