Home > Unfulfilled Promises: New Balakot City project hangs in balance

Unfulfilled Promises: New Balakot City project hangs in balance

The projec­t was schedu­led to be comple­ted by 2010 but severa­l issues have delaye­d it for five years

A view of Balakot town, which was completely destroyed during the 2005 earthquake. PHOTO: FILE

A view of Balakot town, which was completely destroyed during the 2005 earthquake. PHOTO: FILE

BALAKOT: Thousands of survivors of the earthquake in Balakot tehsil continue to wait for the assistance they had been promised back in 2005, after their town was literally erased from the map.

The government had promised to rebuild the Balakot city. Regrettably however, 10 years after the quake struck, Balakot’s reconstruction is far from complete, because of “paucity of funds and lack of coordination between the federal and provincial governments”.

On the one had the survivors are haunted by the traumatic events of the fateful day, while on the other hand they are distressed over the un-fulfilled promises that the government has been feeding them on over the past decade.

The hillside town of Balakot, the gateway to the scenic Kaghan Valley, comprising 12 union councils, was reduced to a muddy smear. Ninety per cent of the houses were destroyed when the earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale shook the cities and countryside on the fault line.

Read: Report reveals 84% of respondents disappointed with govt efforts

According to local journalist Khursheed Zaman, almost all of the union councils suffered destruction, with more than 17,000 dead, 30,000 injured and 5,000 disabled.

But Balakot and Garlat union council were hit the worst. The entire community infrastructure – health facilities, schools, roads, water supply network, etc – were severely damaged.

The government had vowed to reconstruct the affected communities within two to three years, with improved facilities. But there’s still a lot left to do. With the relief phase over the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) took over.

According to the payment formula, Rs75,000 in two instalments for partially damaged houses and Rs175,000 for fully damaged houses were to be paid. And the reconstruction was to be carried out in accordance with the plan given by the National Engineering Services Pakistan.

However, owing to the complicated design and the ever-increasing cost of construction material, many affected villagers had to abandon ERRA’s design and constructed the houses in line with their requirements. This approach deprived a good majority of earthquake victims of their third and fourth instalments.

“People have reconstructed their houses in 10 union councils on their own, but over 2,000 have yet to receive their remaining second and their instalments,” said Balakot Tehsil Nazim Haji Rustam Khan. He blamed the “unsatisfactory performance of ERRA, PERRA and provincial governments” for delayed reconstruction in Balakot.

He claimed that over 5,000 families have been living in prefabricated houses in red-zone areas for the past 10 years, but these 20×20 flexible housing units with two bedrooms were meant to be inhabited for only three years.

Khan said families with six to 10 members were made to  live in the small units. “Our people are still undergoing psychological trauma with no housing, health, education and infrastructure facilities.”

Read: Did we learn anything from the 2005 quake?

“The (New Balakot City) project was scheduled to be completed by 2010, but lack of cooperation on the part of the provincial government in failing to get the ERRA possession of land from illegal occupants and paucity of funds have delayed it for five years,” said Col (retd) Abrar Ismail, director of the New Balakot City Development Authority.

Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, the federal minister for religious affairs and inter-faith harmony and MNA from NA-20 (Mansehra-I), also held the provincial government responsible for the delay in completion of the New Balakot City and relocation of the displaced families.

Mansehra District Nazim Sardar Said Ghulam claimed that he had taken up the matter with the provincial government through the Hazara commissioner, who had promised to resolve the issue of land occupation.

He said that after the district council’s budget session, he would arrange meetings with the illegal occupants and the provincial government to resolve the issue once and for all so that the displaced people could be rehabilitated in the proper manner.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2015.

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