IOM starts debris removal in quake area

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is to start clearing earthquake debris from parts of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, a region devastated by the 8 October disaster that killed at least 80,000 people.

“We are starting the removal of rubble in Muzaffarabad on Friday. We’ve been assigned sector eight, which has a lot of government buildings in it and our first phase is to take that sector on,” Hugh Smith, head of IOM’s office in Muzaffarabad, said on Wednesday.

The city has been divided into nine districts. Sector eight is among the first where rubble removal will start. “If the money keeps coming in, it will take about two months,” the IOM official added.

IOM’s clearance project consists of two components. The organisation will act as contractor, bringing in heavy machinery, including loaders. “We are also having a cash-for-work (CFW) component, where people will be using jack hammers and other tools. So it is going to be both. It’s a mix designed to get the rubble cleared quickly,” Smith explained.

According to the IOM, the quake left over 40 million cubic metres of rubble in Muzaffarabad. Reconstruction will not be able to start until the majority of it has been removed from the area, officials said.

“Rebuilding of schools, hospitals, public buildings and other minor community infrastructure is of primary importance. Removing rubble is the first step towards the early recovery process,” Haoliang Xu, Country Director for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Pakistan, said in a statement earlier.

The mass of broken concrete, bricks, stones and twisted metal will be taken to four approved sites near Muzaffarabad for eventual recycling.

“The city administration and the IOM have agreed that the [dump] sites need to be environmentally friendly, so there could be a recycling component: the debris could be broken down into materials that could be used in the future,” Smith explained.