Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (ERRA) Documentary Script Amer Rizwan

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Lofty green mountains, splashing waterfalls, meandering streams and towering trees in an idyllic landscape – Nature is at its best here; fully in tandem with the bloom of life. Life is in full action; excitement and optimism is reflected everywhere with a renewed sense of being and zest of life. The healthy environment, lovely fields along with smooth roads and exalted bridges add to joy, thrill and colours of life. The hustle and bustle of life in these areas, and the remarkable willingness and determination of the people of the areas to go to markets, their workplaces, educational institutions is worth seeing. No one could imagine this is the same area once devastated by the wrath of nature.

In sharp contrast to this, the situation prevailing just four years ago was simply horrendous; the areas could then best be described as a collective human sepulcher. Never before such a horrifying situation was witnessed by the hardworking people of the land. The slayer shiver, recorded 7.6 on the Richter Scale, did not spare anything in the affected areas ranging from houses and communication to health, education and agriculture. The mighty tremor wrought huge damage; 5808 education facilities, 750 governance buildings and over 400 water and sanitation schemes were destroyed. Over all nine districts of Azad Kashmir and NWFP with an inhospitable terrain, covering a 30,000 km area was destroyed. Most of these areas gave a deserted look with debris and ruins all around. The earthquake devoured 73,338 persons and severely injured 128,304 persons. The situation was aptly described by the then Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, “I am Prime Minister of a graveyard”

Beneath the wreckage and rubble, however, life was sprouting with a new zeal; the denouement bespoke of a new beginning of life; the dirge was fast converting into a song of life. Thanks to the diligence, persistence and dedication of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency, the four major cities of Azad Kashmir and NWFP, Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Bagh and Balakot are being transformed into modern cities with beautiful and safe residential buildings, hospitals, educational institutions and road networks, and bridges.

Look at the District Development Complex with a beautiful Turkish style Mosque in its right and housing all government offices. Its establishment has improved public access to the government offices, enhanced inter-agency coordination and reduced communication costs creating an enabling environment for the communities as well as for the staff. These women development centres have already brought a considerable proportion of the women population of these areas to the mainstream of life. Happy faces, thrill and ecstasy reflect an overall change in every facet of life. Turning disaster into opportunity, ERRA has made this enormous transformation possible in a very short span of only four years.

There had been no institutional setup available for the response to the disasters like the October 8th 2005. ERRA was established under a notification dated 24th of October 2005 issued by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat as an autonomous organization in view of the expediency of the situation, to provide for the post-disaster damage assessment, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the earthquake-affected areas. ERRA immediately put in place a well-articulated relief, recovery, and reconstruction framework and divided the response into four well-defined phases; immediate, short-term, midterm and long term.

The turnaround is remarkable indeed. ERRA undertook to work in twelve different sectors unparallel in the area of post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation world over, including housing, urban development, education, health, livelihood, water and sanitation, environment, water and power, tourism etc.

Houses provide security to the inmates not only from the inclement weather but also from the more physical threats all around. House is the basic unit of an integrated social structure, a sine qua non for a peaceful, prosperous and forward-looking society. But October 2005 earthquake robbed the people of the affected areas from this facility.

Just behold these luminous houses with shiny roof tops and happy occupants in harmony with the beautiful nature presenting an almost dream-like situation. The owner-driven Rural Housing Program with assisted and inspected construction is ERRA’s Flagship program showing success rate of more than 90%. It has helped construction of more than 400,000 seismically safe houses for the earthquake-affected people. While the project is almost complete, it will leave about 700,000 trained human resource for seismically safe reconstruction.

ERRA is cognizant of the fact that the provision of clean water is one of the basic requirements of a self-sufficient house. Easy availability of clean water has been instrumental in better family health as well as reduction in women’s workload, besides preventing water-related diseases. Moreover, ERRA has also used the novel experience of Rain Water Harvesting as one of the best alternative and supplementary solution to mitigate water scarcity.

Scarcity usually hit hard the vulnerable segments of the society including women. Besides, introducing gender mainstreaming, ERRA has also coordinated the establishment of social safety networks that provide institutionalized protection facilitating their access to legal aid, medical services and livelihood opportunities. Such centres are being established in all the nine earthquake-affected districts. Community livelihood program that supports community level micro projects identified by the communities themselves, such as kitchen gardening, irrigation channels, provision of better quality of seeds etc. is yet another bold initiative taken by ERRA. The success of the initiative would go a long way in enabling the people of the earthquake areas to lead a self-sufficient life.

This provides an ideal environment for education and equally important is the body language. There is a greater desire for enlightenment on faces with lofty dreams in their eyes. The seismically safe educational buildings with trained teaching staff and modern day facilities are attracting high enrollment. ERRA implemented new techniques to fast track the pace of reconstruction and to bring back normalcy in the affected areas. Disability is no longer a disability for earthquake affected people who suffered injuries owing to this colossal tragedy. ERRA’s Medical rehabilitation program for disabled persons not only provides 8% quota for disabled persons to work and earn a respectable living, but the related centers provide best medical facilities to persons with disability, along with training community rehabilitation workers.

Bringing elected representatives on board, introducing the latest technologies, adopting a community-driven approach for reconstruction of schools, outsourcing designing of projects to meet timelines, third party material checking regime, smooth flow of funds to SERRA and PERRA, contactors facilitation centres coupled with a greater degree of transparency and media access are but some of the hallmarks of the new policy initiatives introduced by ERRA to further enhance reconstruction efforts. But mind it, ERRA is not just about brick and mortar, rather it aims at changing lives through interventions, partnerships and sharing knowledge. No doubt, ERRA has done wonders and set precedents for the world to follow.

No doubt, since its realization, ERRA has met unparalleled success but the progress made in its fourth year has outperformed the previous three years. Courtesy its hard-work, dedication and commitment, ERRA has won an enviable prestige with the latest steps like improvement in procurement and contract management, establishment of project implementation and coordination unit, transparency and flexibility in financial matters and granting greater autonomy to PERRA and SERRA. Not only are the efforts visible on ground but have attracted international appreciation also thus becoming one of the prides of the nation. And with integrity, accountability and transparency its guiding principles, ERRA is likely to be an example to be quoted in the field of post disaster management.

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