Remembering the 2005 Pakistan earthquake

Publié: 16 octobre 2015 18:32 CET

By Majda Shabbir, IFRC

Badar Munir is busy coaching 12th grade students in a spacious classroom at the state-of-the-art Government Boys Degree College in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan’s State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Munir is a lecturer of mathematics. He attended the college as a student and remembers the day when everything in his community changed dramatically, including the surrounding mountains.

Ten years ago, on 8 October, 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northern Pakistan causing massive devastation. The earthquake affected an area of almost 30,000 square kilometres; equivalent to the size of Belgium. 75,000 people were killed and some 4 million people were left homeless.

On that fateful day, eight of Munir’s fellow students died while 76 others were injured when the college building was completely razed to the ground.

“Everything changed after that. Everywhere we looked, there were heaps of rubble and scenes of total devastation. Hundreds of educational institutions in the region simply vanished in a matter of seconds. For many months, we were without a proper space for conducting classes. That time was very tough,” says Munir.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Pakistan Red Crescent – with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – launched an emergency response and recovery operation. With 60 per cent of concrete infrastructure collapsed, unusable roads and remote mountainous terrain, responding to the disaster proved to be a major logistical challenge for humanitarian actors. The Red Crescent deployed helicopters and heavy duty trucks and mobilised a massive workforce of several hundred staff and volunteers from its branches across the country to ensure that survivors in the most remote regions were reached with emergency relief.

Over 20 National Societies from all over the world took part in the five-year operation which involved the supply of relief items, provision of health services, water supply and sanitation projects, hygiene promotion, community-based disaster risk reduction and support to livelihoods.  

Muzaffarabad was among the worst-hit areas but the Pakistan Red Crescent stepped in to reconstruct the Government Boys Degree College alongside over 30 other construction projects under which schools, colleges and health facilities were rebuilt in AJK and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These facilities now offer much more to the people of the area than they could before the earthquake.

The Pakistan Red Crescent recently marked the 10 years of the earthquake in a remembrance ceremony at the Government Boys Degree College. The ceremony was attended by about 1,500 people including members of State authorities, staff and volunteers of the Red Crescent as well as earthquake survivors who had been supported by the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

A moment of silence was observed in respect of those who had lost their lives to the disaster. Emotions were high, as people told their personal experiences of dealing with the trauma of either losing loved ones or helping others in the days after the earthquake. During the event, Red Crescent Youth Club members presented a number of plays to highlight the importance of disaster preparedness in saving lives.

Gorkhmaz Huseynov, IFRC Head of Delegation in Pakistan, highlighted the role played by the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement which deployed 130 international staff within the first week of the disaster to support the response.

Mr Huseynov explained how the earthquake operation led to the expansion of Pakistan Red Crescent structures and services, and increased the organization’s ability to deal with major disasters that have struck the country in recent years, such as the floods of 2010 and 2011, and the earthquake in Awaran in 2013.

“Earthquakes are purely natural hazards, which cannot be predicted,” he says. “However, we can minimize the impact of the devastation through organizational and community preparedness and building a culture of safety among communities”.

Huseynov stressed the IFRC’s commitment to continue working with Red Crescent branches across the country, ensuring that staff and volunteers are better prepared for future disasters.