2005 Earthquake Remembered

11th anniversary of the deadly 2005 Kashmir earthquake

 

Today marks eleven years since the day that a large earthquake struck the north of Pakistan at 8 o-clock AM. Its magnitude was 7.6, which was rather small. Earthquakes of that size rarely cause much damage. However, a variety of natural and human conditions made it one of the most disastrous and deadliest earthquakes in history and a severe calamity for the entire nation of Pakistan.

The Indian subcontinent rests on a tectonic plate which is moving northwards with great force and colliding with the rest of Asia, the Eurasian Plate. This compresses the area where the two plates meet, the fault line, creating the enormous mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the Karakorum, and the Hindu Kush, as well as the Tibetan Plateau. But the movement of the plates is not entirely smooth. Because of the roughness of stone, the plates often get stuck together where they meet while the rest of the plates keep moving. The only way for the plates to get unstuck is by a rapid jolt which shakes the land up and down vigorously, creating an earthquake which can be of various sizes. And it was on October 8, 2005, that such a jolt occurred in Pakistan’s mountainous territory of Azad Kashmir, near the territory’s capital, Muzaffarabad, in the Karakorum mountain range. The earthquake affected Azad Kashmir, India’s Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province the most . They are some of the worst places in the world for an earthquake to strike.

The mountainous terrain created by the tectonic action which causes earthquakes worsens the effects of earthquakes in many ways. The natural environment becomes a hazard, with landslides and rock falls being caused by earthquakes. The Karakorum Mountains are covered in a very thick layer of loose soil due to its youth (so that not a lot of erosion has taken place), amplifying the earthquake, which caused the ground to roll in waves, according to eyewitness accounts, including that of a bus driver I once met. Finally, the crumpled terrain of Pakistan and India’s north isolated the people living there, thus cutting them off from outside amenities when everything was destroyed, making relief for the earthquake extremely difficult.

The human construction was as bad as the natural construction. Infrastructure in Kashmir was mostly weakly made. Most buildings were made of unreinforced concrete, the most dangerous kind of construction. Many buildings were also made of stones, often without mortar. Many stones were round, thus giving them a weak grip on each other. Even important public buildings and facilities in the affected region were weakly constructed, sending government officials, police officers, and rescue workers under rubble, depriving the affected people of local help. Help could now only come from outside, down the mountains, but the lack of roads in the region and the destruction of most of what were there  made this a Herculean task.

The timing of the earthquake was also bad. It struck during Ramadan during school hours, at a time when most children were in school and most Muslim adults were at home napping during their fast. It struck just before the onset of Kashmir’s harsh winter, leaving millions of people to face it without any shelter, and the severe weather conditions in the quake’s aftermath made flying aid into the region difficult.The roads were covered with snow, so it was nearly impossible to travel by land and air.

The entire world sprang into action to help the millions of people whose lives were turned upside down by the enormous disaster. NGOs, the UN, international donors, and Pakistan’s military were most active, occupied mostly with rescuing people from rubble, getting the wounded to medical care, and sheltering people from the winter of 2005-2006. In the end, their efforts were fairly good, and it is believed that they averted a massive second wave of deaths.

The recovery, however, is a different matter. It has been very slow. Even the winter of 2006-2007 was a challenge for the people to survive as adequate shelter was not fully restored yet. And now that eleven years have passed since the quake, we look at how the region is doing now. As it is, Azad Kashmir has still not fully recovered. It is sad that more than a decade has passed since and things are still not back to normal. It is a testament to the lack of adequate disaster management in Pakistan, a nation extremely prone to calamities of all sorts. What usually happens is that authorities in Pakistan focus more on recovery than relief, but it seems to be the opposite for the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. That is a good thing, but 11 years of no full recovery denotes a degree of neglect. In 2005, Pakistan was run by a military dictatorship which ran the nation rather efficiently. But a few years later, a civilian government under President Asif Ali Zardari took charge and under him, recovery may have stagnated.

If you go through Kashmir today, you can  still see some rubble lying around and buildings being in low numbers. The most striking part of the deficient conditions is the lack of schools. Nearly 1,000 schools have not been completed in Pakistan’s affected areas yet and work on nearly 700 has yet to start. It is estimated that 150,000 children in Kashmir do their education outside. The blow to education caused by the earthquake and other natural disasters such as the 2010 monsoon flooding in Pakistan may perhaps exceed what extremists such as the Taliban have done, yet people and groups like the Malala Fund pay little attention to this. All of Pakistan and the world pay little attention to the region which has suffered so much from the Earth’s wrath.

Pakistan has made October 8 National Disaster Awareness Day. Yet it is clear that the nation is not disaster aware yet. Pakistan has a lot of potential in persevering through disasters, but still needs to find ways to realize this potential. We should take this day as a turning point for change. One step in that direction is the new NGO, Pakistan’s People’s Led Disaster Management, or PPLDM for short, where I am a director. (www.ppldm.net). It aims to bring change through new and innovative ideas.

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