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Eid joy scarce for earthquake survivors

10 January 2006

Eid joy scarce for earthquake survivors – Oxfam aid workers help thousands to mark holiday

As the Muslim world prepares to celebrate Eid al-Adha, most of Pakistan’s earthquake survivors, left homeless and destitute after last October’s disaster, are struggling to participate in the important Islamic holiday.

But some displaced people in one of the worst affected areas will have something to celebrate thanks to special efforts by aid workers from international agency Oxfam.

More than a billion Muslims around the world are poised to commemorate an act of devotion and sacrifice by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), traditionally by slaughtering an animal and distributing its meat to relatives and the poor. Children are often given new clothes too.

However, millions of Pakistanis camped across the bitterly cold mountainous northern provinces are now struggling to feed their families and clothe their children properly, let alone offer a sacrifice or receive donated meat. The United Nations’ World Food Programme calculated that more than two million people in the affected region needed food aid to survive the winter.

Around the devastated town of Balakot, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, however, Oxfam has been providing small cash grants, vouchers and materials to earthquake survivors in some of the more inaccessible villages.

“I will buy some food and some clothes for my children for Eid,” said Musarat Bibi, a camp resident from nearby Ghanool who lost her husband in the earthquake.

“We will be able to reach 32,000 people before Eid, so families will have the cash before the celebrations,” said Heloise Troc, co-ordinator of Oxfam’s Livelihood programme team in the region.

Around three million people were affected by the 8th October earthquake, which registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. It is estimated that at least 73,000 people were killed directly and a greater number left injured.

Working in more than 130 camps and villages, Oxfam has helped more than 530,000 people.

It has provided water and sanitation facilities to more than 330,000 people, and provided shelter (in the form of tents and materials for assembling sturdier shelters) to more than 180,000 people so far.

Innovative scheme

Oxfam has been providing cash grants and vouchers to earthquake survivors in three different areas of Balakot region: Ghanool, Sat Bani and part of Hungrai. The vouchers can be exchanged for goods sold by a selected list of traders.

“My father was killed,” said 13-year-old Yunis, standing next to his elderly uncle as he exchanged his voucher in a general store in Balakot, which was reduced to rubble by the earthquake.

“My mother is very ill, so she had to stay in the village. She has asked me to buy flour, black tea and sugar with the voucher and cash I received.”

The cash and voucher scheme not only allows the survivors to buy items of their choice, but boosts local commerce by revitalising local markets, helping traders rebuild their businesses.

The idea is part of an innovative livelihood programme, which aims to help thousands of earthquake survivors rebuild their lives by reviving commerce, creating employment opportunities and supporting reconstruction.

The programme, which has reached more than 48,000 people so far, is designed to offer people real choices regarding the kind of help they receive and represents an alternative to traditional forms of aid that risk creating dependency. The Oxfam team has also been distributing five corrugated iron sheets per family to thousands of selected households to help, for example, build shelters and pens for their remaining livestock.

“This is probably the most sought-after commodity in the villages,” said Troc. “The idea, once again, was to reach as many families as possible before the Eid celebrations.”

ENDS

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