Saturday, 8 January 2011

After The Earthquake Understanding Bagh Azad Jammu Kashmir by Sardar Aftab Khan

The impact of October the 8th 2005 earthquake on the life, livelihood and attitudes of the people living in the devastated areas of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) is a subject of careful reading and needs a holistic approach for understanding.

In the last few months District and Tehsil Bagh in AJK has been projected in the media and in some reports as a trouble spot in terms of working conditions for national and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). There are some demonstrations from local groups against the human resource recruitment policies and working style of NGO's especially alleged exploitation of female workers and gender discrimination.

In order to analyze the myths and reality on ground, we need to study the state of civil society in District and Tehsil Bagh before and after the earthquake. Before October the 8th there wasn't a considerable international NGO presence in this part of the world. Islamic Relief and Kashmir International Relief Fund
(KIRF) were the only two UK based NGOs working in a limited geographical area on a small scale.There were also a few religious charities working on their faith based extension strategy through charitable activities.

The state of civil society organizations in AJK for the last fifty seven years was not in a proactive stage and limited in the areas of operation by different Government laws. The controlled system of governance and prolonged conflict on the future status of Jammu Kashmir state has a considerable impact on pro people and pro development attitudes and policies in AJK. Ordinary people have been told and made to believe through conveyancing that any and every development activity in their vicinity or area be it a School, water supply
scheme, a road or dispensary is because of their vote and support to their Biradri (Clan) leader, a slogan or a particular group affiliation.

Participatory and community development approach and concepts have yet to take roots in AJK. Most of the local NGOs are charitable organizations having no long term development plans. Their capacity in terms of human and institutional resource is limited to date. The culture of favouritism on government level in
allocation of different development schemes and even in jobs makes an ordinary villager believe that the only way to have access to clean water, a road or school is in obeying and showing allegiance to prevailing pseudo system and rule of business.
International civil society organization, INGO's and foreign nationals were not encouraged on government level to directly participate or work with in AJK. The constitutional and territorial nature of the area was another obstacle for international insurance companies to provide insurance cover for foreign nationals to work in the area before the earthquake as well.

On October the 8th 2005 already weak and fragile physical infrastructure could not sustain the powerful jolt of earthquake and almost all the government buildings and infrastructure proved to be castle of sand. In AJK, total 7000 Sq. Km area, 1.8 million people and 977 villages were badly affected, 3,29,579 houses were damaged, 46,528 people died and 33489 were injured. This resulted in a serious loss of life and livelihood. The whole socio economic landscape was changed and similarly behaviour and social norms of
disaster-survivors were changed as well. This tragedy provided an opportunity for people all over the world to respond in whatever way they could to help their fellow human beings in Kashmir and Pakistan. The iron curtain was torn apart and people from more than 85 countries and hundreds of INGOs directly participated in rescue and relief operations in AJK without a single reported incident of any hate crime or any major disturbance during delivery of relief.
The scale of devastation and inaccessible terrain of AJK has never been a hurdle in the way of these noble human beings who came here to help the people of AJK. They have different nationalities and faiths but they have responded to the call of humanity and people of AJK will always remain grateful to these noble souls for their help in the most difficult times of their lives.

After one and a half year, let us analyze the factors which are now creating some misunderstanding among the NGO's staff and disaster survivors in Bagh.

Key Findings 

1. The people of Bagh are hardworking, hospitable, generous and entrepreneurial. They are culturally liberal and religiously sensitive. Pahari is the local language and majority of the people understand Urdu and a
considerable number of people can speak English. Because of the Kashmir conflict one can notice that people often talk about and take political events happening elsewhere in the world seriously. Whereas, the real issues directly related to their lives and livelihood are overlooked. That is why they cannot articulate and present their needs and issues in a tangible way and often people with vested interests influence their actions for lobbying their demands.

2. The lack of credible socio economic data and social mapping seriously hamper the ability of INGOs to get first hand and fair assessment of local trends and needs. The management and field staff of most of the INGOs is non local. As most of the INGOs and their international staff depend on the feedback and
interpretation of their non local staff and they are as foreign to local people and conditions as the international staff themselves so the miscommunication and misunderstanding between disaster survivors and humanitarian aid workers is obvious. The ever changing policies and procedures of ERRA is another factor
for aggravating the situation as well.

3. After living more than half a century in a close and controlled setup people are now seeing light at the end of the tunnel for an open society where they could be master of their own destiny. They can design and manage development projects themselves with direct assistance from NGOs. This new progressive making of civil society is a threat to the old guards of his master voice. That is why they are trying to roll back the INGOs from the area so that they can again influence the people of Bagh through development schemes and charity donations for their power game.

4. Closing down the UN affiliated agencies' activities and limiting INGOs' role in the 2nd phase of  reconstruction work in AJK will seriously hamper the early recovery and rebuilding of livelihoods in the affected areas.

The best way forward for all the stakeholders in this situation is in fully implementing the recommendations by ICRC, ECHO and DANIDA in their report titled " Key Factors for Developmental Relief" Annex III Principles and Response in International Humanitarian Assistance and Protection adopted in 26th International conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.


1. The people of Bagh need assistance in rebuilding their life and livelihood with respect and dignity. They are ready to be part of developmental projects as active partners rather than helpless passive recipients of foreign aid.

2. The need assessment of Bagh area should be done through proper social mapping and real economic data collection. Any micro finance, grant or aid package on projected assumptions will be counter productive.

3. All the initiatives in livelihood sector should be in line with local production capacity. The use of modern technology with local research and development in village based training cum production centres with marketing backup will significantly contribute towards the growth of local economy.

4. National and international volunteer hosting in these training cum production centres and farms will help in transfer of knowledge and technology which will help in reducing the brain drain and migration from rural areas to urban areas.

5. Capacity building of local community organizations and Kashmir based NGO's in designing, project management and delivery of product and services will significantly contribute towards the development of an accountable, sustainable and open society in Azad Jammu Kashmir.

I would like to quote from ICRC recommendations here "we recommend that agencies seek to strengthen local capacities by employing local staff, purchasing local materials and trading with local companies. Where possible agencies should work through local humanitarian organizations or partners in planning,  implementation and cooperate with local government structures".

*(Sardar Aftab A. Khan Chief Executive Kashmir Development Foundation (KDF)

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Dated: 10th May 2007

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