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Pakistan Attempts to Rebuild from Quake


Today Pakistan launches the reconstruction phase of its recovery from last October's earthquake. That disaster killed more than 73,000 people. It left three million people homeless. Now their homes have to be rebuilt, not to mention schools, many of them in remote locations.

NPR's Philip Reeves sent this report from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Hamad Marlik(ph) carefully rolls up the tent which enabled him and his children to survive a Himalayan winter. The trees are blossoming. Spring has come to the mountains.

Survivors are leaving camps like this and going home. It'll take Marlik eight hours to travel up from the valley to his hillside village. He knows he must go.

Mr. HAMAD MARLIK (Islamabad, Pakistan): (Through translator) That land belongs to us, and we can't leave it. Our forefathers used to live on those lands and they toiled that land, and we can't leave that land.

REEVES: All around, the camp is packing up. Men haul rolled up tents onto their backs and carry them off onto waiting trucks. They're taking the tents with them because they'll need them. It'll be some while before they've rebuilt their ruined houses.

Ves Anjan(ph), a widow with seven children, says leaving the camp, with its clinic, school and free food, is tough.

Ms. VES ANJAN (Islamabad, Pakistan): (Though translator) The children are happy to go back, at least to their place where they were born. But it is going to be difficult. One of my children has been killed in the earthquake, and my two houses are destroyed. My livestock is gone. So it is going to be very difficult for me.

(Soundbite of hammering)

REEVES: As the posters being put up by aid workers explain, there is an incentive to go home. The posters list government payments returning survivors will receive as they rebuild, up to $3,000 dollars for families whose homes were totally destroyed. That's one reason survivors are now heading for the mountains.

Last October's earthquake was a terrible disaster, but it could have been worse. For months, aid agencies warned the lives of many more people were at risk in the aftermath, because of extreme cold and disease.

Dan Toole, director of UNICEF's emergency programs.

Mr. DANIEL TOOLE (UNICEF): We know we had some deaths from measles. We know we had deaths from pneumonia, from the cold. But they were relatively low numbers. That means the relief effort worked very well.

REEVES: Aftershocks from the quakes still occasionally ripple across the mountains. So do rumblings of discontent.

(Soundbite of crowd)

A group of lawyers, dressed in black courtroom clothes, marches through the city of Musafraba(ph).

One, Sahid Afram(ph), said they're protesting because they can't work. He says the government's promised to rebuild their ruined offices and homes, but nothing has happened.

Mr. SAHID AFRAM (Attorney, Pakistan): We want shelter for living, for our library, and other, for our work. Because we have no office, we have pillaged our libraries. Even books. And no home there.

REEVES: The side effects from the quake are far from over.

Save the Children says there's an increase of underage marriages among Pakistani girls. It's all about economics. The value of dowries paid by the bride's families declined because of the quake, so some families are rushing their young girls into wedlock.

The earthquake was particularly cruel to women. It happened in the morning. The men were in the fields. The women were at home. The roofs fell on them.

Some of those women are here, at the National Institute for the Handicapped in Islamabad, adjusting to life as paraplegics, life from now on in a wheelchair.

Nafeesa Katach(ph) has worked with them as a volunteer since they arrived.

Ms. NAFEESA KATACH (Volunteer): It was a nightmare in the beginning, and we were so involved, we were so involved, that we didn't even have time to think over what we did the whole day. Because when we used to get to bed, we just drop dead.

REEVES: Katach says most of these survivors won't be returning to their villages.

Ms. KATACH: First of all, they cannot live back in the villages because (unintelligible) and they cannot be mobile on the wheelchair. They have to be rehabilitated in the cities, in their own districts. They don't mind having a community of their own.

REEVES: The spinal injuries ward is abuzz with activity. The women are learning new skills, how to manage in a wheelchair, how to read and write and sew. The mood is strikingly upbeat.

Though the medical officer, Dr. Farrah(ph), says it wasn't like this as first.

Dr. FARRAH (National Institute for the Handicapped): They were complaining of pain and depression, and the same question repeating, the repeating question was when they will walk, will they be able to walk in their life, and still some of them are hoping they will be able to walk, but most of them have accepted the reality.

REEVES: So the reality is that they won't.

Dr. FARRAH: They won't. Most of them.

REEVES: Among them daring to hope is an 18-year-old girl, Kupusrah(ph). The collapsing roof broke her back. She was dug out of the rubble after five hours by her brothers. She sits in a wheelchair, head covered, wearing a bright blue sari.

Ms. KUPUSRAH (Patient): (Through translator) The doctor told me that I should be able to walk, but it's up to God and, it's up to God. If he wants me to walk I will and if he doesn't, then I won't.

REEVES: She's looking forward to a future spent working in an Islamic religious school in Madrasa.

Ms. KUPUSRAH: (Through translator) I've got great faith in God and I, you know, I intend to live my life like I did before. I did teach in Madrasa before, I will do that again. I'm not stressed, I'm not, you know, tense about it. It's something that happened and that's it.

Dr. MUHAMMAD SHAKIL(ph): This is pharmacy, pharmacy. Daily routine, antibiotics and (unintelligible) and this is our ward.

REEVES: Back in Muzafrabad, Dr. Muhammad Shakil proudly shows off his field hospital.

Dr. SHAKIL: Here we (unintelligible) creatinine, electrolytes, we learn(ph) CP, ESR(ph) and everything.

REEVES: The hospital is run by an Islamic religious organization called Humata Doua(ph). Doua's widely believed to be affiliated with the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is banned by Pakistan and considered a terrorist organization in the United States.

Dr. SHAKIL: This is our x-Ray.

REEVES: The International Crisis Group accuses Pakistan's military government of allowing banned groups to play a major role in humanitarian relief. Samena Ahmed(ph) is the group's Pakistan director.

Ms. SAMENA AHMED (Pakistan Director, International Crisis Group): It's interesting that the Jihadi groups appeared so soon after the earthquake. It's equally interesting that they had the resources to conduct these kinds of operations, rescue and relief, on a massive scale. The logistical capacity, the organizational capacity, the fundraising capacity--all of these--the government of Pakistan had repeatedly told the international community didn't exist.

REEVES: Pakistan's government doesn't deny the role played by groups with links to Kashmiri militants. But it says it sees no reason to interfere if they're only doing humanitarian work. Dr. Shakil denies his hospital has any relation to politics.

Dr. SHAKIL: Yeah, we need to serve the suffering people. And even you can ask any patient, we are not telling them anything about that, just teach them about the hygiene. Tell them about the medicines and how they can protect others from disease.

REEVES: Back at the camp, brilliantly decorated Pakistani trucks loaded with survivors' belongings, pull out of the gates and turn towards the mountains. The villages seem more concerned with getting through the next year than the Kashmir conflict. You'd expect them to be fearful of returning to the spot where they were when the quake struck. Yet Hamad Marlik says that's not his main concern.

Mr. MARLIK: (Through translator) We are not afraid of the dark. But what worries us is that, if we are not unable to construct our houses by the winter, then we will be facing hardships because the winter's too harsh in those areas. And we won't be able to survive.

REEVES: At last, the people of these mountains are beginning to put the earthquake behind them.

(Soundbite of truck)

REEVES: Yet as they head for the hills, they know they have a long way to travel before life's normal again.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.