A 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit Balochistan on Tuesday with slight tremors felt as far away as Karachi and New Delhi. Entire villages, houses, particularly mud-homes in the Awaran and surrounding districts of Balochistan were flattened, while most of the concrete buildings that survived the jolts, developed cracks almost about to crumble down. No one at this stage can say with certainty how many have actually died, until all the rubble is cleared and all inhabitants found. In the wreckage, at least as of now, 345 bodies have been found, while according to eye-witnesses, many more people still lie buried under collapsed buildings, hence supporting appalling estimates including the statement by the Deputy Speaker Balochistan Assembly that the fatalities stand at almost 1000.

The survivors are desperately seeking help and it does not seem to matter wherever it comes from. Because as usual there was no organised civilian rescue effort, a factor compounded by the absence of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik who is in UK, and worse, has no cabinet team, it is the army, usually censured for some heavy handed activities in the province, that is rushing and reaching out to the people, with air ambulances, medicines, doctors, tents and food. In sharp contrast, are the governmental rescuers who are rarely seen on streets except for a few ministers flying to the affected areas only to turn back with few morsels of consolation. But even with the army going in, what is plainly visible is lack of preparedness to deal with such disasters despite the fact that the region is riddled with faults resulting from movement of the tectonic plates. No lessons have been learnt from previous quakes. The danger of a tsunami and cyclones for that matter to the long coastline is ignored and so is the building code openly flouted over the past few decades.

Sadly and rather shamefully, the militants did not spare the hapless Baloch even in this hour of tragedy; an attempt to bully a team of doctors was made whose van was fired on with rocket launchers, fortunately the rockets missed the vehicle. Determined in their cause, the doctors went ahead to the disaster hit villages not only to their credit but to the noble profession they are committed to.

Quick help should be dispensed; there is no plan of action as to how to rehabilitate those whose business and houses have been shattered, the rescue efforts are also clearly far from satisfying keeping in view the scale of the disaster. Already steeped in poverty, Balochistan is a tinderbox whose separatists would try to play on victims’ frustration ensuing from further despair the earthquake has inflicted.