The Indo-Pak Earthquake, October 2005

A DIR Illustrated Report

W. Frederick Shaw1

When the first news of the extent of the devastation of the earthquake reached Chandigarh, I contacted a Minister I knew in the Pakistani Government and offered the services of my Administrative Assistant and myself for three weeks. It seemed Pakistan could use all the help it could get and because of my familiarity with Pakistani conditions and also with relief operations, I felt that we might be of some little use. The official warmly accepted my offer and three days later we had completed visa and travel arrangements and were in Islamabad.

We were given temporary office space in the Prime Ministerís Secretariat and went to work immediately. Relief and rehabilitation activities for half the Pakistani affected area, the epicentre area centred around Balakot, were being conducted by the National Commission for Human Development and it was with this quazi-government agency that we worked. My role was that of Advisor and the bulk of our time was consumed with observing conditions, making recommendations, establishing procedures, participating in daily briefing sessions, etc. Before I left, I submitted a paradigm which would facilitate immediate positive action which the Government might follow in the next emergency. This is being taken under consideration and I am hopeful that it, or - more likely - some version of it, will be adopted.

As in any major unexpected disaster, getting possession of critical information was vital to setting priorities and indeed conducting any relief activities. In this emergency, the earthquake destroyed not just telephone lines but complete telephone exchanges. Emergency teams and assistance of all types poured into the area from all over Pakistan and from many parts of the world. The response was quite literally overwhelming. Now, the information the government need to know and lacked was not only who was affected, how and where, but who could do something about it, where they were and how they could be deployed. Daily, the Government and UNDAC2 struggled to obtain critical information and put it to use.

It is difficult to imagine conducting relief operations under worse conditions. The earthquake destroyed miles of mountain roads, roads cut into steep slopes, precarious roads, difficult to create and difficult to repair. The loss of roads isolated people whose houses had crumbled about them, many of whom we could expect to be seriously injured. The land on which they lived was too steep for helicopters to land. Relief goods which were air-dropped were sometimes reported to have tumbled down slopes until lost or destroyed. The work of Army engineers to clear and repair or replace roads was constantly being thwarted by daily aftershocks which brought new landslides and again "washed out" roads. Most of the strongest aftershocks came between midnight and 2.30am. Thus, most landslides occurred at night causing engineers to clear the same roads day after day. Army mule teams were being utilized to advantage, but they were few in number, and, one fears, tragically too slow for some medical emergencies. Two weeks after the main tremors, aftershocks were lessening in number and intensity and it was hoped would soon allow road repair operations to proceed. Unhappily, winter is arriving, and snow and ice will soon make road work impossible or seriously hamper it.

Incidental to one trip was a meeting with IMC3 staff in the Mansehra region. I was able to set up a meeting between the Minister of Human Development and IMCís visiting Director of Operations, in which it was agreed in principle that IMC and NCHD4 would collaborate in providing relief and rehabilitative services to homeless people now in tents.  Thus, the beneficial input of our colleagues from Los Angeles will be maximized.

Friends of DIR in California send donations and these have been put to good use.  The money purchased 122 stoves (for cooking and heating in COLD tents) plus 364 mattresses.

Funds (which are tax-deductible) to assist DIR in its work here and elsewhere may be mailed to DIR, 8321 Terrace Drive, El Cerrito, CA 94530.

1. CEO of Developing Indigenous Resources, 8321 Terrace Drive, El Cerrito, CA 94530, USA.

2. United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination.

3. International Medical Corps, based in Los Angeles, California.

4. The National Commission for Human Development.