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The winter of discontent

SARA FARID

This winter has found the residents of Chitral unsettled, after the unlucky vale was ravaged by not one but two natural calamities in 2015; floods and earthquakes.

The damage could have been far worse; the villagers of Charun Oveer mostly build houses out of mud and stone so they are easy to rebuild. But most villagers say they’ve never seen such destruction in their lifetimes.

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Zar Aman Shah, 70, and his wife Zeenat spend around four to five hours every day repairing and rebuilding their damaged house. Zeenat estimates that with their resources, it will take them at least a year to rebuild. ─ Photo by author

People were just scraping off the mud and picking up the boulders left behind by the flood when the earth shook again in October 2015.

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Since labour is in short supply, young children are expected to help their families rebuild their homes. Due to the precarious nature of the damaged houses, their mothers have to keep a close watch even when they are just out playing. ─ Photo by author

he landscape of Upper Chitral speaks for itself, the destruction writ large upon the freshly exposed mountainsides.

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Zar Aman Shah, 70 and his wife Zeenat spend around four to five hours every day repairing and rebuilding their damaged house. Zeenat estimates that with their resources, it will take them at least a year to rebuild. ─ Photo by author

In the rest of Chitral, the destruction is scattered but still considerable. The Kalash valley was badly hit and landslides are triggered on the surrounding mountains by every small aftershock or tremor.

While reconstruction here will be cheaper, it certainly won’t be easy given the limited resources that people have. Many families have now moved to lower ground to stay with their relatives.

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Mohammad Nabi, a tailor, is one of the people forced to live in a tent as he does not have the means to rebuild his house in Denin, Chitral. “I lost my legs to polio and the earthquake has taken my wheelchair and my livelihood. Now, all I have is this tent and some supplies that aid agencies distributed,” he says. ─ Photo by author

Those who have no choice but to stay have put up tents covered with extra sheets of tarpaulin – distributed by aid agencies – as a shelter against the bitter cold.

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Shireen Bibi was doing the laundry when she felt the tremors. “I ran outside and the next thing I knew, houses were collapsing around me; it was terrifying. My only thoughts were for my children and I began screaming for them hysterically.” ─ Photo by author

Nearly everyone is in a race against the elements; winter is a cruel mistress in these parts. Aftershocks are another scourge for residents of these mountainside dwellings. The tremors terrify children, with many parents saying their young ones have trouble sleeping and often wake up screaming. One child, who was stuck inside the rubble for many hours, is now afraid of living under a roof.

While the people here are resilient, the scars left by these disasters will take time to heal.

─ Sara Farid is a freelance photojournalist based in Islamabad.

Instagram: @sarafarid

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2016

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