By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: Choice is a luxury for most, but it is agonising for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Phandar Valley. If they choose to live in cracked houses, they fear an aftershock or another earthquake could send the structure crumbling to the ground. But if they stay in their tents, those are too weak to withstand the inevitable snowfall and the inhabitants could freeze to death.
“At the moment we don’t have a third option,” said Rehmat Wali, a resident who lost his house to the October 26 earthquake.
The earthquake ravaged Phandar. According to locals, more than 90 houses were destroyed, while cracks are visible in 200 other residences.
About eight to 10 inches of snowfall has been recorded in the region where temperature has dropped to eight degrees below freezing. “The third option is to spend nights out in the open which is not an unusual thing for us under normal circumstances,” said 67-year-old Wali. “However, the freezing temperature has made that impossible.”
He reiterated the houses which were still standing have cracks and heavy snowfall has rendered the tents useless. The sexagenarian is living in a tent provided by Al-Khidmat Foundation, a non-governmental organisation affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Focus Humanitarian Assistance, Alamgir Welfare Trust International and Pakistan Red Crescent have also provided tents and food items as part of their relief operations.
“Of course NGOs have done a good job,” said Farman Khan, another villager. “They came to us in our time of need with food items and tents. However, we will need more to survive the long and harsh winter.”
Iqbal Aasi, a resident of Gilgit who visited the valley this week, shared snowfall has blanketed the valleys and the tents are useless. Aasi toldThe Express Tribune, “There is so much snow it is difficult to walk on it. Since living in tents is impossible, people have started moving to their relatives’ houses in adjoining valleys.”
According to Al-Khidmat Foundation Programme Manager Tahir Rana, villagers are likely to undergo tremendous hardships over the next four or five months as the mercury usually drops to 15 degrees below freezing.
“The immediate future is highly critical for these poor villagers,” added Rana whose organisation provided tents, quilts, tarpaulin, coats and food to 300 families. “We need to do more for them and save them from the cold.”
Though the government has taken stock of the situation, it has not yet paid compensation to the affected families.
“We will ensure payment as soon as the survey is completed,” said Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman who visited the valley on Tuesday.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Rahman said the survivors were like his brothers and sisters, whom he will never abandon in their time of need.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2015.