Official says location is the best option but critics see lack of infrastructure Shakeel Qadir Khan is the man charged with the monumental task of shifting an entire city. Balakot was once a thriving riverside community of 50,000. But since the October 8 earthquake, it has laid in ruins, with up to 20,000 of its residents thought to have been killed. Ninety per cent of all buildings were destroyed, forcing survivors to take refuge in hundreds of tent villages scattered across the North-West Frontier Province. They will never return to live in their home town, the government having recently declared the city unsalvageable due to the fact it lies on major seismic fault lines. The government has stopped all reconstruction work and decided to shift the town to a safer location. Though the site for the new city has not been formally announced, Mr Khan, a top official from the nearby town of Mansehra, said a location named Bakaryaal had been selected. 'It is about 20km away from the old Balakot city and lies outside the red zone,' he said, referring to the 10km-wide stretch of land around the destroyed city that was declared unsafe by a team of foreign experts. Their seismic report found that Balakot lay on three major fault lines. Mr Khan said he believed the proposed site offered the best alternative, despite the fact it too had suffered numerous aftershocks since the October quake. 'Detailed survey of the land there will start soon and we hope it is less prone to major shocks compared with the old city,' he said. It is hoped that the new 'model city' will be ready to accommodate 6,000 families within three years. Buildings there will follow a strict building-safety code specially tailored to the quake-affected areas. 'The idea is to provide safe and decent living to those who lost their homes in the tragedy and help them start a new life,' Mr Khan said. Not everyone is so confident about the plan, which has met criticism from residents who do not want to move, as well as from planning experts. The latter fear the relocation will involve several logistical, administrative and cultural nightmares. 'The new area lacks basic infrastructure. The poor road access and the frequent landslides during the summer monsoon rains will make it extremely unlikely to finish the project in time,' said Aisar-ul Haq, a professor of the town planning department at Peshawar University. 'It is very ambitious to say that the relocation phase would be over in three years.' Creating temporary settlements for thousands of survivors currently housed in camps, who had been expecting to go home soon, will constitute another administrative dilemma. 'Until they make the new city, the people who are affected by the relocation process will have to be accommodated in proper quake-proof shelters where they can easily remain for a few years,' said Mr Haq. He said the cultural environment of the area was another factor to be taken into account, as it could easily jeopardise the success of the scheme. 'People in that area follow a distinct lifestyle which is mainly based on privacy for their women. We have to make sure this aspect is not lost in the new design,' he said. 'The model city needs to fit in with the local culture in order to make it a success.' Also, a stream of money will be essential to make the dream of New Balakot even a possibility. The authorities in Islamabad hope international pledges totalling US$6.2 billion made in the wake of the earthquake will materialise soon.