Af / Pak — 21 February 2006

The most unsettling thing about the earthquake that struck northern Pakistan on October 8th 2005, was the fact that the Government of Pakistan was caught totally unprepared,having neither an earthquake preparedness nor earthquake response programme in place.

Northern Pakistan, lying on one of the most active fault-lines known, is rocked regularly by earthquakes. The Indian plate’s collision with the Eurasian plate lifts the Himalaya range between two and three inches a year.The collision of the plates creates a subduction effect producing frequent earthquakes of varying intensity.

The geographical and climatic conditions of the northern parts of Pakistan dictate that an earthquake would potentially isolate tens of thousands of people living in scattered villages, leaving them without any medical, rescue or relief assistance. The nature of the concrete construction boom of the 1980’s in the villages and small towns of northern Pakistan would complicate this problem further. This scenario would be compounded immensely in the winter months with the fall in temperatures and intense snowing.

Knowing all of this, being mindful of the fact that massive earthquakes have wrought substantial devastation along this fault before, and having had a forewarning with the experience of the winter earthquake of 2002 in the Northern Areas, why then was the Government of Pakistan without an effective and plausible earthquake programme covering pre-earthquake preparedness and post-earthquake response? The Californian and Japanese experiences demonstrate without doubt that the impact of an earthquake in terms of human and infrastructure losses can be reduced immensely with the implementation of an effective programme.

In both Japan and California,large earthquakes strike relatively often. Yet, in aggregate, the casualty numbers in both regions, since the implementation of comprehensive pre-earthquake preparedness and post-earthquake response programmes (in earnest over the last 30 years), do not amount to a significant fraction of the losses suffered in the October 8th earthquake.

The Pakistan Geological Survey itself acknowledges that the effort to mitigate the consequence of a major earthquake is “…the need of the hour.”[1]

Given the primacy of the threat faced by Pakistan, as attested to by the statement of the Geological Survey of Pakistan, it is ironic to note that the Caribbean Island of Jamaica has in place a comprehensive earthquake programme detailing an organised response, and is studied and enhanced often [2]. Jamaica hasn’t had an earthquake comparable with the October 8th disaster in Pakistan for well over 300 years. But the fact that it has occurred, combined with the observation that smaller tremors have rattled the Island occasionally over previous decades, combine to warrant the study of options available and preparation for a worst-case scenario.

The basis of any comprehensive and effective earthquake impact reduction programme will have two core components; a pre-earthquake preparation component and a post-earthquake response plan.What follows is an outline of the main components of an earthquake impact reduction program. It highlights the fundamental and core aspects, and demonstrates the relative plausibility with which it can be implemented and enhanced.

The pre-earthquake aspect will break down into the following core components.

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