How irreversibly the lives of millions changed on this morning one year ago in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (and parts of India) after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the livlihoods of those living in these most heavenly mountain ranges and valleys. According to UNICEF, over 16,000 children died in schools on that fateful day, as they were crushed by the faultily constructed roofs of their 2, 3, 4 storey cement school buildings. (Estimates say, in total, almost 35,000 children died). The death toll total was over 80,000 (in Pakistan, and about 1,500 in India) and close to 200,000 succumbed to their injuries (according to ReliefWeb/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)). About 11,000 children were left orphaned. Several thousands more lost their limbs or the ability to walk or move again. Close to 3.5 million became homeless and without proper shelter. Government estimates say some 600,000 houses, 6,298 schools and 796 health facilities were demolished, about 6,440 km of roads damaged and 50-70 per cent of water supply, sanitation, telecom and power infrastructure made non-operational. Then winter came and the suffering and urgency to help the second round of victims continued. With the passing of time, spring came and snows melted. Some roads were made passable again. Some were lucky to move to ‘temporary’ tin roof shelters vs. the damp, frigid tents where millions slept each night, barely making it through the relentless snows. Many dead were finally given a proper burial in the earth, in exchange for the concrete graves they had been left in during the winter months, before heavy machinery could remove all the boulders and bricks from over them.
The world gave again - well, as much as their pockets allowed them to, after a year of giving had ensued, beginning first with the Tsunami of December 26, 2004, and later with Hurricane Katrina. And Pakistani’s in Pakistan and abroad gave – in kind, in currency and in humanity by either volunteering, providing medical assistance, moving supplies to the hard hit areas or building temorary shelters. It was an unprecedented response to the tragedy. There were fund raisers, volunteer organizations, international vigils, media campaigns, letters to wealthy corporations, & emails to NATO and US government officials to appeal for more aid, helicopters, media attention. Still, now, in retrospect, it did not seem to be enough. Yesterday’s stories of heroism, activism and humanity, now a year later, seem to be filled with stories of neglect, unfulfilled promises and despair. People were still without basic dry/winterized shelters, food and proper medical facilities months after the earthquake. A year later, an estimated 1.8 million people are still displaced and not yet permanently rehabilitated.
There were over 2ooo aftershocks since the earthquake struck, and the harsh winter was followed by monsoons. While the traumatized survived aftershocks, flu, pneumonia and worse, the monsoons wreaked even more havoc. Massive landslides and torrential floods swept away whole sides of mountains – those villages or homes which may have survived the destruction from the earthquake now were permanently gone after the monsoons – thanks to the timber mafia which have systematically deforested much of the spectacular Kaghan Valley mountains.
According to various estimates, there are at least 35,000 to 40,000 people still living in tents/camps, and who will face another uncertain, cold and unprotected harsh winter. While organizations like Refugees International, and various UN entities continue their work alongside many local NGOs like Sungi, Rural Support Programmes, etc. are still working towards aiding the displaced victims of the October 2005 earthquake, much of the international donations have yet to be realized and the government entity (ERRA) has yet to fully deliver to the people.
The ruined city of Balakot is still under rubble for the most part, as the city has been virutally left untouched by any reconstruction efforts, as it is felt that it’s precarious location on a dangerous fault line could possibly be the site of yet another powerful quake years from now. The government wants to move the city to another location 20km south, to a town called Bakryal. Estimates say that not even 1 in every 2 inhabitants of Balakot survived the earthquake, as it was situated at the epicenter. People here are still living in tents and gearing up for another fierce winter, as their city has not been rehabilitated. The frustration is rampant (from The News):
However, the earthquake victims, by and large, are deeply frustrated at the slow pace of work by government departments and by their indifference towards the plight of the common man.
“We are being told time and again that houses made of fibre glass will be imported from Saudi Arabia but we don’t know when the promise will be translated into a reality,” said Mohammad Khalid Khan, a teacher at a tent school in Balakot.
“Most of the children have come out of trauma but now the question is how to survive against the odds, especially when the winter is fast approaching,” he said. “The relief phase was good but the reconstruction phase is moving at a snail’s pace,” he said.
Another account from a doctor who has been working in Kashmir (Pakistan) since the earthquake last October, he writes (from BBC News):
Quake doctor: ‘Work goes on’
After the massive South Asian earthquake last year, Dr Irfan Noor kept a diary for the BBC News website from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province where he was working as part of a medical relief team.
A year later and I am now working in Kashmir. One of the things that frightens you when you first get to the valleys outside Muzaffarabad is that the shape of the mountains have really changed. It was as if the mountains were washed away.It was an absolutely massive landslide and the landscape has been scarred.
Dr Noor says the landscape was transformed by the earthquake
Parts of the district still look like a disaster zone. People are living in refugee camps around the city. Many houses are still rubble. A number of aid organisations have pulled back and these people are still living in camps with serious water and sanitation problems.
Winter is coming too.
It could be that we are about to face another public emergency. The population is clearly still in need. Many people have told me that their tents are getting old and need to be replaced.
I am working for the medical charity Merlin and our biggest concern is respiratory infections and diarrhoea.
Photos to commemorate the one year anniversary.
A labourer walks near the debris of a house hit by the October 8, 2005 earthquake in the devastated city of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir October 6, 2006. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf asked the international aid community on Thursday for an extra $800 million to cover reconstruction costs after a devastating earthquake a year ago.
Earthquake survivors protest in front of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) office during a demonstration in Islamabad October 7, 2006. Hundreds of survivors of last year’s earthquake in Pakistan staged an anti-graft protest outside parliament on Saturday, accusing officials in charge of reconstruction of corruption. The protest comes a day before the first anniversary of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless in Pakistani Kashmir and parts of the North West Frontier Province.
A girl prays for the victims in front of candles marking the first anniversary of the October 8, 2005 earthquake in the Margala Towers, a residential complex which collapsed in the quake killing several people, during a memorial ceremony in Islamabad October 7, 2006.
Prayers for the victims. Prayers for those who survived and let us not forget them and their children.
While many of us are guilty of ‘forgetting’ during the past year, the need for help has not disappeared. In observing the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake which struck Northern Pakistan (and Kashmir in India) October 8, 2005, 8:50:38 am, perhaps you will be moved to donate once again. Some well known organizations working in these regions include:
All donations are tax-deductible, and the organizations are registered 501(c)3s in the United States.
- Donate to WFP
- Donate to UNHCR
- Donate to UNICEF
- Refugees International
- Donate to Save the Children
- Donate to Mercy Corps
Some other blogs which have some entries on the Earthquake’s anniversary:
nb: it was during the earthquake and it’s aftermath last year that I stumbled upon the ‘blogosphere’ in earnest. So many used this quick and easy to manipulate media to reach out to millions globally (post Tsunami as well), on the state of the relief efforts and how we could all help. The world became even smaller.