A violent Earthquake at 8.1 Richter scale struck Pakistan resulting in loss of around three hundred lives and collapse of thousands of houses across the country especially in the KPK Province. This is indeed very tragic. Rescue operations were geared up to respond to rehabilitation works resulting from the natural disaster devastations. In 2005, more sever catastrophic damage occurred in Northern Areas including the Azad Kashmir. Did we learn, losses from the past quake? Perhaps not! The “dang tapao” policies prevailed as usual. Can we really change and plan better to meet future possible disasters in the wake of changed fault-lines of the Earth’s structure in Pakistan’s geographic regions.

Accordingly, convergence between the South Asian and Eurasian Regions has taken place posing threats of more earthquakes in Pakistan due to underground geographic changes.

In the last earthquake on October 8, 2005, at least 86,000 people were killed, more than 69,000 injured causing extensive damage in northern Pakistan. The heaviest damage occurred in the Muzaffarabad area, Kashmir where entire villages were destroyed and at Uri where 80 percent of the town was destroyed. Landslides also occurred farther north near the towns of Gilgit and Skardu, Kashmir, Liquefaction and sandblows occurred in the Western part of the Vale of Kashmir. The Rehabilitation works for the 2005 quake damages were badly mismanaged. These were entrusted to ERRA, the Earthquake Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Authority. After a few years, ERRA was reportedly would up for some unknown reasons. This needs to be investigated. ERRA performance report needs to be made public. The works entrusted for the 2005 quake are still believed to be unfinished as per terms of reference specified for the body.

Earthquakes also come in other regions of the world, particularly in Japan, and California but measures have been taken to mitigate losses of human lives and properties. It is very disappointing that a master plan was reportedly prepared in the 1960s by a Greek Firm spelling out measures to mitigate damage from quakes in Pakistan but these were never implemented in letter and spirit by the “Babu Culture” prevailing in the bureaucracy. Major steps taken by the developed countries include appropriate buildings codes, inspections of vulnerable and dilapidated houses and an assistance program for the poor to protect their risky dwellings.

Due to the geophysical changes in the Earth’s structure frequency of earthquakes is likely to increase in Pakistan. Azad Kashmir and Islamabad areas are prone to bigger risks now. It is highly imperative to revise the existing building codes and by-laws. All new buildings designs must meet high Richter Scale requirements even up to 8.5. Strict implementation mechanism needs to be introduced by all the Provincial Governments.

The Imperatives

Like wise, the development authorities and municipalities must carry out comprehensive surveys of existing houses. Dilapidated and kacha houses need to be checked for safety. In dangerous cases, these should be got made safe. In fact there is a dire need to introduce simple and economical single storey housing designs in earthquakes prone areas. These houses should be built with wood and steel instead of concrete and bricks. Even in developed countries like USA, houses are built with wood and steel and are generally of single stories.

Schemes of financial assistance and easy loans should be devised for the poor who suffer badly in case of natural disasters of quakes, storms or heavy rains. ‘Dang Tapao’ policies need to be abandoned and reforms packages should be introduced by the provincial governments and housing finance bodies for the unsafe dwellings in all the provinces especially in earthquakes prone areas.

NDMAs role

National Disaster Management Authorities (NDMAs) should not confine to patch work approach only for emergency responses and rehabilitation works. They should plan & undertake measures to prevent possible disasters & calamities caused by mismanagement and lack of reforms in our socioeconomic systems. They should undertake studies in good time to prevent manmade disasters and calamities in the country.