Pakistan's earthquake survivors not ready for winter, Oxfam says

Published October 5, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A year after a devastating earthquake struck northern Pakistan, more than 1.8-million survivors face a second harsh winter in makeshift shelters and tents, the aid group Oxfam International said Wednesday.

A magnitude-7.6 quake struck Pakistan's northwest and its portion of Kashmir on Oct. 8, leaving more than 80,000 people dead and more than 3-million others homeless.

Only 17 percent of the 450,000 affected households have begun building permanent homes, said Oxfam, which estimates that almost all the rest, equivalent to 1.8-million people, are still living in temporary shelters.

"As winter is approaching fast, there will be very few people living in permanent homes," Oxfam Pakistan's chief, Farhana Faruqi Stocker, said at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.

Stocker said the Pakistani government's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority had been "quite late" in implementing plans to provide for quake survivors ahead of winter's onset in November.

"Snow has started falling and time is running out," Stocker said. "We must not let the survivors down."

More than 40,000 homeless quake survivors are already living in official tent camps, Oxfam said, adding that thousands more are thought to be living in other camps near their villages.

Such camps lack adequate protection against winter weather, and some 60,000 more people could be forced to leave their villages to escape severe cold in the coming months, Oxfam said. Thousands of others in remote rural areas risk being cut off from deliveries of food, fuel and medicine when snow blocks the roads, it said.

The pace of reconstruction has been hindered by the scale of the disaster, mountainous terrain, poor infrastructure, extreme weather and problems with disseminating public information, the group said in a statement.

The statement added that almost one-third of those who have begun rebuilding have not complied with official building guidelines, sometimes unwittingly.

Oxfam spokeswoman Kate Simpson also said no compensation has been provided for thousands of people who lost their land and their homes.

"A compensation package needs to be developed for landless people - cash or land," Simpson said.

Meanwhile, Britain on Wednesday announced a donation of $17-million to strengthen ERRA and enable it to better distribute another $65.8-million in aid starting mid 2007.