Search­ing for quake miss­ing — 10 years on

The China Post - - FEA­TURE - BY KHUR­RAM SHAHZAD

The morn­ing the Pak­istan earth­quake struck 10 years ago, Nazish Naz had been reluc­tant to go to school, telling her elder sis­ter the day felt cursed. Less than an hour af­ter the 16- yearold left home, disaster struck.

The 7.6 mag­ni­tude quake near the city of Muzaffarabad in the Pak­istani ad­min­is­tered part of Kash­mir killed more than 73,000 peo­ple, wounded 128,000 and left around 3.5 mil­lion home­less — but a decade on the re­gion has yet to re­cover.

Naz’s fam­ily re­mains un­able to ac­cept her death. Other than a lone pho­to­graph show­ing her in­jured in a hospi­tal which ap­peared in a news­pa­per shortly af­ter the disaster, there has been no trace of her: She has sim­ply van­ished.

Her fam­ily are among hun­dreds of rel­a­tives strug­gling to trace loved ones lost in the earth­quake, as all records of whether they sur­vived were de­stroyed in the chaotic af­ter­math.

Ten years on and this state of limbo per­vades the area. De­spite gov­ern­ment vows of re­con­struc­tion, the promised hous­ing and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment sim­ply never hap­pened.

In­stead, derelict con­struc­tion sites, half- built roads and piles of build­ing ma­te­rial oc­cupy the spa­ces where thriv­ing towns and ci­ties should ex­ist.

‘ No proof she is dead’

Naz’s par­ents’ grief is grow­ing as the 10- year an­niver­sary of the Oct. 8, 2005 tragedy gets closer and closer.

They have searched for their daugh­ter in hos­pi­tals, schools, morgues, train sta­tions, bus stops — and even in broth­els — and have found no sign.

Still, they refuse to ac­cept she is dead, cit­ing the pho­to­graph that ap­peared in a lo­cal news­pa­per weeks later ap­par­ently show­ing Naz with a head wound in a hospi­tal in Islamabad.

The in­jury did not ap­pear se­ri­ous enough to be fa­tal, they said, and there was no other in­for­ma­tion.

“My daugh­ter was very in­tel­li­gent. She would have con­tacted us had she been in her senses, no mat­ter wher­ever she was,” said Ab­basi, who works as a driver in a gov­ern­ment depart­ment.

“What we be­lieve is that she might have lost her mem­ory be­cause of the head in­jury and has been stranded some­where.

“There is no clue about her ex­is­tence, but there is no proof of her death as well. How can we ac­cept she is dead with­out her grave ex­ist­ing?” he asks.

The In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross says a to­tal of 576 peo­ple were reg­is­tered as miss­ing af­ter the earth­quake but author­i­ties failed to main­tain proper records track­ing where pa­tients were sent and whether vic­tims lived or died in the wake of the disaster.

Nearly 350 were traced later on, but 228 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Naz, were never found.

Bro­ken Prom­ises

Shazia Haris, a spokes­woman for the Earth­quake Re­con­struc­tion and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Author­ity ( ERRA), says the gov­ern­ment no longer con­sid­ers them miss­ing.

“There were peo­ple who died and there were peo­ple who were in­jured in the earth­quake. If some­body hasn’t re­turned to his or her home af­ter 10 years ... it means they are surely dead and not miss­ing,” Haris says.

But Naz’s par­ents refuse to give up. “God will­ing we will con­tinue our ef­forts to trace her as long as we are both are alive,” says Ab­basi.

“Whether it is a mat­ter of trac­ing the miss­ing per­sons or re­con­struc­tion, noth­ing has gone ac­cord­ing to the promised plans,” says Zahid Amin, chief of the Muzaffarabad City De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion.

In the af­ter­math of the quake the gov­ern­ment promised to help the fam­i­lies of dead and in­jured, and to build new towns a safe dis­tance from the fault line.

But con­struc­tion has stalled, with author­i­ties blam­ing the weather and ad­min­is­tra­tive prob­lems. Ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion have also dogged re­de­vel­op­ment ef­forts.

“The ma­jor­ity of the pro­jects have been de­layed,” says Amin.

In some cases peo­ple have re­built their homes along the quake fault line, de­spite warn­ings from ex­perts that another, big­ger quake may yet come.

“The seis­mic codes and reg­u­la­tions have been vi­o­lated for new constructions and the gov­ern­ment doesn’t care about any- thing,” Amin says.

Even those pro­jects that have been com­pleted have not been handed over to res­i­dents due to red tape, he says.

ERRA’s Haris blames ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sues and the weather.

“Lo­cals in most re­gions have re­fused to hand over land for de­vel­op­ment of new ci­ties,” she says, adding that due to rain and snow con­struc­tion can only be car­ried out for five months a year.

For Naz’s fam­ily, even if the area can be re­built, the tragedy has de­stroyed their whole world.

“I still dream that she is com­ing back to us,” Naz’s mother Gul­naz told AFP, sob­bing as the rain fell out­side her small house on a moun­tain in the out­skirts of Muzaffarabad.

“I see her in my dreams wear- ing her school uni­form. Our lives have been changed af­ter her ... We al­ways re­mem­ber her.”

AFP

(Above) Pak­istani Kash­miri res­i­dent Ru­bila Bibi, who sur­vived the 2005 Kash­mir earth­quake, teaches chil­dren at her home in Muzaffarabad, the cap­i­tal of Pak­ista­ni­ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir, Sept. 27. (Right) Pak­istani Kash­miri res­i­dent Gul­naz poses hold­ing a pho­to­graph of her daugh­ter, Nazish Naz, who went miss­ing in the 2005 Kash­mir earth­quake, in Muzaffarabad, Sept. 27.

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