Today we are commemorating the deadliest earthquake that hit on 8th October 2005 in South Asia since 1935 Quetta earthquake. It was centred near the city of Muzaffarabad and affected Pakistan’s Khyber Province and Indian State of Jammu Kashmir. The magnitude registered was 7.6. It also affected the surrounding countries like Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chinese Xinjiang where tremors were felt.
Kashmir lies in the area of collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. The geological activity born out of this collision, also responsible for the birth of the Himalayan mountain range, is the cause of unstable seismicity in the region.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) measured its magnitude as a minimum of 7.6 on the moment magnitude scale, with its epicentre about 19 km (12 mi) northeast of Muzaffarabad, Pakistan Administered Kashmir, and 100 km (62 mi) north-northeast of the national capital Islamabad.
Most of the devastation hit north Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir. In Kashmir, the three main districts were badly affected and Muzaffarabad, the state capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir, was hardest hit in terms of casualties and destruction. Hospitals, schools, and rescue services including police and armed forces were paralyzed. There was virtually no infrastructure and communication were badly affected.
More than 70 percent of all casualties were estimated to have occurred in Muzaffarabad. Bagh, the second-most-affected district, accounted for 15% of the total casualties.
The Pakistani government’s official death toll as of November 2005 stood at 87,350 although it was estimated that the death toll could reach over 100,000. Approximately 138,000 were injured and over 3.5 million rendered homeless.
According to government figures, 19,000 children died in the earthquake, most of them in widespread collapses of school buildings. The earthquake affected more than 500,000 families.
In addition, approximately 250,000 farm animals died due to collapse of stone barns, and more than 500,000 large animals required immediate shelter from the harsh winter.
As Saturday is a normal school day in the region, most students were at schools when the earthquake struck. Many were buried under collapsed school buildings. Many people were also trapped in their homes and, because it was the month of Ramadan, most people were taking a nap after their pre-dawn meal and did not have time to escape.
Reports indicate that entire towns and villages were completely wiped out in northern Pakistan, with other surrounding areas also suffering severe damage.
J&K State Disasters
The State of Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a long history of natural disasters, ranging from catastrophic earthquakes to destructive floods, snow blizzards to avalanches, landslides to wind storms; all owing to its peculiar topography, rugged terrain, extreme weather conditions, and unique geographical and geo-climatic settings.
Sir Walter Lawrence the Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir & Jammu State in Maharaja Pratap Singh’s rule in 1889 describes how Kashmiris suffered natural disasters like fires, floods, famines, epidemics and earthquakes besides man-made disasters like exploitation of forced labour (beggar) by Government and landlords during the nineteenth century resulting into innumerable miseries and deaths of the local people.
Similarly, the 20th century has a long list of disasters. I have myself, witnessed the 1959 floods, when our plane could not fly for seven consecutive days while proceeding to join my degree engineering in Tamil Nadu. The recent disasters in J&K State have been listed as:
Avalanches are a recurrent feature, during winters. This is besides the share of human induced disasters our State has had to face in the past.
In the wake of recurring disasters, the State has always paid heavily in terms of loss of life and property. Enhanced vulnerabilities of the built environment make the State highly prone to natural disasters.
However, the Relief and Recovery activities carried out in the affected areas by the Civil Administration, Police, Security forces, Army, Air Force and NGOs has been laudable. The courage, dedication and zeal of the local community revealed that human relations were at their peak during the disasters.
State disaster management
The State of Jammu and Kashmir recognizes that hazards are inevitable, but these need not necessarily convert into disasters. A pro-active, holistic, comprehensive and multifarious approach is required, for disaster risk reduction and management.
The State has thus, adopted the twin principle of minimizing human suffering, during disasters and reduction of financial losses through integration of Disaster Risk Reduction activities into development planning.
In the aftermath of the devastating floods, the Government of India requested assistance from the World Bank and an emergency project was started, the Project is named as Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project. The project focuses on restoring critical infrastructure using international best practices, on resilient infrastructure.
Given the State’s vulnerability to both floods and earthquakes, the infrastructure is being designed with upgraded resilient features, and includes contingency planning for future disaster events. The project aims at both restoring essential services disrupted by the floods and improving the design standard and practices to increase resilience.
J&K has now structured institutional mechanism to deal with disasters at the State level. The State Disaster Management Authority is headed by Hon’ble Governor.
The State has the unique distinction of having a shifting State Capital, between Srinagar and Jammu, every six months and therefore the State has two unique Divisional Disaster Management Authorities for Kashmir and Jammu Divisions, which are headed by the respective Divisional Commissioners.
This is in addition to the State and District Disaster Management Authorities, to manage the whole gamut of disasters.
Land has been identified at the State level for establishment of State Emergency Operation Centre, for ensuring effective management of disasters.
Till the time the permanent EOCs are constructed, interim EOCs have been established. The State Disaster Management Plan, the State Disaster Management Policy and District Disaster Management Plans have been prepared and are regularly being updated and upgraded.
The State has established two dedicated Battalions of the State Disaster Response Force. The process of upgrading SDRF with adequate manpower, capacity building and equipment support has been initiated. Besides this, the Fire & Emergency Services is also being strengthened and upgraded.
Community is amongst the first responders in any disaster situations and therefore, the State has taken innovative initiatives for creating awareness amongst general masses and for building up their capacity, so that they are better equipped to handle any exigencies.
Training of students and teachers on School Safety Measures has been accorded top priority. Revenue Officers, including District Collectors, Tehsildars, Patwaris, Senior Administrators and Municipal Ward Corporators will be imparted training and involved in preparation of Community Level Disaster Management Plans.
On 15th September 2011, on Engineers Day we had a seminar on “Engineering preparedness on disaster management” where I also presented a paper.
My booklet published separately on Disaster Mitigation covers the introduction, global disaster trends, J&K scenario, international scenario, the planned strategy, flood preparedness and response, national core group for earthquake risk mitigation, review of building bye-laws and their adoption, development and revision of codes, hazard safety cells in states, national programme for capacity building of engineers and architects in earthquake risk mitigation, training of rural masons, earthquake engineering in undergraduate engineering/architecture curricula, hospital preparedness and emergency health management in medical education, retrofitting of lifeline buildings, national earthquake risk mitigation project, acceleration urban earthquake vulnerability reduction programme, mainstreaming mitigation in rural development schemes, national cyclone mitigation project, landslide hazard mitigation, disaster risk management programme, awareness operation, disaster awareness in school curriculum; information, education and communication; special focus to north-eastern states and lastly it presents a useful data about natural disasters.
As rightly said that disasters cannot be prevented, but all necessary measures can be taken to minimize damages due to disasters. A prepared community can deal with disasters in a better manner. The State believes in the slogan “Help people, to help themselves”.
Author is Chairman of IEI J&KSC Srinagar