New Balakot City: an unfulfilled promise to earthquake survivors

Zarghoon Shah
The 2005 earthquake killed nearly 100,000 people, injured over 140,000, and left as many as 3.5 million people homeless

MANSEHRA: Every year on October 8, for the past 13 years, residents of Balakot wake up to the horrific memories of the unprecedented earthquake which devastated the northern regions of Pakistan.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which struck at 8:52am on October 8, 2005, left an unprecedented trail of destruction in its wake, killing nearly 100,000 people, injuring over 140,000, and leaving as many as 3.5 million people homeless.

The disaster levelled the historic, picturesque town of Balakot, turning it into a massive heap of rubble. Over 2,200 residents died, while thousands of others were left injured. The dead included over 500 children, most of whom breathed their last under the fallen roofs of their school buildings.

Balakot city was declared as ‘Red Zone’ by the-then Musharraf government in 2005, in view of the findings that the entire central part of the town lay on three major and over 16 small fault lines. It was one of the three big fault lines that had erupted and flattened the city; the other two were yet inactive.

13 years and three successive national and provincial governments later, the New Balakot City project remains an unfulfilled promise to the residents

It was decided that the fallen Balakot city would be turned into a tourist spot lined with cherry trees and its ruins preserved as ‘national heritage’. The entire 30,000 population of the ruined city was to be relocated to Bakriyal near Mansehra, named as New Balakot City.

According to the Master Plan, New Balakot City was to be constructed and handed over to the affectees in 2010. However, 13 years and three successive national and provincial governments later, the project remains an unfulfilled promise to the residents.

"We would only acknowledge ‘change’ as claimed by the PTI government when our circumstances change and when our rights are given to us according to pledges by successive governments," says Maroof, a retired teacher, who believes people of Balakot feel betrayed by the Musharraf government as well as all successive governments.

Another resident, Nawazish Khan, says the earthquake affectees of Balakot are now forced to think that perhaps they are not the citizens of this country. "We think, maybe, we are from another country or continent, as we have been meted out step-motherly treatment since 13 years."