Lose Your Land Or Lose Your Life?

Pakistani volunteers rush to a helicopter to unload relief goods in Maidan, northwestern Pakistan, Friday, Jan 6, 2006. The snow is waist-high, food stocks are running dangerously low and villagers say a number of their children have died of the cold since the devastating earthquake struck three months ago. (AP Photo/En-Lai Yeoh)
AP Photo
The snow is waist-deep, food stocks are dangerously low and villagers say the cold has killed several of their children since a devastating earthquake three months ago.

But most residents of northwestern Pakistan's remote Maidan village won't be leaving for warmer lowland camps, because they have no land deeds and fear moving could cost them their homes.

Their forefathers had simply settled the area and claimed it, said village elder Saleem Khan.

"This is an undocumented area, and we have no titles to our land," he said.

Scores of families left the village of 5,000 people after the Oct. 8 quake damaged about half its homes and killed five villagers. Other families have taken over some abandoned wood-and-mud houses, or raided them for supplies.

The quake killed about 87,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless in northwestern Pakistan and its portion of Kashmir, a territory also claimed by neighboring India.

Like Maidan, many affected areas are unreachable by road, even during summer.

Residents say the village, about 6,890 feet high, began getting aid two months after the quake.

They say they depend on U.N. helicopter food deliveries, and have just a little yogurt and maize left. They have also started slaughtering livestock, a prized asset, to survive.

Weather affects chopper deliveries, which were suspended when three days of heavy snowstorms struck around Jan. 1. But even a possible a supply halt won't budge Maidan's remaining residents.

Majid Khan, 22, who has worked as a driver in major city of Karachi, said he had only about 3,000 rupees (US$50) in savings, but would not leave his family home for fear it will be taken over.

"I'm not going anywhere until all my money and food run out," he said.

Villagers also lack warm clothes and sturdy footwear. As soon as the sun comes out, children, constantly coughing and sneezing as they wade through 3-foot-deep snow, try vainly to dry their shoes and socks.

"We still see many children who are not even adequately dressed, with sometimes only sandals to wear on their feet," said Pete Sykes, Pakistan emergency program manager for relief agency Save The Children.

Saleem Khan, the village elder, said about 30 children have died from the weather since Oct. 8. His statement could not immediately be verified.