Rising from the Rubble

Article | 10 March 2008

ADB's swift response to the devastating October 2005 earthquake is helping make the massive task of rebuilding easier.

Muzaffarabad - Mushtaq Ahmed had been uneventfully collecting firewood on the morning of 8 October 2005 when the earth began shaking around him. Within just a few minutes, the world he had known for years was shattered.

"It was horrific and the most helpless moment in my life as all I could do was to sit there holding my head in disbelief and watching houses perched on hillsides tumbling down all around," he recounts.

"My wife perished in the rubble but then almost everybody in the village lost a dear one. In fact, in some cases, entire families were found buried under tons of debris. Everything was turned upside down, bridges fell apart, schools and hospitals collapsed. Roads, power stations, and electricity transmission lines were washed away in landslides. For a moment, I thought this is just end of the world," the 55-year old recalls.

The earthquake that day that obliterated Mushtaq's village of Lamnia in the lower western ridges of the Himalayas, and many other areas across Kashmir and in northern Pakistan, was one of the most debilitating natural disasters to ever strike Asia.

More then 75,000 people perished and about 3.5 million were left homeless in mountainous terrain spanning 30,000 square kilometers (km2).

Given the scale of the disaster - and with a brutal Himalayan winter fast approaching - the Government of Pakistan appealed for immediate help in a bid to avert even more loss of life.

Swift Support

Responding to the challenge, ADB pledged $1 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation, mainly in the power, health, education, transport, housing, and social protection sectors. To date, ADB has committed about $740 million in ADF loans and grants, while leveraging another $180 million in the form of bilateral grant funds for the ADB-funded Pakistan Earthquake Fund and through cofinancing.

"We mobilized support swiftly, assembling a dedicated team which has since been working with the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and counterpart regional and provincial bodies to assess the extent of damage, identify priority areas, and to channel funds for the rehabilitation process," says ADB Country Director, Peter Fedon.

"The main thrust of assistance was to provide immediate budgetary support to meet financial requirements in priority areas. We have also set up a satellite office in Muzaffarabad to ensure effective project implementation," he adds.

Rebuilding more than half a million destroyed or badly damaged rural houses is one of the most critical jobs, and with support from the Government, development partners, and the local communities, more than 400,000 rural grant beneficiaries have undertaken the arduous task.

Rebuilding Lives

One key to the success of this rebuilding program has been the 150,000 Pakistan rupees (PRs) (about $2,400) in three equal installments given to each beneficiary.

"The decision to let people take charge and build their own houses has paid off," Shaukat Shafi, senior ADB project implementation officer says.

"The housing reconstruction grant from the Pakistan government, a program partly funded by ADB to the tune of $400 million, has helped people rebuild their houses based on their own needs, using the choice of designs approved by ERRA," Shaukat adds, noting that technical help has also been given to ensure that new homes meet seismic resistance standards, making them safer in the event of another quake.

Despite these impressive efforts, there still is a long way to go, with many affected families continuing to live in temporary shelters as they struggle to cope with the high cost of labor and building materials, partly driven by the reconstruction boom itself.

Roads to Recovery

Shattered roads have also made the reconstruction process a Herculean task. About 6,400 km of roads in nine districts were washed away in the fury of landslides that followed the earthquake.

Rebuilding them, and the many bridges that were damaged or destroyed, was critical in getting relief supplies and building materials to isolated communities.

"In villages situated at higher elevation and in remote areas like ours, no reconstruction was possible without first repairing the road," says Mushtaq Ahmed.

"Initially, even when the road was partially opened, transporters refused to send their vehicles up into the valley," says another villager, 64-year-old Hakim Ali. With the road works complete, the community can now travel easily by bus, while the cost of getting supplies into the remote region has fallen which has sped up the rebuilding process.

ADB has set aside $163.5 million for rebuilding more than 1,000 km of roads. To date, work has begun on 353 km of roads, with 48 road restoration contracts worth $21 million awarded.

Into the Light

The earthquake also knocked out power, exacerbating the misery of the survivors and making the reconstruction task even tougher.

"The entire electricity system feeding the nine affected districts was disrupted, it was a major challenge to restore electricity but this we achieved within days after the earthquake, thanks to the timely support extended by ADB," says Mohammad Asif Shah, director general of the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (SERRA).

ADB is the sole funding agency for rehabilitating the power sector, with local electricity supply companies acting as the implementing agencies, tasked with ensuring free electricity is supplied to tent villages and field hospitals. To date, around $9 million worth of contracts for equipment and civil works have been awarded and the majority of power and grid stations have now been rebuilt.

Rehabilitation work is also being carried out in the education and health sectors. ADB is investing $110 million to reconstruct 454 primary and middle schools using a state-of-the-art light steel-frame structure that is seismic resistant. It will provide another $33.2 million to restore healthcare infrastructure, targeting reconstruction of hospitals and rural health centers.

Topping up these efforts, ADB is also supporting the restoration of government institutions such as the judiciary and the police, and others that provide special assistance to the earthquake victims.

While much remains to be done even 2 years after the disaster, a semblance of normalcy has returned to the village of Lamnia. With homes rebuilt, water and electricity systems restored, schools and hospitals reconstructed, and economic activity starting to revive, Mushtaq Ahmed and thousands like him across Kashmir and northern Pakistan can now look to the future with hope.