Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Indian earthquake victims face another cold winter

'DISTANT DREAM' After 150 villages were destroyed in a powerful Indian Kashmir temblor last year, many are giving up hope of ever having a permanent home again


Zariefa Begum and her family have been living in a tin shack since a giant earthquake swallowed their home a year ago.

Now they fear their temporary shelter located in a sea of corn fields will become their permanent house.

"Having a new home is a distant dream," 35-year-old Begum, a mother of seven, said in the dusty hamlet of Salamabad, 106km from Indian-controlled Kashmir's Srinagar, the summer capital.

The village was one of nearly 150 devastated by the powerful quake on Oct. 8 last year in Indian Kashmir, a Himalayan region already wracked by an insurgency that straddles the border of India and Pakistan.

Some 1,300 people died in two poverty-ridden border districts of Uri and Tangdar in Indian Kashmir while another 73,700 perished on the Pakistani side in the magnitude 7.6 earthquake.

Biting winds are now sweeping down upon Begum's home from the mountains in a sign of the fast-approaching, harsh Himalayan winter.

Aid agencies say nearly 50,000 people in Indian Kashmir will have to spend their second winter in temporary tin sheds and flapping tents.

Others will have wind whistling through houses with gaping cracks.

"Very little reconstruction has taken place in the quake-ravaged areas," said Shafat Hussain, a secretary for Global Greenpeace, a local non-governmental organization working in the region.

"Rough estimates indicate nearly 50,000 will have to spend the coming winter in tents and tin shacks," he said.

22,500 houses razed

The quake razed around 22,500 houses in Indian Kashmir alone, according to a survey by ActionAid International, a Johannesburg-based group.

All of Salamabad's 250 homes were damaged or destroyed, affecting about 1,200 people, it said.

Nearly all victims have received 40 percent of the 100,000 rupees promised for reconstructing their homes. And Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said the remaining 60 percent would be released this month.

But in Salamabad and elsewhere in the quake-hit area, residents say the money is not enough.

Begum's family said rebuilding is expensive, with building materials costing 400 percent more than elsewhere in Kashmir due to the area's isolation, which makes transportation of goods costly.

"With our tiny income we can't even think of rebuilding our house," Begum said, bouncing her 13-month-old son Parvaiz on her lap outside the shed.

But Begum and her laborer husband are just thankful their family's lives were spared from the quake's devastation. Two of their children, Ishfaq Ahmed, 3, and Parvaiz, had a miraculous escape, pulled alive from rubble after four hours of digging with shovels and bare hands by other family members.

Parvaiz was only a month old at the time.

Others were not so fortunate. Kismat Bibi, 42, lost her husband along with her home where she lived with her five children.

"Now, I will never own a house. That dream will never come true. This is my permanent home now," Bibi said, pointing to her ramshackle shed, as her two small children sat by her side.

`Too meager'

Like others, Bibi said government aid was "too meager" for them to build a permanent house.

Parvez Ahmed, a government engineer and one of the few in Salamabad to have rebuilt his house, said the government should increase the payments so everyone in the village could have a decent permanent dwelling.

"I'm a government employee. I had some savings with which I managed to construct a small house," he said, adding others did not have enough income as they were laborers.

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