Earthquake Rehabilitation A Gigantic Task For ERRA
15 October 2006
Lahore: The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) is facing a gigantic task for doing reconstruction work at 30,000 sq km equivalent to New Zealand in terms of total area. The ERRA high-ups concede that it is a big challenge for them. According to them, the biggest challenge for reconstruction phase in quake affected areas of AJK and NWFP will be enhancing capacity to accomplish this task as so far only 42% affected people have started reconstructing their houses in AJK and 30% in NWFP. In an exclusive interview with Money Plus at his office at PM Secretariat in Islamabad, Chairman ERRA Altaf Saleem threw light on various issues confronted by the Authority for accomplishing this task in more effective manner. He said they don't believe that they cannot commit mistakes because they are trying to do such a huge task. But there should not be criticism only for the sake of criticism and ERRA is open for overcoming its mistake through consistent improvements. Talking about massive destruction caused by the October 8, 2005 earthquake, Chairman ERRA said the death doll was a more than 73,000 and 600,000 house destroyed. It caused 3.5 million people displaced, road networks demolished, water and sanitation system destroyed completely. He said the Armed Forces along with the international community's help conducted a massive rescue and relief operation and almost provided one million tents to quake hit people. With grace of God, no epidemic erupted as most of the people predicted and at the 100% schools and health facilities are operational in the quake- affected areas. When he was asked about grievances expressed by the Balakot and Muzafferabad population in the wake of government's plan to shift the area, he said the NWFP government chose the site of Bakrial for shifting the population of Balakot as the older city was exactly located at the fault lines. The ERRA presented the whole situation before the NWFP government after obtaining reports of seismic survey and the NWFP government had chosen the site after holding consultation with the local population through Jirga. To another query regarding tenants rights for compensation, the Chairman ERRA said the government will provide them compensation amount and they will also be provide land at upcoming developed city at Bakrial. Regarding displacement at Muzafferabad, he said the AJK government is set to widening roads due to which there will be 4000 to 5000 houses will be displaced. The AJK government has purchased 6000 kanal lands for displaced people. He also explained that he possessed minutes of those meetings in which the former premier of AJK Sardar Sikandar Hayat had endorsed all strategies placed by the ERRA but when he came out of power then he started criticizing the ERRA's work. He said certain elements criticized ERRA for conducting another survey especially in AJK but it resulted into saving almost 0.2 million from depriving of compensation amount. Earlier it was estimated that there are 400,000 damaged but after survey these numbers were jacked up to 600,000. He also said the ERRA does not want to take popular decision but they are taking correct decision in order to convert this catastrophe into an opportunity for development and bringing prosperity into the lives of survivors. He further said the ERRA faced criticism due to non-providing all funds in shape of one instalment. He questioned that if the quake affected people remained unable to build their houses with the compensation amount then who will be responsible for that. Defending the ERRA's policy, he said the government wants to see all people living into their own houses by utilizing the received amount so that they placed the system of instalments after checking the work done by the affectees with the provided money. He said the ERRA has so far distributed Rs 60 billion for housing, compensation for dead people, injured people and vulnerable and they also utilized NADRA's data. He said the ERRA is doing to ratify all those genuine difficulties, which are facing by the quake affected people. For instance, now banks can bring nominal changes after verifying documents in their located areas, he added. He claimed that there are 95% quake affected people who are in transitory shelter in the upcoming winter. There are only 5% remaining people and the government has distributed almost 35,000 CGI sheets two days ago in the far-flung areas. He also said the government also holds a contingency plan for handling severe winter season and winterised tents are in stock for managing displaced people into nearby areas of AJK and NWFP if the need arises. 'We are doing everything which is humanely possible,' he said and added it was out of the blue situation for the government but it is trying to coup with it. He said the President and Prime Minister have inaugurated seven projects on the occasion of first anniversary of October 8 earthquake this year. He also claimed that the ERRA has planed construction of each school, as the ERRA and the remaining by the sponsors and the donors will build half of the schools out of 1565. He said there are 2,20,000 vulnerable people out of 2,66,000 (equivalent to 45% of the total affected people) who have qualified for monthly compensation amount. So far the ERRA has distributed Rs 4.5 billion during the last six months. He said there are some problems related to banking system as in the remote areas the banks require permission from the State Bank for holding the amount of more than Rs 0.1 million with them. Another challenge for the government would be to manage expectations of the people in quake affected areas, as they would have to show more patience with the situation. The ERRA had devised strategies for 12 sectors out of which reconstruction of houses; education, health and livelihood are most the crucial for ensuring normalcy in the quake hit areas. He said the reconstruction of houses is mainly focused in rural parts where they will have to construct almost 600,000 whereas the houses in urban centres would be only 30,000. Another challenge will be to harmonize transparency with the speed of work, he said and added they are facing capacity issues, as there is no single architectural firm exists in Muzafferabad. He said there are 22000 people dislocated due to expansion of roads and they would be provided pre-fabricated houses but the decision of site for displaced people has not yet taken by the government. He said the donors' pledges for providing soft loans on track and he does not see any hiccups in this regard. 'We believe that 70 to 80% pledges will be converted into a reality,' he added. 'I am also confident that the money is not our problem because the federal government has assured us to provide funds whenever it required for reconstruction in quake hit areas,' he concluded.