MUZAFFARABAD - There are lessons to be learnt for other nations in the massive reconstruction and rehabilitation in the northern areas of Pakistan after the devastation caused by October 8 earthquakes.

No doubt it’s a success story and world can learnt lessons to deal with disasters of such magnitude but the work left, owing to financial constraints, has been eclipsing the whole reconstruction and rehabilitation work. Almost the reconstruction and rehabilitation process have been completed in most of the sectors, and a few sectors including health and education have been left, says Dr Syed Asif Hussain, Secretary/Director General, State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (SERRA), Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He gives the credit to national and international community, international aid agencies and media. All it could not have been possible without the support of media and international support.

According to officials of Asian Development Bank’s (ADB), their response to the earthquake was multifaceted. ADB implemented the Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project (EEAP), which supported the government’s efforts to rehabilitate earthquake-hit areas, they said.

A visit of journalists to AJK was arranged to show how the reconstruction and rehabilitation funded by ADB has been benefiting the community. During the visit to a Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Lower Chatta, Muzaffarabad, Principal of the school, Khalida Khalid, commended the efforts and support of ADB in constructing the school building, as before that the students were studying in tent schools in scorching summer and the chilling winter. As the education sector was the worst affected and 2792 educational institutions were damaged alone in AJK, the ADB invested to reconstruct primary and middle schools using state-of-the-art imported light gauge steel structures that were seismic resistant. And most of the schools have been rebuilt at high altitudes that make the access and construction quite difficult. Mayra Kabbir, student of another school, Government Girls High School Kappa Butt, Muzaffarabad, said “we studied four years in a tent school. Now we have been shifted to this new school. The building is good but there is an issue of water and electricity as no electricity connection has been given yet, and there is a shortage of teachers as well”.

Mian S. Shafi, Unit Head, Urban, Water, and Emergency Assistance Pakistan Resident Mission, informed the journalists that the enrolment of students after the earthquake has gone up to 44,000 that was 40,000 before the earthquake. That can be increased up to 80,000 if the human resource is upgraded and better teachers are provided. And its high time that private sector be involved in the teachers training, he said. He said US$ 417million was allocated by ADB for housing sector and six lac houses were constructed. He maintained though that there was flaw in the construction as still 70 to 80 percent houses met the earthquake resistance standards and 5 percent houses have been built on the fault lines or near landslide or the construction was not earthquake resistant.

According to him, due to bureaucratic delays and visa hurdles, the reconstruction process faced delays that could have been avoided by speedy response of the government. “It took four and- a-half months to arrive Bangladeshi experts who were supposed to arrive to oversee the construction work as the Interior Ministry had cancelled their visas that must have been expedited to avoid delays in reconstruction work during catastrophe of such magnitude.”

He said. Muhammad Arif, a resident of the area, said that with the construction of Kardala Bridge, the community could now travel easily by bus, while the cost of getting supplies into the remote region had fallen. It catered to the population of 35,000 and could bear the load of 40 ton easily.

Another steel bridge at Langla over Jhelum River was inaugurated by Nianshan Zhang, Deputy Country Director, ADB, on December 22. The residents on the occasion lauded the construction of bridge saying that ‘for the first time, something good has been done to them by building it as they did not get any support to restart their livelihood after the earthquake, as all their milk yielding animals died and government did nothing to revive the livestock sector’.

According to ADB officials the financial institution assisted reconstruction of more than 300,000 houses, 309 schools, 3major hospital, 26 basic and rural health centers, 9 hydro-power stations, 10 grid stations and numerous other office building and official to seismic resistant standards. In addition, around 800 km of major and rural roads and bridges have been reconstructed.

ADB also financed to build workshops to repair transformers. Naveed Mir, In-charge of Electricity Transformer Repair Workshop at Dhani Syedan, said, “before the earthquake, the work was done manually and it used to take one month to repair a transformer, as we had to go to Rawalpindi but now, with the reconstruction of the workshop, the cost and time on the repair work has reduced and we repair a transformer in a day”.

Though, the ADB has financed the construction of rural health centers and basic health units that provide basic health facilities but due to lack of heating system in the building, in critical condition or for delivery, people prefer to go to main hospitals. To complement these efforts, assistance was also provided to judiciary and police in order to extend special assistance to the earthquake victims, including establishment of 18 Legal Aid Centers for free legal aid to the vulnerable people.

The ADB provided US $1 billion loan and grant for reconstruction and rehabilitation in the power, health, education, transport, housing and social protection sectors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. This includes the US$ 100million grants provided by ADB through co-financing partners including Australia, Belgium, the European Union, Finland and Norway.

The loans and grants are closed now. Overall the project progress is satisfactory except some implementation delays in roads and education sector, because of which some projects will remain incomplete at closure.

Incomplete subprojects include 24 schools in KPK, 5 roads in AJK and KPK, one bridge in AJK. The unutilized funds would be cancelled upon closure of the loan and grants, after which Government of Pakistan would fund all incomplete activities. The projects of EEAP in health sector are also completed. But most of the health facilities remain understaffed that is the major challenge that has not been addressed by the Governments of AJK and Pakistan, despite the numerous commitments during the last two years. In transport sector 42 steel bridges and four RCC bridges in AJK have been completed leaving behind one RCC Bridge that will have to be financed by government. With homes rebuilt, water and electricity systems restored many schools and most hospitals reconstructed, and the economic activity revived, the earthquake affected people across the Kashmir and the northern Pakistan can now look forward to a better future.