Pakistan: Housing a priority need in quake-hit areas

ZIARAT, 4 November 2008 (IRIN) - Dildad Khan, 35, is deeply worried. "I am trying to find someone to give me a loan, so I can immediately start re-building my house. It will start snowing in Ziarat before long, perhaps within weeks, and I must have shelter for my aged parents and my children," the father of four told IRIN. His elderly father is already suffering from a bad cough and fever.

The latest assessments of the damage caused by the 6.4 Richter scale quake in the Ziarat and Pishin districts of Balochistan Province last week, suggest at least 4,000 houses were destroyed.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said 70,000 people were made homeless by the quake, while the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, Farooq Ahmed Khan, has said: "The damage is being determined."

The International Committee of the Red Cross is among the organisations currently assessing needs on the ground. It has appealed for US$7.8 million as emergency funding to help quake survivors.

One of the main concerns is shelter from the freezing temperatures in and around Ziarat. Many are also concerned about how they will re-build damaged homes, with the high rate of inflation leaving most families strapped for cash.

"Food prices have been rising each month. I had some savings but they have been used up," said Dildad Khan, who runs a small general store in Ziarat. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index stood at 23.9 percent in September 2008.

"I have asked all my relatives. No one has extra cash to lend. I will need at least Rs 200,000 (about US$2,500) to rebuild my house, says Dilawar, another quake survivor who has spent the last few days rescuing what he can from the ruins of his family home near the hill town of Ziarat.

The Pakistan government has not yet announced a housing plan for quake-hit areas, although the NDMA chairman said: "Under a compensation plan for victims, corrugated sheets and cash grants will be given".


Efforts are under way to provide winterised tents to the affected people, with Farooq conceding in an interview to Dawn newspaper that no winterised tents had been sent to the quake area. Attempts have, however, been made to send in large quantities of blankets and to ensure the supply of natural gas to areas where people are living under open skies.

The NDMA is also hoping to receive about 120 pre-fabricated housing units from Turkey soon.

The fact that pre-existing housing in the quake-hit area was of poor quality has also been emerging as a concern. "Most of the houses in the affected villages were very poorly constructed. The materials were usually mud, stone and brick. These structures cannot sustain the shock of a quake," said Quetta-based engineer Fahim Gul.

He also pointed out that a new housing strategy needed to be devised and people helped to put up safer shelters, given that Quetta, Ziarat and areas around them lie in an active seismic zone.


Meanwhile, in quake-affected areas efforts by people to re-build houses or set up temporary shelters have been handicapped by continuing aftershocks. "I put up a kind of shack from materials taken from my house as I and my family were literally freezing without a roof over our heads, but it collapsed when another quake hit on Saturday [1 November]," said Aleem Khan, 30, from Ziarat.

A tremor measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale was felt that day in Quetta and Ziarat. Several other tremors of over 4.0 on the scale have also been felt, adding to the sense of terror that still persists a week after the disaster struck.

"I will only be able to put this fear behind me and get on with life when I and my three children are back in our home, indoors, where we feel safe," said Zakia Bibi, 25.

As yet she has no way of knowing when that will be, or when life for quake survivors will return to normal.