October 8, 2005; early in the morning, 8:52 am, Pakistan was rattled by a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale. The nation woke up to total chaos and annihilation. The earthquake resulted in more than 80,000 people losing their lives. The injured were numbered at about 138,000, while 3.5 million lost their homes. Whole buildings, schools and offices were reduced to mere rubble. Communication lines were disrupted, and electricity and gas supplies were wrecked. The earthquake left the world standing appalled and the nation in a state of shock, unable to make sense of the massive destruction rendered upon it in a matter of moments.

October 26, 2015 at 2:09 pm, after about ten years, Pakistan was struck again; this time with a quake of even greater intensity. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, the earthquake had an intensity of 8.1. The extent of ruination caused by such an earthquake is inconceivable. Thankfully enough, Pakistan narrowly escaped what could have been an exaggerated repeat of events of 2008. This occurred mainly due to the fact that the epicenter of this earthquake was 196 km below the ground as opposed to that of the 2005 earthquake, which was only 26 km deep.

Still over 200 people have been killed and nearly a thousand injured. The death toll is expected to rise in the coming days as the damage in the far flung areas is fully registered.

It was a close call and we survived it, but this forces us to turn the cup upside down and entertain the ‘what if’. What if the epicenter had been closer to the Earth’s surface?

It is commonly said that earthquakes do not kill people but man made errors do-poorly built houses and lack of emergency supplies. Did we as a nation learn anything from the earthquake of 2005? Would we have been ready for the aftermath?

After the 2005 calamity, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority was set up as a direct response but has been marred by allegations of corruption and faulty statistics. The National Disaster Management Authority’s ‘management’ of the seasonal floods in Pakistan is proof of its unreliability in times of need. The unfulfilled promise of the new Balakot city is a stark reminder of the inefficiency of the local and federal governments. Ten years on, of the 11,436 acres of land to be developed, only 14% have been developed so far. The region of Muzzafarabad, which numbered 70% of the total death toll, development projects are still underway at a slow pace.

In 2005, the country was washed over by a fresh wave of patriotism. People took to helping those in need with a sense of duty and responsibility. The whole nation stood united against the adversity. However, what needs to be understood is the simple fact that damage done by an earthquake or any other natural disaster can be minimized if preemptive measures are taken; houses and buildings are built as per the codes and regulations set by the government. National organizations like the NDMA and ERRA are made efficient, strong and able to respond quickly in times of need.

Pakistan is already in a state of war and battling its internal ills, the energy crisis and corruption as a result of manmade determinants, and cannot afford a natural disaster. Earthquakes cannot be preempted and stopped but the damage that comes with them can be mitigated to the minimum. It is high time we address such pressing issues instead of wasting public money on fancy metros and roads!