Mass Migration-Apprehensions And Hopes
18 November, 2005
By Amir Latif
He had been able to build his small house after a relentless hardwork spanning over 25 years. He and his
family comprising 6 children and a wife could live for merely 5 years in their dream house. Their dream like
hundreds of thousands of other people shattered on October 8 when one of the massive earthquakes in the
world history measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale reduced their houses into mere ruins besides causing
thousands of casualties.
This is Fahim Mir, a refugee from occupied Kashmir and owner of a small shop in the main bazaar of Chakothi,
a beautiful town of Aazd Kashmir located just two Kilometers off the Line of Control (LoC). His house
had been located in a small village namely Merabkot, two Kilometers away from Chakothi bazaar, where he and
his village-mates are engaged in digging through the debris of their respective houses to find out if there
is anything intact.
Around 237 people out of a total population of 2000 have lost their lives in the earthquake. Fahim has
lost his wife. Fahim, who has just turned 54, is one of hundreds of people who are preparing to move down to
Muzzafferabad, the destroyed capital of Azad Kashmir, where they could at least save themselves from the
treacherous snowfall which is about to catch them, if they have to live even in tents.
The only thing they are waiting for is the opening of road from which has been badly destroyed and blocked
by the massive landslide in the wake of October 8 earthquake. The eleven-Kilometer portion of recently-built Srinagar-Muzzafferabad road from Chakothi to Sawan town has been badly damaged and blocked by landslide.
The landslide is so massive that it is almost impossible for the people, especially children and women to cross over it with luggage and the remaining livestock. From Sawan to Muzzafferabad (47 Km distance), long queues of earthquake survivors could be seen travelling down to Muzzafferabad in search of food and shelter.? We have no other choice, but to leave this area?,
Fahim Mir told this correspondent in a choked voice
as he loves his area and its people like he does with
? Even if we are provided with tents and food, we
can?t stay here as this area will be blanketed with
snow after a few weeks. These tents cannot provide us
shelter from the heavy snowfall in the months of
December, January and February?, he added.
A visit to various villages located near LoC by this
scribe reveals that the magnitude of the crisis is
aggravating with every passing day as the area
dwellers who have escaped the October 8 disaster, are
now going to face another affliction i.e. a
treacherous snowfall approaching nearer.
Most of the villages near LoC are located on the
mountains. The villagers have to go down through
narrow and dangerous tracks to fetch water from Jehlum
River or nearby springs. These tracks have been
reduced into almost invisible traces as the earthquake
has changed the shape of the land here.
These tracks have become difficult to travel even in
normal days, but during snowfall season, it would be a
Herculean task for the area people to travel through
Some of the villages near LoC are as inaccessible as
even helicopter cannot land there.
? I haven?t thought where will I live in Muzzafferabad
or Rawalpindi?, Fahim Mir said staring down the earth.
? My only concern is to save my children from
Snowfall seems to be a monster for the people living
on the mountains. They were not much worried about the
constant firing and shelling by Indian army from the
other side of Jehlum River, but snowfall is something
to worry about more. And they are within their right
to deem it in this way as
A few-day stay in this mountaineer area endorses
People have already started migration from Neelam and
Leepa valleys to Muzzafferabad and Rawalpindi due to a
famine-like situation in several villages of the
respective areas. Reports trickling from Athmaqam,
Rajora, Barian, and Kundal Shahi, suggest that there
is an acute shortage of food and tents in the said
areas forcing the people to migrate.
Khalid Reza, an inhabitant of Neelam valley and
reached Muzzafferabad after a four-day long journey,
told Pulse that the people of Neelam valley are facing
a famine-like situation as there is an acute dearth of
flour, and other food items.
He said the dwellers of Athmaqam, Rajora, Kundal Shahi
and Barian have unanimously decided to leave these
areas before the snowfall as they would not be
livable places in that harsh weather when there is no
food and shelter.
Abdullah Shah, a resident of Leepa valley told Pulse
that road between Neelam to Chinari is open for the
traffic, however, the link road to Leepa valley is
totally closed due to heavy landslide. He said the
people of Leepa valley had been forced due to paucity
of food and bitingly cold to migrate towards safer
places before the situation got more worst.
Analysts are skeptical about the government?s
preparations to handle the mass migration as the
government is only concentrating on tent villages, but
it does not comprehend the fact that these tents are
not the permanent solution of the migration related
Though, the Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Skindar
Hayat has asked the migratory people not to leave
their areas as ? it will lead to several
migration-related problems?. However, he has not
announced any plan or package to stop or handle the
Analysts apprehend that the migration issue could be
beyond the assessment of international community as
massive landslide caused by the October 8 earthquake
has completely blocked the two tributaries of the
Jehlum river as it enters Azad Jammun and Kashmir from
the Indian side and this could lead to possible
flooding in the future, an image captured by NASA?s
Terra spacecraft shows.
Acquired by the ?Advanced Spaceborne Therman Emission
and Reflection Radiometer? on the spacecraft on Oct
11, the image shows a 30-kilometre wide region
southeast of the earthquake?s epicentre between
Muzzafferabad and Uri in Indian-controlled Kashmir in
the Pir Panjal range.
The centre of the original image is at about 34
degrees, 13 minutes north and 73 degrees, 42 minutes
The 3-D image (which can be accessed
shows a large landslide (which is about 2 km x 1.5 km
of collapsed hillside) which has blocked the flow of
two rivers which drain into the Jhelum giving rise to
A US-based professor of geological sciences at the
University of Colorado who has conducted extensive
research into earthquake activity in the Himalayas,
Roger Bilham, has details of the image on his webpage
and says that ?in the coming weeks and months the two
streams will form upstream lakes until they breach the
natural dam formed by the landslide.?
He adds that ?depending on whether this is sooner or
later, the size of the downstream flood could be
modest or catastrophic? in the downstream valley of
Muzzafferabad. The image ? with the Jhelum meandering
in the top right portion heading towards Muzzafferabad
and its confluence with the Neelum river ? also shows
a number of smaller landslides which the geologist
says are a common feature of quakes in the Himalayas.
Prof Bilham, who led a team in 1999 to Nepal which
corrected Mount Everest?s height by seven feet, makes
the following observation: ?Although the earthquake
resulted in widespread devastation, it is doubtful
that it has released more than one tenth of the
cumulative elastic energy that has developed since the
previous great earthquake in the region in 1555 or
earlier.? The quake of 1555 also hit the same area and
was recorded by Nizamuddin Ahmed of Emperor Akbar?s
court in his Tabakat-i-Akbari. Thousands were
As for the question whether such a large earthquake
could trigger others in the region, Prof Bilham says
that ?probably not? but then points out that quakes in
the Himalayan are known to trigger others. However, he
says, ?we know of no great earthquake triggered days
to months after a major earthquake in the same
On the other hand, authorities have cancelled plans to
evacuate people from the earthquake-hit Alai tehsil in
Battagram district (NWFP) and transport them to other
places following their refusal to leave their
ancestral abodes, senior officials said on Friday.
The district coordination officer in Battagram, Abdul
Khaliq, said that the government had already decided
there would be no forced evacuation from the quake-hit
areas of Alai tehsil.
Mr Khaliq said the government had originally proposed
to move 100,000 people from the affected area under
the evacuation plan.
?People are in dire need of tents and financial
assistance,? the DCO said, adding that the local
administration in collaboration with public
representatives was going to launch a compensation
The evacuation plan had been drawn up in view of the
harsh weather in Alai tehsil and rumours of volcanic
activity being recorded in the area. Initially, it was
estimated that 100,000 people would be relocated from
Alai to tent villages in Haripur district.
The government had dispatched two teams of geologists
to the affected areas to confirm reports of volcanic
activity in the area. Officials said the geologists
had completed their survey and had submitted a report
to the concerned authorities.
The district administration had estimated that the
affected people in Battagram district would need about
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has said the
Oct 8 earthquake was much graver than reported earlier
as, according to an assessment it carried out in
collaboration with Unicef and Oxfam, some 2.3 million
victims would require food to survive through the
winter as compared to the earlier estimate of 1
The WFP had based on its previous assessment of having
to feed 1 million people when it had appealed for $56
million. This appeal has now been revised accordingly
to feed the victims for up to six months.
The victims, the assessment report said, were already
very poor and the quake had made them poorer and more
vulnerable as they lost all they had ?- their homes
and livelihood. These people are now desperate and
have to be reached in the next three weeks before the
onset of winter.
The WFP fears that the situation can aggravate because
of the poor donor response. It had earlier warned that
a window of hope for survivors was slamming shut.
Six out of the nine districts affected by the
earthquake were already in the ?most food insecure?
parts of Pakistan, where people depend on subsistence
farming, livestock and wage labour during the lean
According to the finding, more than half of rural
households surveyed lost all or most of their grain
stocks and one fourth of the livestock was killed.
The local economy has collapsed. Even if the survivors
had money to buy food, supplies are extremely limited.
Large numbers of children were found to be suffering
from diarrhoea or respiratory illnesses, suggesting
that a rapid increase in cases of acute malnutrition
could be imminent.
About 20 per cent of mothers with children under two
years old have stopped breastfeeding, either because
of illness or inadequate breast milk.
According to the survey, priority should be given to
the estimated 200,000 people living in the
most-difficult-to-reach areas in Neelum, Jhelum,
Kaghan and Naran valleys as well as upper parts of
Alai which will soon be cut off by snow for months.
It noted that less than 10 per cent of the affected
population had left their communities for safe areas,
the majority preferring to stay close to their lands
and livestock. While large numbers of people are
expected to move into camps as winter sets in, this is
seen as a last resort. Many people are coming down
from the mountains only to go back up empty handed.
Markets have not recovered in three of the hardest-hit
areas, with trading coming to a virtual halt. And
where markets are functioning, prices have soared. In
addition, banks are closed, restricting cash and
credit flow. The assessment mission recommended
assistance to urban areas for the next two months and
in rural areas until the end of February.
The assessment comprised secondary data and market
analyses, more than 40 key interviews and a survey
covering 700 households in more than 200 locations.
The report said that more than 50,000 had died and
around 80,000 were injured and nearly 2.5 million
people had lost their houses, majority of which now
lived in tents and makeshift shelters.
The earthquake-affected nine districts in the NWFP and
AJK were Battagram, Mansehra, Shangla, Muzzafferabad,
Neelum, Abbottabad, Poonch, Kohistan and Bagh. But the
worst-affected districts were Muzaffarabad, epicentre
of the quake, Mansehra and parts of Bagh, where more
than 70 per cent of houses had been destroyed.
The household survey indicated that food consumption
in urban and semi-urban areas remained significantly
better than in rural areas.
Among children from 3 to 5 years old, almost half had
changed their feeding practices in terms of reduction
in quantity (frequency and amount) and quality (types)
of food. Main reasons for the changes were cited as
shortage of food (55 per cent), fear and shock leading
to loss of appetite (11 per cent) and sickness (11 per