The shattered hopes of one and half million Kashmiris living in the earth-quake affected areas have again lifted by the heartening news of a recent agreement signed between China and Pakistan in order to reconstruct and rehabilitate three major cities of Pakistan controlled Kashmir. The billions dollars project termed “build back better” conceived from the Clinton Tsunami Slogan envisions the provision of modern life facilities in Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot and Bagh. The historically worst earthquake in region which claimed above 73,000 people devastated all infrastructures in three districts of Azad Kashmir. But, it is heart-rending to state the in spite of generous financial support from world community, the rehabilitation work in affected areas has not been started even after three and half years and it is still in limbo.
Previous and the government incumbent of Azad Jammu and Kashmir have been sugar-coating the innocent citizens that affected areas would be turned into Paris and Dubai soon. Conversely, the reality makes mockery of forged statements and groundless claims of rulers that overwhelmingly majority of victims are still living a miserable life due to incompletion of schools, roads, houses and other public buildings as well as at the hands of red-tapism. The stories of corruption and laxity of officials are prevalent; specifically of those departments directly responsible for carrying into effect the rehabilitation process are major target of public criticism and severe dress-down.
Though more than 80 per cent people in affected areas have received their compensation funds for the reconstruction of homes, but their houses have not been completed yet due to numerous factors particularly in economic sense like inappropriate planning in designs, increase in prices of construction material, non- availability of required skilled force, the delaying of payments of funds and red-tapism.
Today, a huge number of people are still living in damaged or rickety buildings because of lack of alternative residences. Some areas have been demarcated to be under fault lines; therefore, the owners of such lands need substitute properties for their permanent settlements but the commitments and plans of construction of housing towns make their existence only in files.
Moreover, a huge number of schools and health centres are waiting for their buildings and shelters. Officials admit that only 274 schools out of 2706 educational institutions were built which means about two hundred seventy five thousand students mostly children out of total three hundred thousand are still studying without shelter. Likewise, majority from 176 damaged buildings of health institutes also necessitates construction of new buildings.
Various new institutions were established by governments in the name of reconstruction; however, the performance of these institutions is not up to the mark or seems to be invisible to general public. Citizens believe that such newly established departments and organizations have become El- Dorado in respect of ‘job employment bureaus’ for influential people who lack any transparent system of recruitment and monitoring of their progress. For instance, if two departments like State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) and Civil Defence are juxtaposed together, then SDMA is crystal clear manifestation of wastage of public money because similar department – Civil Defence, already exists and needs complete revamping.
The most significant department in all rebuilding process is Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) which is under criticisms since its inception due to lack of coordination, inefficiency, alleged corruption, nepotism and favoritism. The misappropriations and embezzlement of billions of rupees in the ERRA have also been observed by government’s own institution like the National Assembly of Pakistan which categorically mentioned that the ERRA has not put into harness all allocated funds transparently and it must be monitored and checked by public representatives and other watchdogs.
Subsequent to the earthquake some international donors like Department for International Development (DFID) had allocated massive funds for restructuring and strengthening of local government’s bodies; nonetheless, their performance is continuously on the downhill day by day, for instance, in Muzaffarabad which is the largest city of the region, all roads and streets look like a filth depot due to lack of any coordinated cleaning apparatus. The congestion of traffic has also escalating the air and noise pollution and posing various environmental hazards and diseases to the public.
Growing urbanization demands the implementation of latest systems of recycling, solid waste management and green living, but, majority of officials in the local councils do not hold necessary orientation and training to enforce international development and environmental standards where as people are also not aware of the fact that injudicious utilization of natural resources poses threats to their life and natural resources of the region as well. Under this scenario, it is binding upon the public and policy makers to learn about such latest interventions of sustainable livelihood.
It is the responsibility of government to mitigate people’s concern and legitimate reservations about the rehabilitation process through practical measures. The stalwarts in the government should realize that in today’s era of growing transnational communications and awareness created by media public can not be hoodwinked through fake claims and bogus announcements about development and progress. The government has already squandered enough time in claims now people need pragmatic actions, not slogans and must help the helpless.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)