South Asian earthquake: Relief effort saves lives, stems losses, but reconstruction tasks loom large
In the wake of a successful relief effort that helped to prevent additional casualties in quake-devastated areas, the aid community is facing a new crucial task of restoring livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of people left homeless and destitute by the disaster. The Story
On 8 October 2005, a devastating earthquake struck South Asia killing tens of thousands and leaving many more homeless and in danger as a bitter winter approached. An intensive effort to find, rescue and feed survivors was closely followed by the media around the world due to the sheer scale of the disaster – 73,000 people perishing in Pakistan and 1,300 in India, a crisis that UN Emergency Coordinator Jan Egeland characterized as the “worst logistical nightmare” the world body had faced. Despite the challenges, the concerted international and national effort succeeded in preventing a feared second wave of deaths, massive population movements and breakouts of epidemics as the harsh winter spread across the region. Thanks to the massive relief effort, recorded mortality in the affected areas was no higher than during the previous winter. A nutrition survey showed no major food deficiency compared to the pre-earthquake level.
Today, nearly seven months after the disaster struck, the post-quake efforts are at another crucial junction that deserves close attention by the media and the public. As the recovery effort shifts from relief to reconstruction, UN officials warn that the most difficult part of the job may be only just beginning. Experience from other countries shows that still desperately needed donor support often ebbs once relief phases out. If this were to happen, many quake survivors could face another precarious situation next winter. As the humanitarian community strives for a smooth transition from relief to early recovery and reconstruction, a painstaking task of restoring livelihoods and rebuilding lives should not be allowed to elude media focus.
- As part of the UN-coordinated international response to the quake, more than 500,000 tents were delivered, some 5 million iron sheets were distributed, over 6 million blankets/quilts were provided.
- Safe water was restored to over 700,000 people, and thousands of latrine slabs were installed. Over 1 million children were vaccinated against measles. Countless helicopters flights — from the Pakistani military, NATO, US, other countries and the UN — airlifted food and non-food items.
- The Earthquake Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Authority of Pakistan, in collaboration with the UN and several civil society partners, has agreed to the basic framework of an Early Recovery Plan, a set of operational programmes, aimed at supporting the longer-term road to recovery and minimizing the gap between relief and reconstruction, for which an estimated $188 million is required over the next 12 months.
- The major challenges foreseen in the coming months are a successful return process, road accessibility in remote areas, potential landslides, continued assistance for vulnerable people, and ensuring the broadest possible reach of basic services.