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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Quake victims' rebuilding nightmare
By Haroon Rashid
BBC News, Balakot

Balakot after the quake
Much of Balakot was reduced to rubble

Munwar Ahmad lost all his possessions in the devastating 8 October earthquake in Pakistan's northern town of Balakot.

Almost eight months on, he is still homeless, lives in a rented house in another town and earns a living as a day labourer.

With five children and a wife to look after, he is not the only one from this town enduring gruelling times.

But while most survivors in other areas are busy rebuilding their shattered houses with financial help from the government, Mr Ahmad has received none.

Before the earthquake, Mr Ahmad, 45, had a small house he built from his life savings. He has no money now to rebuild his house.

Our fears are that we are being hoodwinked. The faster the government goes the better
Balakot resident Munwar Ahmad

The government has decided that he and more than 40,000 other Balakot residents will be relocated to a new town some 30km (18 miles) away at Bakryal.

There they will be given a piece of land on which to construct new houses for themselves.

The money to rebuild will come only when they get there. Until then Mr Ahmad has to wait.

'Darkness'

But how long that delay could be no-one knows, including the government.

You don't see any work on the ground, but still work is in progress. We are in the planning stage
Local administrator Sardar Mohammad Yousaf

"No one is giving us any exact date when the relocation will start. They should have given us priority. But instead we see no future, only darkness," Mr Ahmad told the BBC.

Surrounded by towering mountains and with the Kunhar river running through it, Balakot used to be a popular tourist destination before much of it was destroyed.

Some Arab countries have volunteered to help rebuild and improve it, with housing colonies, schools, hospitals and other civic facilities.

But Pakistan's government says the worst-hit part of the town will be abandoned and rebuilt in a new location.

A government seismic survey recently found that Balakot was sitting on an active fault line that could cause more tremors in the future. Parts of the town have thus been declared a "red zone" where human settlement is banned, although it is not precisely clear where these are.

Bakryal, a nearby area which has been chosen to house Balakot's homeless, is largely uninhabited.

It lacks amenities such as drinking water, an access road or electricity. Extensive deforestation has denuded the area's mountains too.

Bakryal area, where Balakot is to be rebuilt
Bakryal is largely uninhabited

"This area is suitable for two main reasons; one it is near Balakot. It will be easy for the affectees to visit their graveyards etc. The other reason is that Bakryal has a lot of government land available in one place," local councillor Haji Khalid Javed said.

"The new settlement will bring development to this area."

Local residents in Bakryal do not seem that eager to see a new town created in their midst.

"It will create rush and affect our rural atmosphere. Our women work in the fields. They won't be able to do so if Balakot is brought here. I think they are better where they are," Mohammad Babar, a farmer, said.

Another resident, Mohammad Javed, feared the move could further increase land disputes.

"Ten to 12 people have been killed in land disputes here. If they come it could make the situation further deteriorate."

'Planning'

The delay in announcing when the transfer will happen has understandably made people in Balakot uneasy.

Assurances from the government have done little to reduce their worries. The government has promised them prefabricated houses in the interim, but even these have not been provided yet.

Balakot woman begs for aid
People in Balakot fear for the future

"We don't see any work as yet to develop the new site. The whole process is restricted to official files. We don't know whether we should trust the government or not. The government might run out of money if this delay is too long," said Dr Raza Khan of Balakot.

A number of businesses have already re-opened in Balakot without waiting for the seismic report. Local officials say they are temporary arrangements and they can't stop them from doing so.

But apart from the businesses and shops, it's still not clear whether hospitals, courts and police stations would also be relocated to the new site or not.

"If the government establishment is moved what will happen to the 200,000 left behind in Balakot?" Dr Raza asks.

The government admits the shifting of the town will take some time.

"Yes, you don't see any work on the ground, but still work is in progress. We are in the planning stage at the moment," Sardar Mohammad Yousaf, Mansehra district administrator, told the BBC.

"Different surveys are being conducted to plan not for the present but for the next 50 years. That's why it is taking that much time."

"At the moment I can't give you a date when the first house will be completed at the new site. It might take months or years. I can't say much."

This lack of commitment on the part of government is the main cause of anxiety.

"Our fears are that we are being hoodwinked. The faster the government goes the better," Munawar Ahmad says.

Map of earthquake




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