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October 28, 2015

The learnt and unlearnt lessons of 2005 earthquake


October 28, 2015

ABBOTTABAD: Soon after earthquake of October 26 a debate triggered in the electronic media what lessons have we learned after the devastating earthquake of October 8, 2005. The modest answer is very little. After loss of around 80,000 lives and lapse of 10 years we are back to square one. This reporter reached Balakot on that fateful day and reported for Geo TV that Balakot city has been razed to the ground and death toll could very well exceed 30,000 figure, the then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz denied it on TV that casualties are grossly exaggerated. The rest is history.
The then government having so many means of communications remained oblivious or indifferent to the situation in remote areas of Hazara and Azad Jammu and Kashmir as entire media was focused on Margala Towers in Islamabad. The next morning, following and believing the footage and reports aired by the Geo TV, national and foreign media teams started thronging Balakot.
Extensive national and international media coverage prompted developed countries to send their search and rescue teams to the quake-affected areas. Friendly nations including, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Japan were the first ones to send their teams and donated generously in cash and kind. They dispatched teams consisting of personnel who were experts to deal with such calamities. Around three billion dollars were donated for reconstruction and rehabilitation activities.
The then government established Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), followed by the formation of Provincial Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (PERRA). World’s thus far largest helicopter rescue operation continued in northern Pakistan by the United Nations and Nato helicopters.
Ten years down the line, reconstruction process has yet to be completed in the quake-affected areas. Thousands of schools, dispensaries and Basic Health Units await reconstruction (some are partially constructed and some have

not gone beyond foundation stage).
Massive corruption took place as money changed hands frequently from bureaucracy to patwaris and contractors mafia but no one has been held accountable so far. After all who is responsible for this delay in construction process? Where have those billions of dollars gone that poured in as foreign aid as result of Friends of Pakistan Conferences?
In Abbottabad, Turkish Islamic NGOs, constructed two schools in record nine-month time that are earthquake-resistant to the magnitude of 8.5 on the Richter scale. Red tape, corruption, bureaucratic lethargy, political interference and lack of will on part of successive governments thousands of government schools and dispensaries are still under construction.
Reconstruction and rehabilitation or lack of it apart, people who lost their near and dear ones, and in some cases many people survived as a single person either as a parent who lost his or her spouse and children or children who lost their parents and grandparents at a very tender age faced a greater dilemma.
They are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They have become psychic for their miseries were forgotten soon.
In order to cope up and deal with any future calamities National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and PDMAs were created at national and provincial levels. But these authorities also lacked expertise and proper training to respond in time to floods in 2010 and 2012 and in case of stranded tourists in Naran due to untimely heavy snowfall in Kaghan valley.
It is yet to be seen how the NDMA and PDMA are equipped to cope with the situation arisen in the wake of latest earthquake of October 26, 2015. This will determine whether we have learned any lessons from 2005 earthquake and our mistakes of the past. At least we can learn from Turkey and Japan to deal with such eventualities.

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