South Asia earthquake: supporting farmers
With many of their assets such as tools, seeds and animals lost as a result of the October 8 earthquake, farmers in the Neelum and Jhelum valleys in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are facing serious challenges. The ICRC is helping them by distributing materials to replace some of the losses.
Farming is a major source of economic activity in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and many farmers rely on their own produce to feed their families. The ICRC has therefore been distributing seeds and tools to enable 30,000 households to become self-sufficient again.
In April, the organization's agricultural support programme helped more than 220 villages. Farmers received around 750 tonnes of maize seed, around 600 kilogrammes each of onion, tomato, carrot, chilli, turnip and spinach seeds, 3,000 kilogrammes of ladyfinger seed and more than 450 tonnes of fertilizer. Each family was provided with four tools to help with planting and harvesting and an ICRC agronomist took part in briefings with villagers advised how to maximize their yields.
Twenty-six year old Aziz Ur-Rehman, is one of the villagers who benefited from the ICRC programme. Aziz is a community representative. He helps draw up the lists of those who will receive assistance and takes part in planning how to distribute and store the materials brought to the village by ICRC helicopter.
Before the earthquake, Aziz was employed in Karachi for twelve years as a construction worker. He was at work when news of October's disaster reached him. He immediately rushed to Karachi Airport to take a flight to Islamabad. From Islamabad he jumped on a van for Muzaffarabad, and walked for several hours onwards to Lari. Aziz managed to reach his home village on October 10.
He had to return because his family was there, and he could not leave them alone.
" On the way to Lari I was thinking that everybody had died and that everything had been destroyed " .
Fortunately, his family was safe but 75 people died in the village.
" Immediately after my arrival I was involved in burying the dead. We did not find anybody alive under the rubble. We were also trying to give first aid to the wounded " , said Aziz recalling the aftermath of the disaster. Meanwhile, the army and ICRC helicopters were evacuating the injured to Muzaffarabad and Islamabad.
Villagers still face significant problems relating to the water supply and access to health services. The closest health facility is the ICRC-supported Basic Health Unit (BHU) in Pattika, provided by the Finnish Red Cross. But the road is very difficult and often blocked by landslides.
Aziz Ur-Rehman will not return to Karachi, he will stay in Lari in order to help his family and the other villagers recover.
" Now we have to start from the beginning. But one day we hope to return to the life we had before the earthquake " .