Eid joy scarce for earthquake survivors; but 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 Program calculated that more than two million people in the affected region needed food aid to survive the winter.
In the region (tehsil) around the devastated town of Balakot, however, Oxfam has been handing out cash, vouchers and materials to a targeted number of earthquake survivors in 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.
“Our initial objective was to reach 32,000 people,” said Heloise Troc, co-ordinator of Oxfam’s Livelihood program team in the region, which lies in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.
“The team has worked extremely hard to be able to reach this target before Eid so that families would get the cash before the celebrations,” she said on Monday, adding that the team was poised to complete its task on time.
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 over 130 camps and villages, Oxfam has helped more than 530,000 people. It has provided water and sanitation facilities to over 330,000 people. Oxfam has also provided shelter (in the form of tents and materials for assembling sturdier shelters) to more than 180,000 people so far.
Oxfam has been providing cash handouts and vouchers to earthquake survivors in three different areas of Balakot tehsil: 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 program not only allows the survivors to buy items of their choice, but boosts local commerce by helping traders rebuild their businesses and revitalizing local markets.
The idea is part of Oxfam’s innovative Livelihood Program, which aims to help thousands of earthquake survivors rebuild their lives by reviving commerce, creating employment opportunities and supporting reconstruction.
The program, 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.”