Preparing for disaster

Editorial Board
January 16, 2022

Once again Islamabad and the northern parts of Pakistan experienced tremors on Jan 14, 2022. The Pakistan Meteorological Department recorded the magnitude at 5.6 on the Richter scale at the depth...

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Once again Islamabad and the northern parts of Pakistan experienced tremors on Jan 14, 2022. The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) recorded the magnitude at 5.6 on the Richter scale at the depth of 100 kilometres. Just a day earlier an earthquake measuring 5.0 had jolted coastal parts of Balochistan. The epicenter was 50kms south of Gwadar at the depth of hardly 25kms in the Makran subduction zone. According to the PMD, this was the first time in decades that an earthquake of this magnitude has been recorded in this area from Gwadar to Ormara. On the first of January it was reported that a 5.3 magnitude earthquake jolted northern parts of the country and at least 12 districts felt the tremors. On December 8, 2021 a 4.1 magnitude earthquake struck parts of Karachi and the epicenter was just 15kms north of Karachi and had a depth of only 15kms.

In the past two years, there have been at least a dozen minor earthquakes in the region stretching from Afghanistan to India. All this points to a possibility of a major earthquake in near future. Though there is no technology at the moment that can predict an earthquake, past data can be helpful in making a rough prognosis. Since this entire region is prone to earthquakes, there is a dire need to prepare for such an eventuality. At the moment, Pakistan once again appears to be ill prepared for major natural calamities that may turn into a complete disaster if there is no preparation for it. It has been over 15 years since Pakistan experienced its worst earthquake in October 2005. At that time also we were not prepared; fortunately the world came to our help and people from across Pakistan displayed extraordinary care and courage to help the victims. In the ensuing years we saw the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) coupled with similar authorities at the provincial levels (PDMAs) emerge. The citizens of Pakistan expected that these ‘authorities’ would change the landscape of disaster preparedness in the country. There would be – at least we hoped – in all districts state-of-the-art machinery to remove rubble and excavate the collapsed buildings and houses. There would be plenty of bulldozers, drilling machines, grinders, and heavy duty trucks to reach the affected sites quickly and start the rescue work. The people of Pakistan do not demand much, but at least they deserve fully equipped mobile health units in each district with trained staff ready to take up the challenge when a calamity hits.

Alas, if the past 15 years are any guide these expectations have remained unfulfilled. Right from district administration to provincial governments to the federal interior ministry, and from NDMA and PDMAs to numerous other agencies, all appear to be taking it lightly knowing full well that natural and human-made disasters are always at the corner to strike. If a building collapses in big cities such as Karachi or Lahore, we see citizens and even law-enforcement personnel trying to remove the rubble with hands and hammers, with spades and shovels and axes. The recent tragedy at Murree is a case in point where we saw disgusting apathy from nearly all those who should have been helping the victims. If such minor events as a building collapse or a traffic block in the snow cannot be managed by our numerous ‘authorities’, one is horrified at the thought of a serious earthquake. All those responsible must wake up from their slumber and launch a major preparation drive across the country.



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