Muzaffarabad, PAKISTAN // Evidence of the devastation caused by the earthquake that hit northern Pakistan in 2005 still remains, but reconstruction work is finally beginning to come to fruition. Among the first large-scale projects to be completed is the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Hospital in Muzaffarabad. During a visit to the hospital last week, Lt Gen Sajjad Akram, the deputy director of Pakistan's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, declared: "This is a most advanced sort of hospital, a state-of-the-art institution, of a quality that would be hard to find anywhere else in Pakistan." The hospital was inaugurated in June and its gleaming corridors, laboratories and operating theatres are expected to open before the end of the year. International experts are training local doctors and technicians in the use of the advanced scanning and operating equipment, much of which is in place but still encased in protective covering. The hospital at Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, which along with another hospital in Rawalakot, has been financed by the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities and Agriculture, at a cost of 2.7 billion rupees (Dh122 million). The UAE will sponsor the cost of running the hospitals for the first three years of operation, after which they will become the responsibility of the state authorities. When the hospital is up and running it will be one of the most visible successes of the reconstruction effort. A massive earthquake hit parts of the North West Frontier Province and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on Oct 8 2005. The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.6, killed about 78,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless. More than 600,000 houses were destroyed. About 5,800 schools, 307 clinics and hospitals, 715 government buildings, 92 bridges and 2,393km of roads were damaged or destroyed. The international community made pledges totalling US$5.94 billion (Dh21.8bn), but critics of the reconstruction effort say infighting among local politicians delayed projects and several international donors scaled back projects after becoming dismayed by the slow pace of progress. However, reconstruction authority officials counter that the shortage and delayed payment of funds by the donors, mainly because of the recession, are adversely affecting the pace of rebuilding. The man responsible for pushing along contractors, banging recalcitrant heads together and casting a watchful eye over the reconstruction effort is Lt Gen Akram. During one of his frequent whirlwind tours of the earthquake-affected areas last week, he critiqued, appraised and cajoled. His observations ranged from the minor - admonishing one contractor for being "too lavish" in his arrangements for college staff and noticing that a toilet in a school had no air vent - to overseeing such grand projects as the building of an entire new city. The general spent several hours of the afternoon chairing a meeting to dissect claims made by local politicians on behalf of their constituents who said they had not been paid a government reimbursement to rebuild their damaged houses. He said that to "neutralise" the effect of financial shortfall, the government had pledged to arrange $1.3bn from its own resources. Only 404 out of 5,808 planned schools have been built so far, he said, but the pace of other infrastructure projects has gained momentum. He said 3,439 projects were completed by last month whereas only 1,214 projects had been completed during the previous three years. The government has paid a total of 1.5bn rupees to 126,000 people for home reconstruction. An official estimated that 800 such claims are still outstanding. The task of allocating funds and property is laborious because the earthquake did not only destroy lives and livelihoods but also shook the foundations of complex and often unwritten land ownership titles and family relations. In an interview, Lt Gen Akram underscored the scope of the operation by pointing out that the authority was overseeing 12,000 projects in intensely difficult terrain, which, because of the monsoon rains and harsh winter, left only five to seven months for construction per year. The reconstruction effort has been run by a plethora of organisations, such as banks, which disburse funds to individuals, and the national and local bureaucracy and elected representatives, who work "to give ownership of the projects to the people", the general said. The largest scale project is the rebuilding of the city of Balakot in a new location because the quake destroyed the city in its previous location. At present, most of the land for the site - 15,599 kanals, or about 47 hectares - has been purchased, a painstaking task in an area where land titles are often hotly disputed, and roads and sewage systems have been built. Lt Gen Akram estimates that the new Balakot will take two to three years to be completed. The general said he fears that the citizens of old Balakot will not move easily from their homes. "It will be a transitional operation. When people see that the new city offers them improved conditions, then they will move," he said. email@example.com
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