The start of the Pakistan Earthquake relief.

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A video on the Pakistan Earthquake.


On October 85hth, 2005 and Massive earthquake struck northen Pakistan. The ‘quake killed 73,338 people, including 20,000 schoolchildren. While the “headline” death figure may have been lower than the tsunami but all other figures were much larger. Over 128,000 people were injured. Three and a half million people were displaced. Over 600,000 houses, 6,400 km (3,977 miles) of road network, 6,298 education facilities, 350 health facilities, 3,994 water supply systems and 949 government buildings were all destroyed in approximately one minute.

Whilst the death toll was lower than the tsunami-affected countries, the level of destruction was twice that of all the tsunami countries combined.

I was sent to Pakistan in 2005 as part of the team dispatched to coordinate the massive Earthquake relief. I wrote this after about four month’s relief effort.
You can see sample interviews I did on the earthquake relief at the time here and here. You can also see a video on how the earthquake relief was managed, here.

Pakistan, Finally, some good news.

The valleys are deep in Kashmir, and the mountains tall. It is a breathtaking landscape that, if it were not an internationally recognized cease-fire line between two nuclear powers technically a war, it would be a tourist playground.
February 8th will mark, around the Line of Control, four months since the massive earthquake that struck the northern parts of Pakistan and Kashmir, both Indian and Pakistani controlled – and the story of the relief effort is a good one.
Let us first look at the situation four months ago: The earthquake struck minutes after the start of school hours. Within two minutes, most schools were destroyed killing approximately 35,000 children. A similar number of adults were killed. 73,000 deaths, 140,000 injuries, 3.5 million made homeless. All of the health infrastructure destroyed, and a cold, brutal Himalayan winter but weeks away.
This earthquake covered 30,000 square kilometers, an area larger than the areas affected by the tsunami. The logistics challenges were larger than those of the tsunami, mainly caused by the mountainous terrain. Tragically, the weather imposed a time deadline that did not have an equal in the tropical regions affect by the tsunami.
Fast forward now to February. Seven hundred thousand tents have been distributed, 300,000 emergency shelters built, 350,000 children immunized against measles – the simple disease that is the biggest killer in post disaster situations. There are 2,400 Cuban doctors, some working out of tents provided by the United States, more than 60 mobile hospitals, 20 mobile childbirth units, and 3.5 million receiving food aid.
By all medical criteria, the population in the affected region are in better shape today, than this time last year – a remarkable achievement.
What have been factors that have led to this success? There are three: One, has been the remarkable weather. Whilst it is still cold above 5,000 feet, so far the Himalayan foothills have escaped remarkably lightly with a mild winter. If there is a higher power, may He be merciful and allow this to continue.
Secondly, the International Humanitarian Community has experimented with a new ‘Cluster Approach’ to natural disaster response that has so far led to an improved delivery, with two things missing – massive duplication, and huge un-met gaps.
Thirdly, and most importantly, has been an unanticipated openness and cooperation from the Pakistan Military in their most sensitive regions. Prior to the earthquake only a handful of foreigners were allowed in Kashmir. Now there are many hundreds.
There is a joint air tasking cell, where the UN, the US and Pakistan Military jointly task all air assets as one. Each of the three coordinating Pakistani generals in the field works with the UN and humanitarian system in jointly deciding priorities on food, health, water and sanitation and other emergency response systems.
At the national level, the military led Federal Relief Commission has at it’s heart a Strategic Planning cell made up of the Pakistan Army, the UN and major donors where information is analyzed, and decisions taken – jointly.
Now whilst one may be tempted to say that ‘this is nothing special, it is how it should work’, the truth is that it has never happened this well before. Aid workers are now saying this is the best example of civil and military cooperation – anywhere, ever.
And in this sensitive region, on the front line of the so called ‘war on terror’, Islam and Christianity have worked together. Christian aid workers sat for Eid, celebrating the end of Ramadan. The 25th of December saw the entire affected region littered with signs wishing ‘our Christian brothers and sisters a joyous day’. Christmas gifts were given and friendships strengthened. Radicals may exist, but so far they have remained focused on the relief effort.
In this disaster humanity has come together reminding us that despite those radicals that may wish to bomb buildings, or retaliation taken for those actions, despite cartoons of Mohammed or the protests against them, people are still people. Mothers still cry for lost children, fathers still blister hands shifting rubble and the young and the idealistic, from Turkey, United States, Cuba, Australia and other countries, descend to offer help, hope and expertise.
Despite the good news, more needs to be done. The winter may still hide tragedy. And its end will bring with it the challenge of decreased water quality due to snow melt, and incubation of disease due to increasing temperatures. The relief phase has not yet finished, and the re-building needs to begin – all of this needs on-going financial support.
The effort is far from over, yet Australian’s can know that the Pakistani people are hardy, strong, and above all – just like us. They struggle against a huge natural disaster, and all they want is for their family to be safe, they want their schools open again, and they want to re-build their lives. The struggle is hard enough. Don’t make them struggle against misconceptions, prejudice, religious intolerance, or financial devastation.

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