Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sideswipe

By Ana Samways

While visiting Riverton Pauline Ereckson learned not only do Southlanders roll their "rs" when they talk, they do it when they write too.

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Alex Chiu lives in San Francisco and is best known for is his apparent discovery of immortality. He likens his achievements to that of Einstein and Edison and claims to use "more advanced technology than Star Trek". The Eternal Life Rings, which look like industrial nuts, are worn on the pinkies of a user while they sleep (sister product, the Eternal Life Foot Braces, are worn on all toes). He says the fingers and toes are the negative and positive terminals of your body and "protect your body from germs and diseases as it keeps you immortal". Don't believe him? Read this convincing testimonial from Crystal Shu: "A few months ago my hair started to fall off. Every day I see lots of hair on my pillow which really scared me to death. Doctor couldn't find a reason. I used boar hair comb to brush my hair. I ate supplements, I tried hair creams. Was forced to wear a weg [sic] where ever I go. I bear so much stress which made me cry to bed each night. I am a single mother who has a 9-year-old daughter. What happens if the falling of my hair is a sign of a more complicated disease which will cause a breakdown of my health? After wearing your finger device for two months, my full head of hair came back. I don't know how it happened, but it happened. I heard a lack of blood circulation could kill the roots of the hair. Probably the rings have thrust circulation into my hair again. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your invention and your intelligence, I could not live through this. Now I found a nice job at a frame shop." (Source: liveforevernow.com).

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A man has caused an uproar in an Oklahoma town by advertising for a virgin to be his bride. Michael Thelemann, 45, put up a sign in his yard saying he would pay $1000 for a virgin bride between the ages of 12 and 24. Days later, no one had taken him up on his offer, but he had heard several negative comments from neighbours, which he didn't understand. He said his grandmother married "a much older man" at age 14. "I'm just somebody who is getting up there in years, and I'm looking for a born-again, God-fearing virgin between the ages of 12 and 24 who can bear me children. What's the problem?" (Source: Kansas Star).

Editorial: Australian judge's fear is justified

It comes as a shock that an Australian federal judge would refuse an extradition order to New Zealand on the grounds that two men accused of sexually abusing children might not get a fair trial in this country. The case concerns paedophilia at the Marylands children's home in Christchurch in the 1970s, for which one former member of the Catholic order of St John of God, Brother Bernard McGrath, has recently been convicted. Another brother, Roger Moloney, and a priest of the order, Father Raymond Garchow, were to face trial on similar offences until their extradition was refused last Friday.

Our system of justice, we suppose, is second to none in the Commonwealth and practically identical, we would have thought, to that of our nearest neighbour. But the decision of Australia's Justice Madgwick should not be dismissed as nonsense or "insulting", as one or two local lawyers were quick to do.

The judge has criticised elements of the way New Zealand courts handle complaints of child abuse allegedly committed long ago. Australian judges are obliged to warn juries of the difficulties a defendant faces when trying to answer for events 20 or more years before. New Zealand courts do not see the same need.

In fact, in Justice Madgwick's words, "It appears the courts in that country [ours] have set their face against" the principles set out in Australian case law about warnings to the jury when so much time has elapsed that an accused person would be unable to summon evidence to challenge the uncorroborated recollections of a complainant. He refers to a 1995 decision of the New Zealand Court of Appeal which doubted the possibility of direct supporting evidence being available to a person accused of sexual misconduct when alone with the complainant.

But the reasoning of the Australian case is superior. Closer to the event there may be co-workers, doctors, school inspectors, social workers, nurses, visitors and guardians whose observations and records might have provided "context" evidence that would help a jury to reach a verdict. And if the person was innocent of an offence in an incident long ago, he would be much less likely than the complainant to have clear memory of events.

The Australian judge also has concerns about the way in which the child sex abuse investigation was carried out. He notes that the St John of God brothers publicly invited complaints from former residents of their Christchurch home, establishing a dedicated telephone number for them. The order publicly suggested it would pay compensation to those who took their complaints to the police.

It engaged a psychologist to help complainants. Justice Madgwick says the psychologist "seems to have adopted methodologies which, however helpful in the purely psychological context, appear, in the context of projected criminal trials, unusual". He refers to the prompting of some witnesses during interviews and the fact that complainants had attended "victims' rights" meetings. He was also concerned at the New Zealand practice of hearing multiple complaints in the same trial. "A high degree of prejudice would appear to arise from the joint trial of any charges involving separate complainants," he said.

He would prefer to surrender the accused to New Zealand's jurisdiction ("Australians generally would wish for the same degree of respect for our criminal justice system") but concludes that Australia's Extradition Act gives him no choice if he has grounds to believe the accused may face "an injustice".

His decision should not be resented here. The cross-fertilisation of Commonwealth jurisdictions is one of the strengths of our system. This is an instance where our justice has been genuinely found deficient. We need to deal with it.

Fran O'Sullivan: Long road to free-trade deal

Phil Goff acquitted himself well in his first major outing in Washington with the dual trade and defence portfolios.

But there's a long way to go before the upbeat atmosphere around his visit translates into the sort of action that will finally get New Zealand into the United States' negotiating queue for free-trade deals.

His political opponents, like National Party foreign affairs spokesman Murray McCully who, with party leader Don Brash, was also along waving the flag in a rare display of bipartisanship abroad, say it will take a five-year project to restore NZ's standing to the level at which a free-trade deal becomes a certainty.

What is clear is that the Bush Administration still views its trading relationships through a bipolar prism.

Each bilateral or regional deal its trade negotiators have cemented or have in front of them has either a major economic aspect or a foreign policy or national security rider - frequently both.

That's what makes it hard for a small country like New Zealand to develop a compelling case when it does not have a large domestic economy and, from a US perspective, chose to be less relevant in security terms when it passed anti-nuclear legislation nearly two decades ago.

From an economic perspective, the US might be our second-largest trading partner - we are 43rd on their list.

But the politicians and diplomats are hanging in: If we can cement a bilateral deal that matches Australia's, there will be a considerable upside for agricultural exporters and service providers who would be able to bid for valuable US Government contracts.

It would also restore some trading imbalances which have arisen since Canberra bagged its deal.

Brash was right to say on his return that the nuclear issue remains an irritant. He believes there are few prospects of a free-trade deal and went so far as to say that some members of the Bush Administration have made it clear there will be no deal unless New Zealand's position changes.

Ryan Henry, of the US Defence Department, told Brash the nuclear policy was the elephant under the table.

Protocol dictated that Brash's own appointments were one step down from Goff's. Apart, that is, from Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick, with whom Brash, and National MP Tim Groser, a former World Trade Organisation diplomat, talked global trade politics.

Zoellick, who was formerly US trade tsar, also raised the nuclear issue during his discussions with Goff.

Goff hit the issue head-on in a speech to the inaugural United States New Zealand Partnership Forum. But Brash, perhaps not wanting to be questioned on the issue, declined to go full frontal in his own speech.

Here's my view after taking the pulse of the relationship for a few days.

One, there are still big mismatches in perception over the nuclear issue which need substantial bridging. In New Zealand, we tend (rightly or - in my view - wrongly) to see the anti-nuclear legislation as a policy choice: The defining move by a small Western democracy to put a stake in the ground as part of the drive for a nuclear-free South Pacific.

Goff told the forum the bilateral relationship should not be defined by the disagreement on one particular issue. Rather, we should look at how we can add new value to our relationship in a way that meets both of our needs in the post-September 11 world.

The challenge ahead is to build a relationship based on our common values that looks forward and serves both our national interests in the 21st century.

From a US perspective, a focus on common values is not enough - it's the differences which still tend to define the two countries. Hence the nuclear issue is seen through another lens. The decision to pass legislation banning nuclear-propelled or armed ships from our shores is seen by some as a strike against the post-World War II security architecture which removed an essential strut from a three-way alliance which had served the parties well.

Building the new relationship Goff talks about involves discussions on what the security architecture should be - no easy matter when it was New Zealand which chose to be less relevant in the first place.

Two. The nuclear issue is not a deal-breaker when it comes to getting a US free-trade deal.

But it is the negative New Zealand does not need when it comes to getting in the United States' free-trade queue in the first place. Goff has made play of former US Secretary of State George Shultz's comment that retaliation for the nuclear legislation should not be economic - any sanctions should be security-related.

But that was then. The problem now is that even if support can be gained at Administration level to get New Zealand into the negotiating queue, it might be difficult mustering support on Capitol Hill to get the resulting legislation over the line.

Why would the President use his political capital up when there are bigger fish to fry?

Three. Despite the negatives, there are still opportunities for New Zealand to get into the free-trade queue.

We have some powerful allies, like the US Chamber of Commerce, who are arguing our case and a bevy of well-connected congressional allies. Goff has presented an option for the US to negotiate a quick demonstration deal with New Zealand if Washington runs into difficulties with South Korea and Malaysia, two bigger countries which it is negotiating with for economic reasons.

But some question this reality, suggesting any demonstration effect might be illusory, given the lack of substance in some of New Zealand's recent bilateral free-trade deals which are seen more as social or even fluff rather than models of comprehensiveness.

Four. New Zealand might come through the back door if the WTO fails to deliver a substantive result.

Proposals for an Asia-Pacific free-trade area are expected at this year's Apec meeting if the WTO round either fails or delivers a quick win for public relations efforts.

New Zealand is in the vanguard pushing for this Plan B, which has been given impetus by our Apec Business Council representatives.

It is not the most desirable result given the high priority attached to a multilateral win, but would ensure the US remains relevant in a Pacific where it has been left out of the recent Asian trade architecture.

Five. The new Partnership Forum will over time help to overcome differences in the way of a deal with the US. I can't say anything about the detailed discussions at the partnership forum I attended as a founding director of the NZ US Council. The forum was held under the Chatham House rule.

But my take is that it was an overwhelming positive and can only help to create renewed understandings which will ultimately benefit New Zealand business.

Brian Rudman: Travelling full speed ahead down the motorway to nowhere

As oil prices rocket into the stratosphere and Antarctica melts into the sea as a result of global warning, what do our politicians focus on? Building more highways through Auckland and, because the existing ones don't work, devising ways to tax the poorest road users out of their cars.

The Ministry of Transport's consultation exercise promoting "road pricing" as a solution to Auckland road congestion is yet another desperate attempt by petrol-sniffing bureaucrats and politicians to avoid the obvious.

That the 50-year reign of King Road has left Auckland transport in a state of near-paralysis and it's time to rejoin the rest of the civilised world and establish a modern, 21st century public transport system.

At least the regional councillors at last week's Regional Land Transport Committee appear to have noted the less-than-enthusiastic discussion that accompanied the ministry's massive road pricing options report, taken the hint and given it the thumbs-down.

This is more than can be said for the assorted city councillors from across the region on the committee who see road pricing as a last straw worth grabbing at. Even though it's no answer, as the report, if they'd read it carefully, makes clear.

The reality is, this whole road pricing exercise is a pointless and expensive sideshow, and from the careful neutrality of Government comment, one suspects ministers are hoping the quicker the whole show is relegated to a dusty ministry shelf and forgotten, the better.

Putting aside all the inequities and inefficiencies of road pricing, as a solution to Auckland's transport woes it has one glaring fault.

If it actually succeeds in its mission of freeing up the motorways by pricing motorists out of their cars, this will trigger the immediate collapse, from overloading, of our grossly inadequate public transport system.

Now call me stupid, but wouldn't it be more sensible, before you try to force people off the highways, to have in place an alternative rapid transport system?

Indeed, chances are if such an option were available, enough motorists would happily take to it, what with congestion and fuel price hikes, before the stick of road pricing was even waved in their direction.

The Government talks the public transport jargon, but remains in the thrall of the road builders.

The people of Auckland, via the regional council, have a $1.6 billion public transport investment plan spread over 10 years which would revolutionise passenger transport.

But we're $700 million short, and cannot realistically expect to finance the difference out of property rate increases.

This means that without Government help, a modern, electrified commuter rail service is out of reach.

But without it, all the road pricing in the world will solve nothing, except make travel on the motorways faster for truck drivers and others who can pass the costs on, and passengers in Crown limousines.

If there is no more money in the Government coffers to do both roads and public transport, then the answer is to reprioritise. Dip into the roads budget and buy some electric trains instead, and dig that 70-year-old dream rail tunnel under Auckland.

A recent paper by Australian urban planners Paul Mees and Jago Dodson refers to Auckland as "an extreme case study" of "one of the most extreme automobile-oriented transport policies pursued by any major city between the 1950s and 1980s".

Auckland is "one of the world's most car-dependent" cities while "public transport usage rates are among the lowest in the world".

They point to bureaucrats and politicians who mouth pro-public transport platitudes but are locked into pro-road policies.

The ARC transport planning model is, they say, biased in favour of motorways. They point to public transport use declining by more than half between 1986 and 1991 as a consequence of privatisation and a fall-off in services.

The two academics don't leave central Government off the hook.

They note the lack of a national agency responsible for planning public transport within New Zealand's cities in contrast to Transit New Zealand, which has "substantial organisational capacity to advocate for new road construction.

Hence while the roads agency has direct access to the Minister of Transport, there is no such avenue of access for public transport advocacy."

Every Aucklander should read this paper.

Then start advocating. You'll find it in "publications" on the website www.griffith.edu.au/centre/urp/

Rod Lyons: Tax breaks best remedy for sick public health system

There can be little argument that despite the vast amounts of public money poured into the public health system the patient is in a parlous state.

Reports of figure fudging by the Government and the various district health boards suggest nothing positive is being done and the outlook remains bleak. Frankly, there is little chance of recovery under the present practice and I do not believe more public funds will lead to any real improvement.

What is required is a new and radical approach to use all health resources in the country and ensure the total money spent is used more effectively. Two major steps would, I believe, have a great impact on the health treatment prospects of all New Zealanders.

First, make all money spent on private health treatment tax-deductible (perhaps to a maximum of 33c in the dollar).

Before anyone pooh-poohs this idea, let us look at the real impact. If a patient requiring hip surgery, for example, were to spend the $15,000 or so required in the private health sector, it would free another space in the public system at a cost of only $5000.

No doubt the Finance Minister would say the Treasury cannot afford such largesse but if the money came from the health budget there would be no impact on government income.

The result, however, would be to relieve three private patients at the cost of one public operation, get three people back in the workforce paying taxes and also release three surgical spaces in the queue for the public health system.

Second, if contributions to health insurance funds were also made tax deductible, many more people would take insurance up. This would relieve pressure on the public health system and again, the money could come from the health budget, making no financial impact on the Treasury.

No doubt the nay-sayers will claim this approach would create a two-tiered health system but that is really what we have today, except we would have more being treated privately.

There are huge additional positive benefits. Public waiting lists would be truly reduced instead of the cosmetic changes we see today, designed only to make the figures look good.

People would be encouraged to take care of themselves rather than relying on the Government and the private health insurance, care and treatment industries would flourish, and undoubtedly contribute additional tax dollars.

The question which needs to be asked is: Could this type of reform take place under the present socialist government?

If one recalls the greatest health reforms in Australia took place under Gough Whitlam's Labour Government, there is nothing to say it could not also happen here but if it takes a change of government then that would be a small price to pay to cure the ailing patient which is our health system.

Nobody would be left behind as the public system would be there as a backstop but it would no longer be cluttered up by people who could afford to take responsibility for their own needs.

While analysing this approach whatever government is in power should also look at associated areas of public expenditure. The one which comes most immediately to mind is superannuation.

Making employee superannuation contributions tax deductible at 33c in the dollar to a maximum of say $30,000 (in Australia this is around $70,000) would, if invested in New Zealand-focused funds, result in the investment industry flourishing.

However, the main impact would be to encourage the people of New Zealand to take control and provide for themselves and their futures and lead us out of the "nanny state" into which this country has fallen.

* Rod Lyons has no interest in the health industry except as a consumer. He does have private health insurance.

Tracey Barnett: Cultural anorexia rules in the land of number eight wire

You're starting to piss me off, New Zealand. I stopped counting internet entries for "Tall Poppy" at 491 only because I thought cultural commentators here must stutter.

If the sum total of New Zealand's cultural identity is height-enhanced opiates, number eight-wire ingenuity, and "she'll be right", I'm packing my Buzzy Bee tea towels and heading back to the land of despot wannabes, Cheneyville.

There is a benefit to knowing how you are seen in the world's eyes. I'm here to tell you New Zealand needs glasses. Let's call it cultural anorexia. You seem to know who you are, but always skewed on the skinny side.

If I stand an Aucklander in front of a mirror and say you look lithe and athletic, all you can tell me about your reflection is clogged motorways, a revolting domestic violence rate and long surgery queues.

You nod patriotically about the beautiful beaches then ask wistfully, "Have you ever been to [fill in the blank] - now there's a city."

Standing atop Mt Victoria on a sunny day watching the sparkling diamonds in the water reflecting at me like a million tiny cliches, I think, am I missing something here? Just keep telling yourself like a mantra, "Childhood asthma rates suck. Childhood asthma rates suck."

When I take overseas visitors to the Otara market and they spend the morning laughing with vendors and counting the number of produce they can't even identify, like a true Aucklander I tell them, "Yeah, but Otara probably has the highest hubcap-pinching rate in the city, so look, don't fall in love."

Then over a dinner of fried Sydneysiders on toast with a Jafa friend, I consider doing a serious intervention. I throw open my wallet and unfurl the newspaper clipping that has the new Mercer quality of living survey listing Wellington as the 12th-best city to live in the world.

"Well, that makes absolute sense," you mumble into your cup o' half-empty, "I've been wanting to move there for years. Except for their weather."

But by then, I pounce. Auckland, we have been deemed to be the fifth-best city to live in in the entire world. Hello? Why don't you put that in your Blackberry and smoke it?

Yes, to the rest of the world, New Zealand is about stunning physical beauty, the All Blacks, and jumping from an oversized rubber band.

But there is an unstated respect to this simplistic portrait that you seem to appreciate only after you've jetted off on your two-year OE to Armpit, New Jersey. The quality of life here is your richest natural resource.

It hit home for me first when I showed up for school parent interviews after the summer holidays. As I waited for the teacher, I stared at a wall full of children's drawings about what they did on their summer break. Every picture showed a child on a beach or a river, fishing or hiking, boogie boarding or in a boat.

It suddenly occurred to me that is your little secret to success. The kid in Remuera and the kid in Henderson and the kid in Gore and the kid in Otara are drawing the same picture. Some stayed in million-dollar baches, but most of us stayed in a $14-a-night DoC campground with the $14 million-dollar view.

Right outside your window you have the greatest societal playing field leveller of all - universal access to beautiful resources that anybody of any circumstance can enjoy.

The greatest economic and cultural asset you have is staring at you out of your window. There it sits amid a stable, neutral, independent-minded Government, a societal commitment to social services, and a Prime Minister who looks good in red. What more do you need?

I'm no sex slave for the New Zealand tourist board. I know we are short on long-range vision and long on short fixes. "She'll be right" needed to become just "Do it right" long ago.

Then when I see a murder take the lead story on the news, I find myself thinking, "Look, how quaint. The entire country feels bad about it."

I grew up in the Chicago area, a land where the only time someone gets upset about a murder is if the body lands near your mailbox and becomes a speed bump when you back out of the driveway.

I thought this country had grown up and cultivated a respectable nonchalance about crime, second only to multiple varieties of pesto on the grocery shelves as an indicator of cultural maturity.

But no, here you are again, genuinely upset about a young man stuffed into a suitcase or a German hitchhiker found dead in the bush. Rotarians graciously house their grieving families, the aberrant act still making front-page headlines. Birgit Brauer's father said, "Even New Zealand has black sheep." Even New Zealand.

New Zealand, to most of the world you are the end of the rainbow, the Willy Wonka winning ticket. Even in murder, your kindness fuels the very thing you do not see in yourselves. Most of the world envies you.

So put on some weight and drop the cultural anorexian musings of "But I bet in your country they do it bigger/richer/better". Because this cocktail you mixed here at the bottom of the world is the recipe more than 3 million international visitors a year will want to see by 2011.

Maybe by then "She'll be right".

* Tracey Barnett is an American journalist working in Auckland.

Jim Eagles: Living in sin may be costly

Having had their previous marriage plans blocked by our competition watchdog, Air New Zealand and Qantas now hope we'll all be happy if they live in sin instead. They've even agreed to call off their earlier engagement (with Air NZ promising to repay the $98 million dowry it got from Qantas).

But should their proposed codeshare on the transtasman market really make Kiwi travellers happy? I'm far from convinced.

It is certainly true that the international aviation market is a tough place to survive and a tiny sparrow like Air NZ is at particular risk of being torn to pieces by bigger, richer birds of prey. It is also true that if Air NZ can get into bed with Qantas - the fattest buzzard in this part of the world - it can do a lot to improve profits and safeguard its future.

But what is good for Air NZ is not necessarily good for the country in general or for the individual traveller.

When it came to the planned marriage of the two, the Commerce Commission ruled that securing the existence of our national carrier was a lot less important than preserving competition in the aviation industry. It concluded that if Air NZ and Qantas were allowed to get together prices would rise and service levels would fall.

The proposal to live in sin offers some improvements over the previous scheme. It avoids the problem of how to deal with the domestic market and it maintains the present level of competition in the Pacific and long-haul markets.

But it still has serious implications for the transtasman market which is, after all, crucial to New Zealand travellers. More than half the trips we make overseas each year are to Australia and a high proportion of the rest go via Australia.

In support of their proposal Air NZ and Qantas argue that the transtasman market is highly competitive with 13 airlines battling for passengers.

But the fact is the two airlines, and their low-cost subsidiaries, have around 70 per cent of that market with the others only nibbling round the edges.

Furthermore, the nine airlines which share the remaining 30 per cent mostly cross the Tasman as part of longhaul routes which start and finish elsewhere. By the time they get to New Zealand they often don't have many empty seats, usually depart at strange hours and offer limited timetables.

If you're a casual traveller looking for a cheap flight to Sydney and don't care about the timing, that sort of arrangement is great. But if you're a business person heading for a meeting, or a family planning a holiday in Adelaide, Air NZ and Qantas are probably your only option.

The Commerce Commission's decisions and practice notes indicate it is not keen on arrangements between organisations which between them control 40 per cent of a market, let alone 70 per cent. That is for a good reason. Competition keeps companies honest.

The two airlines have indicated that the economies from codesharing will mostly come from reducing the number of services. For instance, Air NZ and Qantas fly 10 times a day between Auckland and Sydney. They plan to reduce that to eight, though the flights will be spread more evenly through the day.

With fewer flights, and fewer empty seats to be filled, what does logic suggest will happen? As Brent Thomas, retail manager for House of Travel observes, "The reality is that with this scenario comes reduced capacity and the simple laws of economics tell us that at some point in the future ... airfares on the Tasman will rise."

Of course. If the two big supermarket chains were allowed to co-ordinate prices and shut down stores close to each other, if the big oil companies were given approval to work together openly, if Telecom was allowed to sort out phone charges with Telstra Clear and Vodafone, would you expect prices to rise or fall?

Air NZ and Qantas maintain that, contrary to what happens everywhere else, by working together they will be able to afford to retain the present low airfares.

But when the Commerce Commission looked specifically at the effect the proposed merger on the transtasman market it concluded that within three years fares would rise by 16 per cent.

And there seems to be little difference between the effect the merger would have had on the transtasman market and the way the new codeshare scheme will work.

What is different this time is that unlike the merger plan the codeshare proposal does not have to get approval from the Commerce Commission. It only requires the assent of the Minister of Transport.

That is a worry. If the marriage had gone ahead, Finance Minister Michael Cullen would have been best man at the wedding, so eager was he to get rid of his responsibilities as financial godfather to Air NZ.

Hopefully this time Cullen and his colleagues will give more thought to the reality that if marriage between Air NZ and Qantas would have been bad for the children - the travelling public - there's no reason to think living in sin will be any better.

Georgina Newman: Now Pakistan must rebuild from ruins

It's been six months since I visited northern Pakistan, the region devastated by the worst earthquake in its history. I saw villages, fields and roads hurled down mountainsides. Entire villages were wiped out, their inhabitants entombed in the rubble of their own homes.

A region a little smaller than the North Island was completely crumpled. Broken homes and bridges threw up macabre sculptures and landslides gouged huge troughs out of the mountains.

According to official figures, around 73,000 people died in last October's quake, although most aid agencies put the number nearer to 100,000.

A United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) survey showed that almost 5 per cent of the population was killed that day - the highest death toll was babies and children under five.

By and large the effort to protect those who survived the brutal winter was a great success. The generosity of people in New Zealand undoubtedly helped to save many lives.

Pakistan was also blessed with an unusually mild winter. It had been feared the tents provided would collapse under the weight of snow.

The feared second wave of deaths from disease didn't materialise. The total death toll remained largely those who perished on the day.

The success of dealing with this disaster was attributed to the fast work of the Pakistani Government, international funds donors and the use of 100 helicopters to take supplies to remote mountain areas.

In many respects it was a dream operation in nightmare conditions.

Now, six months on, as the harsh Himalayan winter fades, the emergency relief effort is shifting gear to long-term rehabilitation.

What was for aid agencies a sprint to save lives is now a marathon to restore whole communities.

Those who survived that awful day face the Herculean challenge of starting their lives again. This process has been encouraged by the Government's carrot-and-stick tactics.

The carrot of compensation is being tied to rebuilding. The stick is that since the end of March, authorities started closing the relief camps. So far more than 18,000 people have been sent home.

The Government argues this is necessary to prevent people becoming dependent on handouts. Many of the aid agencies in the relief effort agree. The fringes of some African war zones are still pockmarked with 20-year-old refugee camps - tent cities that simply can't close - and they fear a repeat of that in northern Pakistan.

Now is the time for people to return home. The monsoon starts in July, making movement treacherous again. It is a small and vital window of opportunity.

Unicef has provided each family in the relief camps with a return-home kit including clothes, food, blankets, jerry cans and cooking equipment. Vulnerable people such as widows, orphans and the elderly have been registered and taken to transitional camps until they are able to go back home in safety or be provided with alternative land.

A casualty of the earthquake was the already fragile educational system. A total of 7,669 schools were destroyed, killing 18,000 students, many of whom were crushed at their desks.

The silver lining of this disaster is the new demand for schooling from children and parents.

Northern Pakistan is a conservative region where literacy levels are low and female enrolment in schools is minimal. For many children, especially girls, relief camps provided their first taste of education. As life shifts back home, communities' appetites have been whetted.

Many aid agencies are pushing for schools to be a priority in the Government's reconstruction budgets. Out of this disaster it's warming to think an opportunity has been created to change a generation of children's lives.

Pakistan needs to reconstruct more than half a million homes in some of the most remote areas of the country.

Even if people manage to get home, there is no guarantee their home is where they left it. A lot of land simply doesn't exist any more, having slipped down the mountainside. Much of what remains bears such deep cracks it cannot be cultivated.

And many people are just too frightened to go home. Since the earthquake there have been almost 2000 major aftershocks. This is traumatic for a nation with already frayed nerves.

For towns I visited like Balakot, which was pretty much at the epicentre of the 7.8 quake, rebuilding may not be an option.

Two deadly fault lines run straight underneath it. Because of this the Government plans to move the town 10km away. This once thriving tourist spot will become a permanent mausoleum - many of the dead still lie unclaimed beneath the debris.

Dan Toole, Unicef's emergency manager, said Pakistan, "We have quite a lot of work to do - the Government of Pakistan, national organisations, the UN and others - to keep people alive.

"We need to push as much as we can: supplies, equipment, cement, food, construction advice, engineers into those hills. It is really going to be tough."

* Georgina Newman is communications manager for Unicef NZ.