BALAKOT (ILO Online) - "I was working in the office when the quake struck. Everyone rushed out and knew there was a quake... I saw trees and buildings falling down...", says Benaris, one of the 1.1 million people who lost their jobs, their livelihoods and more when the earthquake struck Pakistan.
His town, Balakot, was one of the hardest hit. About 80 per cent of the buildings there lie in ruin with crumbled walls becoming the temporary tombstones for those whose bodies were buried beneath.
"When I came into the street, I saw many women and children under the rubble, many children stuck under the rubble of the school and I helped pull them out", continues Benaris. "I was on my way home. Normally I would have taken a particular road, but I couldn't find the path... I couldn't even recognize my home... I will never forget that horrible day as long as I live."
The bridge in Balakot remained miraculously intact. Hundreds of refugees are fleeing the mountains to reach the town. Survivors looking for help, looking for hope... and for work.
Compounding the devastation is the fact that the areas affected are among the poorest in Pakistan. The ILO estimates that total employment in the affected region was around 2.4 million at the time of the disaster and that over 2 million of these workers and their families were living below the poverty line of less than US$2 per person per day before the disaster struck.
Cash-for-work: rebuilding lives
Now as survivors try to pick up the pieces of their lives, the ILO is working hand in hand with local authorities to help people in some of the worst affected areas rebuild their lives. In Balakot, a pilot emergency employment programme is underway.
The cash-for-work programme focusing on critical minor infrastructure repairs and the removal of earthquake debris has been developed for replication and roll-out across the area. The scheme - the only one of its kind in the town - aims to inject cash back into the local economy while helping people get back to work and support themselves.
"People are taking this work as a source of increasing their dignity and increasing their self esteem … it empowers them and gives them their own choices", explains Saad Gillani, ILO Project Coordinator.
Another beneficiary added: "We used to stand in lines and get pushed around. Our self respect would be affected, we felt uncomfortable, but now by earning this money, we can go and buy what we need. For every rupee we get, it feels like ten because we've earned it."
After only 2 weeks, the program has employed more than 800 people cleaning city streets, improving sanitation and making the living areas more habitable. The project pays special attention to the most vulnerable groups including the needs of women and young people in the region who traditionally have found it difficult to find decent employment.
The programme will soon be expanded to reach other affected areas in Pakistan. The ILO is seeking funds for US$5 million as part of a larger UN Flash Appeal for joint projects during early recovery and reconstruction.
In addition to cash-for-work programmes, other projects include rehabilitating key access infrastructure, emergency employment services, labour-intensive reconstruction schemes and skills development programmes to help livelihood rebuilding, recreation and reconstruction. Child protection programmes to prevent children entering hazardous work or being trafficked add to these reconstruction programmes.
But rebuilding a community of proud people that has endured for generations on its own will take more than bricks and mortar. It will take work that offers dignity, possibility and hope. "There's been a visible change in mood, a spark in their eyes, hope … they are now planning to rebuild their houses, and the only way they can do that is to earn money from work", concludes Gillani.