BAGH – Though nearly seven years have been passed since the high intensity earthquake in 2005 hit the hilly areas of the country including Azad Jammu & Kashmir, the aftereffects of this calamity could still be seen in district Bagh of AJK where rehabilitation and reconstruction work is still going on.

Bagh was the worst ever earthquake-affected area in AJK along with Muzaffarabad and Balakot where a number of school and hospital buildings collapsed as a result of this natural disaster. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) under Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Program (PERRP) in 2007 joined hands with the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) to complete 77 development projects including education and health facilities in district Bagh of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and district Mansehra of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The agency has completed a total of 36 school buildings and 15 hospital buildings so far in Bagh and Mansehra. In addition to that 20 school buildings and one health facility is under construction and five education projects have yet to be started under the USAID programme. In Bagh, USAID is dealing with 43 development projects where 30 such buildings including 15 schools and 15 hospitals have been completed and handed over to AJK government. The agency is still reconstructing 13 buildings, 12 schools and one tehsil headquarter (THQ) hospital there.

A group of Islamabad based journalists’ visit to two schools in Bagh - Government Girls High School, Chatter # 2, (construction completed) and Government Boys Higher Secondary School Bir Pani (construction underway) - was a proof of the fact that USAId had used state-of-the-art architecture and construction techniques while reconstructing these schools. A big school hall with dome shaped roof, children library, kitchen, modern science labs, staff room were the part and parcel of GGHS, Chatter # 2, Bagh.

District Education Officer (Male), Bagh, Raja Roshan said that these projects had been completed within the given deadline and the quality of construction had no match in AJK. “Each of the completed schools includes a library with books provided by community donations. In the AJK schools alone these poor communities have raised the funds and purchased over 11000 (eleven thousand) books for their new libraries, a remarkable achievement,” Jane Thomas, Community Liaison Specialist of USAID programme while briefing journalists prior to their visit of AJK.

“We have already completed construction of 36 boys and girls schools, more schools are under construction, while construction of five more schools will start soon, for a total of 61 schools” Said Tarek Selim Chief of Party for the USAID Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Program. He said that there was zero percent litigation in courts in connection with these projects as local community had been maximum involved in such programmes.

USAID launched the $130 million Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Program (PERRP) in 2006 to construct schools and healthcare facilities in the earthquake affected areas. The Program works in close cooperation with Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA).

Tarek said that all buildings are designed to meet internationally recognized standards for earthquake prone areas and provide access for the disabled.

During the construction process, the program works with local people to form school management committees and health management committees in order to prevent and solve community problems related to construction.

This helps keep construction on schedule and results in a strong community organization able to carry on doing many things.

USAID has also joined schools communities of Bagh district in AJK for the first ever-AJK celebration of the World Book Day, being celebrated throughout the world on April 21. Participating schools are some of the 36 AJK and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa schools destroyed in the 2005 earthquake but have since rebuilt by USAID.