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Survivors Still at Risk a Year after Pakistan Earthquake

  • Lisa Schlein

International aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of people in northern Pakistan are facing a difficult winter, one year after a devastating earthquake killed more than 73,000 people and made over 3.5 million homeless.

On October 8, 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, centered 95 kilometers northeast of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, struck in the early hours of the morning. Tremors were felt across the region from the Afghan capital, Kabul, to the Indian capital of New Delhi.

In Pakistan, the worst affected areas were the Northwest Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Even though a year has passed, Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson says people in the area still live in fear of further disasters.

"You see that they are still also in a state of shock. And, this anniversary is reminding them of all they lost. And, so they are not exactly even mentally in the right state or frame of mind to be facing such harsh conditions," she said.

Nelson is with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She says last year's winter was unusually mild, which made it easier for aid agencies to assist the victims. But this winter, she says, is expected to be severe.

She says the Red Cross is particularly worried about some 400,000 people who do not have permanent shelter.

"This area went through massive aftershocks for months and months, so they were scared to rebuild. That slowed down the process. Then a lot of them were hit by the flooding and the landslides this summer. I visited a water storage tank that had just been completed - it was already to go. And part of a mountain just slid right down on top of it, covered it in rocks and mud. It almost looks as if a volcano erupted," she said.

Children were particularly hard hit by the earthquake. About 18,000 died, 10,000 were disabled and 70 percent of the schools in the area were destroyed.

A spokesman for the U.N. children's fund, Michael Bociurkiw, says many children are afraid to go back to school for fear the roof could collapse on their heads.

"What we are doing is we are taking our time building schools," he said. "We pledged to build around 500 earthquake-resistant schools because we do not want the same thing to happen. We are being very careful in terms of developing very proper specifications for schools. We are being very careful even picking the locations of schools."

International aid agencies say they are working with the government of Pakistan to identify gaps in assistance to make sure vulnerable communities make it through the winter.

They say those without permanent homes will have to be put into winterproof temporary shelters. They say people will have to be provided with food and health care and those who remain fearful of another earthquake will need counseling.

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