Ten years have elapsed since the Kashmir earthquake of 2005. The temblor jolted this country into the realisation that nature’s wrath knows no boundaries.
The death toll almost touched 75,000 according to the official count and more than 86,000 according to unofficial figures.
It was one of those moments when most Pakistanis would remember what they were doing when they first heard of, or experienced the quake. Over the next few days, the news filtered in slowly of the sheer scale of the devastation.
Many of us remember the dramatic appeal from the United Nations for a relief effort on the magnitude of the Berlin airlift, the riots around aid distribution points in the most affected areas and the traffic jams on the roads as citizens from across the country mobilised to rush food and other supplies to the quake-hit spots.
It would be well worth it to remember a few other things too. First and foremost is the warning from the world’s leading geologists who study this region that this earthquake “may not have released more than one-tenth of the cumulative elastic energy that has developed since the previous great earthquake in the region in 1555”.
There are more to come — either tomorrow or 50 years from now. With a clear warning that more such events will occur in the decades to come, the biggest lesson from the 2005 destruction is that preparedness is key. Fortunately for us, preparing for earthquakes is not as difficult or complicated as it is for other types of natural disasters such as floods.
At the top of the list are building codes to ensure that dwellings and other structures can withstand the shock of a temblor. In the two cities at either end of the epicentre of the 2005 earthquake, hardly any concrete structures survived; many of those that did were rendered unusable.
Ten years after the catastrophic event, there is a patchy track record of implementing earthquake-resistant building codes. The Development Authority of Muzaffarabad, for example, has certainly promulgated new codes and state buildings have adhered to them, but many private dwellings continue to violate these. The same is true in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The state played a largely laudable role in the rehabilitation of the affected areas, even though important gaps between the promises made at the time and what was eventually delivered persist to this day.
Out of a total of Rs207bn that were pledged for reconstruction, about Rs140bn were eventually disbursed. The job was gargantuan, but, by and large, the government of the time rose to the occasion. Whatever the general opinion of his rule may be, Gen Musharraf provided a sturdy guiding hand when the staggering scale of the crisis fuelled a sense of panic in the country.
However, less than five years later, the floods of 2010 would prove that no lasting lessons were learned in how to manage natural disasters.
The earthquake reminded us of our insignificance compared to the forces of nature that envelope our lives so completely. But the aftermath, which brought countless tears to countless eyes, brought out the best in each of us as people scrambled to contribute in any way they could.
Doctors trekked across dangerous mud slopes to reach affected communities while journalists dropped their pens and joined in the search for survivors under the rubble. Edhi volunteers cut a trail of sheer bravery as they crossed impassable terrain with large convoys of relief goods, being the first to arrive in many locations.
At relief collection points in the cities, people reported that even beggars were coming forward to share their meagre takings — even if much of the effort may have been hasty and ramshackle, and there were stories of how some made money off the misery of others.
The help that Pakistan received from the world community was also significant. But 10 years on, let’s not forget how the people of Pakistan pulled together to face a terrible calamity, registering for generations to come that the bonds of common empathy that bind them to each other are alive and well — and stronger than any force of nature, and certainly stronger than any politics or any ideology that seeks to tear the people apart.