I left Karachi on the day of the earthquake to collect my family from the disaster. I didn’t reach my village in Dhara Khet, Balakot, until the following day because of the congested roads. It looked like everyone was trying to get up to the disaster area for one reason or the other. For about three to four days I could not watch what was happening because dead and injured bodies were continuously surfacing. My brain went numb.
The Oct. 8 earthquake, which registered 7.6 on the Richter scale, killed more than 38,000 people in Pakistan and more than 1,300 people in India, according to BBC News. In Pakistan alone, more than 3.3 million people were left homeless.
Pakistan has been building new cities in place of those flattened by the massive earthquake that hit Pakistani Kashmir and surrounding areas. Balakot North West Frontier Province was almost entirely destroyed.
I came back to Karachi with my family after spending 15 days in my village. Even now, almost a year after, the situation of Balakot is not any better. People cannot live there due to the massive destruction. There were 16 families living in my village, but now they are homeless and scattered. There are also other areas where the situation is similar; basically the conditions are unlivable.
The government has said that they would provide the people with land and a place to live but so far nothing has come of it. The blueprint that the government provided us with costs about five million rupees, and if the government is only providing one million rupees then how are we supposed to build our house? Especially for those who made a living in the village through agriculture or other tasks; now they have no source of income. I still have an income because I work here in the city, but what about those people who have never stepped foot in the city? These people are really helpless until the government takes action.
The government has planned to settle more than 30,000 people at another location, which would be named Model Balakot City. For six months, some help was there, but after that the help stopped. The people do not have the money and aid is not going to them. It is not going into the hands of the people who need it. Instead it is only going to those who have connections in the government. I had a lot of family there who died. Of my in-laws, only the men are alive because the women and children died in the earthquake. I have my three sons and four daughters, my late brother’s son and three daughters, my late brother in-law’s son and daughter, and a disabled brother to look after. I have a lot on my shoulders. I am responsible for their education and their living. There are not schools in the village for now, but they have set up camps in which they are trying to educate children.
I brought my family to the city but it did not work out. I have to support 25-30 extended family members, of which most are children and elders. I have a lot of people to support and it gets expensive with so many people and with an apartment, food and other basic necessities for all of us. My wife and daughters became homesick and the climate did not suit them. Our village is wonderful. The air is clean, the sky is clear, the water is fresh from the well and the land is fertile. I was born in my village. My father died when I was 10 years old and I moved to the city with my uncle to help him support my family.
I do not want my family to have to leave the village. I have a lot of fond memories. Unlike the city, the village has no pollution. Even though the houses in the village are not fancy and we do not necessarily have all the luxuries that we could if we lived in Karachi, it is home to us. It is home to my family and many other families as well. In our village, everyone knows one another and what position each of us are in. We do not have electricity but that is not a problem for us since it is not a necessity for us. My family is now in a nearby village.
In March 2006, Balakot was declared a “red zone” by the Provincial Earthquake Rehabilitation Authority in light of reports submitted by experts from Turkey, China and Norway.
At least a 4,800-acre urban area of Balakot comprising two union councils, Garlat and Balakot, was badly affected by the Oct. 8 earthquake. Both Garlat and Balakot were declared unsafe for all types of construction and PERA advised the people not to make any solid construction.
Before the earthquake, there were coal mines under the village. We asked the government for safer land through letters and petitions, but no one seemed to listen. We wrote to the president, the vice president, and the many council members and the land commissioners, but still no reply. Now with the earthquake, the land is even worse off then it was before. It is very dangerous because the village is on hollow land and if, God forbid, there was another quake or disaster to the same degree, the village could fall underground into the coal mines.
The government had promised money to the villagers and some have received their funds, but others are still waiting. In this lifetime, no one listens to the poor. No matter how loud you scream the government only hears the people with money. Government officials just come and talk. They say that they will do certain things and then never do them.
People are living in camps made of sheets. We have not received any national or foreign aid. It goes to the government or other people who take it. There is no system that keeps track of who gets what. It is very unorganized and so we have received nothing from it. People are only giving aid to those they know. The people living in the mountain area have not received anything either. There have been some private groups, however, that have come on their own to help. They are good-hearted people and try to help as many of us as possible.
It was stated in the report that the land in these regions had developed cracks and wide gaps had appeared in some areas. The construction of a hospital, a school and some offices in these areas were stopped and we were advised to make only temporary shelters, especially for the winter.
Some of the earthquake-affected people from Balakot demanded that they should be settled near Islamabad. Some survivors said that the government should compensate those who were interested in shifting to other cities and constructing their houses, as it would take a lot of time in selecting sites and constructing buildings.
Balakot, formerly a city of 40,000 people, is now reduced to a sea of tents.