Police break up protest by quake refugees

Pakistani police using canes and rifle butts broke up a march on Friday by earthquake survivors protesting what they said were orders to evict them from a makeshift refugee camp. Police made several arrests but denied they were forcing people to leave.

Meanwhile, international lenders estimated the economic cost of the quake at more than $5-billion, while doctors struggled to contain disease outbreaks and rainstorms compounded the misery of thousands of homeless.

The violence broke out as about 200 people marched through a street in central Muzaffarabad, one of the towns hit hardest by the October 8 magnitude-7,6 temblor. About 50 officers blocked their way and then began dispersing the crowd.
Among those injured was a man left lying by the roadside.

Several men were dragged away and police were seen kicking some protesters as they lay on the ground.

Police arrived early on Friday at the Jalalabad Garden camp in a public park, telling quake victims to leave by 5pm local time, witnesses said.

“They said they would come with bulldozers, so we protested,” said Salim Shah, who was left lying injured by the road after being beaten. “We have no other place to go.”

However, the senior superintendent of the Muzaffarabad police, Yasin Qureshi, denied there were any orders to clear the camp.

“We have not been directed to get these people out of here,” Qureshi said. He said 10 people were arrested for violating a ban on demonstrations. There was no immediate explanation for the differing accounts about the alleged eviction order.

Quake survivors have been setting up informal camps all over the city, most of them lacking adequate sanitation and considered to constitute a public health risk.

The quake centered in the divided Kashmir region killed about 86 000 people in Pakistani territory and another 1 350 in India, destroying bridges, roads and the homes of more than three million people, along with hospitals, government offices and more than 10 000 schools.

High cost of quake relief

Quake relief, compensation for lost livelihoods and reconstruction costs will total about $5,2-billion, according to a joint report issued on Friday by the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Reconstruction alone will cost $3,5-billion, the banks said.

Their report will serve as a benchmark for giving at a conference of international donors to be held in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on November 19.

“The estimates are still preliminary and are likely to rise as more of the damaged areas are surveyed,” Salman Shah, a financial adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister, told reporters at a news conference on the report’s findings.

Monetary costs of the quake appeared limited because the region’s economy is largely based on agriculture and there was little impact on industry or trade. Infrastructure in the region was basic and most destroyed homes were simple stone farmhouses built of locally sourced materials.

Cost estimates come amid growing alarm over shortfalls in donations for quake victims, a stark contrast to the outpouring of aid to those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

The United Nations says it needs $550-million in emergency aid for quake victims, but donors have pledged only $131-million. By comparison, $13,5-billion was pledged to victims of Asia’s December 26 tsunami.

Diseases

A month after quake victims started moving to tent villages, poor sanitation and overcrowding have sparked fears of infectious diseases. The UN Children’s Fund is launching a two-week campaign starting on Saturday to immunise 800 000 children in the quake zone up to age 15 from diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria and tetanus.

Meanwhile, the army vowed on Friday to track down and treat about 20 people who had possible contact with a six-month-old boy who nearly died this week from a suspected case of the highly infectious respiratory disease diphtheria.

Four cases of diphtheria have been reported in the quake zone, but only one confirmed—a four-year-old boy who died in hospital in Islamabad. But health workers fear an outbreak unless villagers in the remote Neelum Valley who stayed with the six-month old boy are urgently given penicillin and immunised.

The baby boy, Riaz Malik, is in a stable condition in an Islamabad hospital.

Outbreaks of acute diarrhoea were also been treated and rain and workers were rushing to deliver aid ahead of coming snows as cold rains fell and temperatures began to dip below freezing in highland villages.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report from Muzaffarabad

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