SPO marks 10th anniversary of October 2005 earthquake
Islamabad Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Chief Executive Naseer Memon’s thought-provoking presentation questioned how and why a 7.6 magnitude earthquake at Richter scale in Pakistan caused such a huge toll of death and destruction, while just a few people perished in the earthquake of 9 magnitude at Richter scale in Japan.
Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Chief Executive Naseer Memon’s thought-provoking presentation questioned how and why a 7.6 magnitude earthquake at Richter scale in Pakistan caused such a huge toll of death and destruction, while just a few people perished in the earthquake of 9 magnitude at Richter scale in Japan.
He called upon civil society to raise its voice against the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ nexus of contractors, builders and building control authorities. He called for strict adherence to the standard building codes.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the devastating earthquake of October 8, 2005, the SPO convened a gathering of writers, poets, columnists, civil society activists, human rights defenders, development professionals, non-government organisations and networks, United Nations and government representatives, Boy Scouts, foreign diplomats, international NGOs and the media at its office here Thursday.
The chief guest Kishwar Naheed lit the first candle in tribute to the victims and survivors, followed by a few survivors and all the participants. Reciting three moving poems she wrote in October 2005, she recounted her visits to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Hazara division in the immediate aftermath.
Guests were greeted with a running slide show, video clips, banners, placards and handouts of memories of the earthquake, and the unprecedented response in terms of rescue, relief and early recovery efforts of civil society.
Development professional and human rights activist, Naheed Aziz represented the Joint Action Committee on NGOs’ Earthquake Response (JACER/NGOs), set up on October 9, 2005 in Islamabad, to coordinate the efforts of the civil society, individual activists, and a large number of student volunteers from all over Pakistan and abroad.
Recalling “the time that tested our souls”, she commended the well-organised, cooperative structure and process to ensure transparency and financial accountability to the affected communities, donors and philanthropists.
The JACER also represented activists at the UNOCHA Clusters and Committees. Based on its first-hand experiences, the JACER prepared a Charter of Demands, which is still valid even today.
“Whether the BBB slogan means simply physical infrastructure or should it also include improving the socio-economic structure, disaster preparedness and planning.” She questioned.
The UNOCHA, represented by Samiullah, enumerated various UN-recommended building codes and regulations, urgent needs assessment tools, early recovery policies, guidelines, and the UN’s coordination functions with the government and civil society.
Dr. Manzoor Awan, of Oxfam, stated that whereas the government counts numbers of the dead and injured, for us they are individual human beings, not simple statistics.
“International NGOs strive to support national NGOs and government entities with technical expertise, lessons learned from their global experiences, capacity-building, disaster preparedness and risk reduction. All this is done with a human rights-based approach, paying special attention to women, children and persons with disabilities.” He elaborated.
Shazia Haris of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority stressed the need for an inclusive approach; learning lessons from other countries (e.g. USA’s hurricane Katrina, Haiti’s EQ); collaboration and coordination among the various government entities dealing with emergencies and disasters; and particularly the need for data management, knowledge management, and shared data sets of vulnerable groups and professional, technical expertise within Pakistan.
“This is especially required in light of the 22 EQ faultlines located in Pakistan and the increasing donor fatigue.”
She called upon the HEC to include mandatory DRR courses/subjects in all universities; and for a ban on adoption of orphaned children.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)’s Intikhab Alam, said “The government needs to set the national direction through laws, policies and action plans; adopt a systemic approach; be more proactive than reactive; learn from Japan re. Disaster preparedness and response; strengthen community awareness as first responders; and work in coordination with the UNOCHA and civil society stakeholders.”
Human rights defender and volunteer humanitarian worker Tahira Abdullah sympathized with the survivors, 84% of whom voiced dissatisfaction with ten years of government inaction, especially in Balakot.
“Whether 75,000 or 150,000 human beings actually perished in October 2005, quoting the AJK Prime Minister’s data,” she questioned. She further inquired, “why almost all government primary and secondary schools collapsed, in contrast to a few private schools, and wondered why the same government construction engineering firm was again contracted for reconstruction, despite the loud slogan of ‘Build Back Better’.
The ambassador of Nepal’s solidarity message was read out, while the ambassador of Cuba participated in the event and recalled his government’s solidarity and immediate medical response to the 2005 EQ, with 360 flights from Cuba, bringing in 240 tons of medicines, equipment and hospital supplies, hundreds of doctors, nurses and paramedics, setting up 32 field hospitals, and subsequently gifting 1000 fully funded scholarships to medical students, who have graduated and returned to serve Pakistan.
Zahid Mahbub and other boy scout representatives recalled their rescue and relief efforts and appreciated the volunteer spirit of students, civil society and the NGOs.
Head of Sungi Foundation, Sajid Qaisrani representing the National Humanitarian Network (NHN) of NNGOs, concluded the event by reiterating that we must never forget EQ 2005; the government must act upon lessons learned, not merely speak about them; the NHN members must continue their watchdog and advocacy role with the government entities, keeping a special focus on their responsibility to train the district level DDMAs in DRR preparedness as first respondent.