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October 29, 2015

New Balakot City?

Editorial

 
October 29, 2015

Another major earthquake in Pakistan has served as a reminder of the legacy of mismanagement seen after the 2005 earthquake. A decade to the day, in 2005 an earthquake brought down almost the entire city of Balakot down with it. The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was created the same year to supervise the resettlement of those who had been left homeless by the earthquake. Two years later, after complex surveys by geologists, the old city of Balakot was declared uninhabitable because it was located in the centre of a number of major fault lines in the earth’s crust. The same year, the government decided that the best way forward was to create an entirely new city – the New Balakot City – around 20 kilometres further from the site of the old city. A construction ban was imposed on old Balakot, its residents and government offices were shifted into tents and told to wait till 2009 when the new city would be ready. Six years from that date and another major earthquake later, New Balakot City is nowhere near completion. Caught between inter-government rivalries and an apparently unresolvable dispute over land acquisition, there is no greater evidence of the apathy of those in power than the unconstructed city of New Balakot.
Work on the project apparently continued till 2009 after which major disputes erupted over the land that was to be used – reportedly lives have also been lost in the dispute. After these incidents, the project slowly came to a grinding halt despite the fact that at least Rs1.5 billion had already been paid in compensation money. The tale combines corruption, mismanagement and apathy on the part of authorities who continue to shift the blame for the problem. Whenever any of the actors involved is asked, the responsibility is shifted from ERRA to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to the federal government. With almost 5,500 families affected by the 2005

earthquake still without permanent shelter, the situation is shameful to say the least. This is despite the fact that residents of Balakot have continued to protest and had demanded early this month that ERRA be shut down due to mismanagement. Several meetings between the KP government and ERRA have resulted in deadlocks. It seems as though the government has decided that the project of the New Balakot City, an essential component of the rehabilitation strategy for the 2005 earthquake, is already a dead project. With only 14 percent of the land acquired, the KP government continues to claim that the only problem is the inability to vacate the land through force. Authorities need to be transparent about the identity of those living on the land and the compensation amounts offered. It certainly doesn’t make sense to displace some to settle others. Reports indicate that the KP government may now look to revive the project, but we will only believe it when we see it.