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Pakistan-India quake

Updated: Sat, 1 Jan 2005

At A GlanceBack to top

The earthquake that struck Kashmir and Pakistan's North West Frontier Province on Oct. 8, 2005 killed around 75,000 people and left up to 3.5 million homeless.

  • Pakistan's worst natural disaster
  • More than 16,000 children killed when schools collapsed
  • Militarised border complicated relief efforts

The 7.6 magnitude quake was centred near the heavily militarised frontier that separates Pakistan and India. Most of the destruction was on the Pakistani side.

Relief efforts faced numerous challenges, including getting supplies into a mountainous region where roads had been blocked by landslides and finding enough tents before the onset of the Himalayan winter. The only way to access many remote settlements was by helicopter.

The dead included thousands of children crushed to death after their schools collapsed on top of them.

Around 600,000 houses were destroyed or damaged in Pakistan. A year after the quake, many survivors were still living in temporary shelters.

Reconstruction is expected to take years.

India did not request international help.

In DetailBack to top

South Asia's strongest earthquake in a century killed nearly 75,000 people in northern Pakistan and India, and left up to 3.5 million homeless.

Most of the devastation was in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region that has sparked two wars between the rival countries, and Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The 7.6 magnitude quake, which struck on the morning of Oct. 8, 2005 was Pakistan's worst natural disaster.

The dead included more than 16,000 schoolchildren who were crushed to death when their classrooms collapsed on top of them.

Aftershocks caused countless landslides, blocking roads and hampering relief work, particularly in mountainous areas of Kashmir.

The World Food Programme (WFP) mounted the largest helicopter operation in the United Nations' history. It said around 600,000 people could only be reached by helicopter or on foot in the months after the disaster.

The Pakistani government, U.S. military and other agencies also used helicopters. Aside from delivering food, they transported reconstruction equipment and airlifted thousands of sick and wounded to hospitals.

WinterBack to top

Kashmir's rugged terrain wasn't the only problem. The quake happened just before the onset of winter when temperatures can dip to minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) at night.

However, fears that winter would bring a second wave of deaths proved unfounded, with milder-than-usual weather allowing aid workers to continue flying or trucking vital supplies up the mountains.

An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people were accommodated in official and unofficial camps. But most people spent the winter in tents outside their damaged homes or in semi-repaired ruins. Others moved in with host families or relatives.

People in camps started returning home in the spring to rebuild their houses and plant crops.

A year after the quake, Oxfam said at least 1.8 million people were still living in makeshift shelters and tents. Other agencies' estimates were lower, but the numbers still ran into hundreds of thousands.

The government estimated that the earthquake destroyed or damaged some 600,000 homes, and devised a programme to provide survivors with money and training to rebuild their houses using earthquake-resistant design.

It was decided that the cash would be disbursed in instalments after checks to ensure guidelines were being followed. This was a major factor behind the delays in reconstructing homes.

The second winter after the earthquake was harsher than the first, but fewer people than expected came down from high-altitude communities to seek shelter in urban areas.

According to a humanitarian assessment carried out by the British government, as of January 2007, there were around 35,000 people still living in camps, mainly in urban areas. Their return would be difficult because they included vulnerable groups and those who had lost their land, the survey said.

The government promised to help those whose land disappeared in the quake to find new plots. But it has been criticised for being slow to review land claims.

There has also been controversy over goverment plans to rebuild the NWFP town of Balakot in a completely new location after it was razed by the quake. The town, home to 300,000 people before the quake, will be rebuilt in a safer place to modern design standards. But not all of its residents are willing to relocate.

Border openedBack to top

Immediately after the quake, there was concern that the Kashmir conflict could jeopardise aid operations. Pakistan and India both lay claim to the disputed region which is one of the most militarised in the world.

But the Pakistan government lifted security restrictions, allowing thousands of foreign aid workers and troops into the region as well as reporters who had previously only ventured in on rare military-chaperoned visits.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to offer help with relief and rescue efforts in a sign of easing tensions between the nuclear-armed countries.

But Pakistan made clear it would not accept Indian troops on its territory to carry out joint relief work.

The two countries later agreed to open five points along their de facto border to allow divided families to meet and relief supplies to cross.

India, where the quake killed just over 1,300 people and left more than 6,600 homeless, did not ask for outside assistance.

The United Sates and NATO both sent troops, helicopters and equipment to help Pakistan. It was the U.S. military's biggest-ever relief operation and NATO's first big disaster mission involving ground troops outside an alliance country.

The presence of Western troops provoked criticism by anti-Western Islamist parties, but the United States and NATO said they did not encounter any antipathy on the ground.

From relief to reconstructionBack to top

In November 2006, Pakistan won pledges of more than $6 billion from international donors for relief and reconstruction work in the quake zone - an area of 28,000 square km (10,810 sq miles). Over half of this was earmarked for long-term reconstruction.

The relief phase of the post-quake operation officially ended in March 2006, giving way to the government's Early Recovery Plan, which was expected to continue until the end of 2007.

The government agreed to pay 175,000 rupees ($2,900) in compensation to around 437,000 owners of houses that were destroyed, and 75,000 rupees to another 94,000 whose homes were damaged. It decided to disburse the cash grants in instalments, between which houses would be inspected to check whether they were being rebuilt according to earthquake-resistant guidelines.

The government and aid agencies trained people to build using steel, mortar, timber and corrugated iron sheets, discouraging them from using concrete for roofs to avoid casualties in future quakes.

Many concrete-roofed buildings, including most government offices and schools, collapsed in the quake, burying thousands of people under rubble.

According to the U.N. Children's Fund, the earthquake damaged or destroyed almost 10,000 schools and three-quarters of health facilities.

Pakistan will take at least a decade to fully recover from the disaster, according to Kathleen Cravero, the U.N. Global Director for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

Aid experts believe urban populations who lost their homes may have to spend several years in temporary accommodation.

In rural areas, the quake destroyed about a quarter of livestock and a third of crops. Families also lost seed stocks, tools and fertiliser.

Some people's fields disappeared in landslides or could no longer be cultivated due to huge cracks. Irrigation systems were also damaged or buried.

The WFP ran food-for-work projects, providing people with rations in return for help in repairing roads and infrastructure.

Muslim clerics hamper aid workBack to top

While international relief interventions were generally welcomed by local populations after the quake, in the conservative province of NWFP, Muslim clerics criticised aid agencies for employing women. In July 2006, they asked local authorities to expel all female staff of foreign agencies, accusing them - including Pakistani employees - of dressing improperly, mixing with men and drinking alcohol, which is banned in the Islamic country.

The request was not acted upon, but some aid agencies criticised local religious media for spreading malicious rumours about their activities.

In February 2007, Muslim clerics again tried to block humanitarian work, this time whipping up opposition to a polio vaccination campaign mounted by the government with the help of the United Nations and other foreign agencies. The religious leaders argued that polio immunisation was a foreign-funded ploy to sterilise people, jeopardising efforts to eradicate the crippling and highly infectious disease.

Polio has been stamped out in developed countries, but persists in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.

The immunisation drive was halted in one area on the Afghan border after a doctor was killed by a roadside bomb. Health workers and more moderate clerics stepped up efforts to persuade parents of the benefits of immunisation, and health authorities said they had succeeded in vaccinating 32 million children under the age of five.

In the same month, grenades were thrown at the compounds of Save the Children and the International Committee of the Red Cross in NWFP. Two Pakistani employees of Save the Children were injured, but no one claimed responsibility.

Aid agencies said they would reinforce their security precautions but would not scale down their operations as a result of the attacks.

LinksBack to top

Pakistan's Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority has a good website with news on rebuilding and recovery efforts, reports and pictures.

For information on aid appeals, visit the U.N.'s ReliefWeb site. It also offers maps showing everything from snow cover to camp locations.

A Fritz Institute report, Surviving the Pakistan Earthquake: Perceptions of the Affected One Year Later, looks at the effectiveness of the relief operation. It's based on a survey of more than 600 households in the worst-affected areas.

In the week after the quake, AlertNet spoke to aid workers in the region about what they were seeing and hearing on the ground. You can read their views here.

U.N. news service IRIN has some news on its Pakistan page.

Aid agency Oxfam has information on its response, interviews with survivors, accounts of life in the camps, photos and situation updates.

The International Organisation for Migration, which oversaw the provision of shelter, and Islamic Relief, an aid agency already active in the region when the quake struck, also have information on their operations.

The World Food Programme, which mounted the largest helicopter relief operation in the U.N.'s history, carries updates on its website.

The United States sent helicopters and troops to the quake zone, mounting its biggest-ever humanitarian relief operation. For more on U.S. assistance, see this 2006 USAID factsheet.

This general blog on the quake carried news items in the aftermath but no longer seems to be updated on a regular basis.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has a film on the Kashmir earthquake.

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