It was at 2.09 PM on 26 October that energy released from two sliding tectonic plates in the Badakhshan region of the Hindu Kush Mountains jolted Pakistan and its neighbours for almost thirty three seconds. The earthquake was a chilling replay of another 7.6 magnitude tremor ten years ago, which killed over 87,000, injured 138,000 and made 3.5 million people homeless.

The magnitude of the latest episode was cited as 7.7 by USGC, while our own meteorological department gave it an 8.1 rating, raising doubts over the effectiveness of domestic experts to classify earthquakes. However the claim that this was the biggest tremor in our national history stood its ground even if the USGC figures were taken as the most credible.

It was believed that our experience of the 2005 quake and the lessons learned from it had been imbibed by all concerned and disaster contingencies catered for, to mitigate or minimise loss of life in future incidents. Like all other things apathetical in the ‘Land of the Pure’ this was apparently not done. We were fortunate that the current tremor (although of a higher magnitude than the 8 October one) was 197 to 215 kilometers beneath the earth’s surface, a factor that diluted the effect of the oscillations and resultant damage to life and property.

Nonetheless, the earthquake exposed both the Federal and KPK Government’s ineptitude in crises management. On the other hand it once again made it apparent that the nation could place their trust in the reliable hands of the Armed Forces. Minutes after the earth stopped shaking, the Army Chief had issued orders to his commanders directing that resources in men, equipment and aid be mobilised and moved to affected areas without waiting for formal instructions. Within hours, General Raheel Sharif was in the air heading to KPK, the province worst hit by the quake.

The incapability of KPK Government to think intelligently was evident during media interviews, where in more than one cases, the minister concerned, appeared to be grappling in thin air. Instead of admitting that authorities were tardy in reacting to the situation as far as rescue and aid was concerned, the politician from KPK kept laying stress on the dispatch of members of the provincial cabinet and PTI members of parliament to quake hit areas again and again. I desperately wanted to hear in vain that heavy road clearing machinery had been moved to restore communications; that medical teams were even now on the move to provide desperately needed aid to victims; that in spite of adverse weather conditions and nightfall, efforts were underway to reach the most inaccessible parts of the province.

Things were no different at the Federal level, where the smooth talking information minister kept stressing the point that all resources had been put in place and were even at that point in time busy in rescue and aid. These proved to be empty words as private television flashed images and reports from areas such as Dir, where no government succour had arrived even after twelve hours of the disaster.

In Muzaffarabad, an early warning system funded and installed with the help of an NGO failed. This system was designed to sound the alarm if the tremor magnitude crossed the 5 mark on the Richter scale. It was reported that only one siren sounded the warning out of an unspecified number installed in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir capital.

There are rumours going around the country concerning the earthquake. These range from a pre doomsday scenario to the tremor being classified as deliberately created by the enemies of Pakistan. It is imperative that the government and the media dispel these preposterous notions without further delay.

While it was nature itself that helped mitigate the effects of the quake, this must be taken as a wakeup call for the Federal and Provincial Disaster Management Departments and if these institutions insist on being somnolent, then no one less than the PM must ruthlessly ensure that the lessons learnt in 2005 and 2015 are pragmatically analysed and effective measures deployed to minimise casualties, damage and rehabilitation of all those effected by disasters are put into place.