Balochistan quake survivors await relief

By Beena Sarwar (writing for IPS)

KARACHI, Oct 29: Poor infrastructure and communications are making
it difficult for rescue and relief teams to scattered hamlets in the
mountainous plateau area affected by the 6.2 magnitude earthquake
that struck Pakistan’s south-western province of Balochistan
bordering Iran at early morning on Oct. 29.

Relief efforts were thrown back by a second earthquake that struck
the area barely 12 hours later at about 5 pm, followed by at least
four significant aftershocks including one measuring 4.5 on the
Richter scale.

Lt. Gen. (retd) Farooq Ahmed Khan, Chairman National Disaster
Management Authority (NDMA) said that the situation had been brought
under control when the second earthquake struck.

“We had managed to find most of the bodies and provide relief to most
of the survivors, including hospitalization and first aid and tents
and blankets. But because of the darkness as night fell soon after
the second earthquake, it is hard to say what the situation is at
this point,” he said in a late-night television show, talking to
Kamran Khan of Geo TV.

At least 200 people are believed to be dead so far, a number expected
to rise as many remain trapped under collapsed houses in scattered
hamlets, and survivors braving the bitter mountain cold out in the
open in the fruit orchards where many have taken refuge.

The army has provided six C-130 airplanes to convey relief materials
including tents, blankets, food and drinking water to the affected
areas, and put two army field hospitals on standby, said the NDMA

The worst hit area is the idyllic hill resort of Ziarat near the
earthquake’s epicenter, some 70 km north-east of the provincial
capital Quetta. Ziarat is accessible by a single road that has also
been damaged by the earthquake but the over half dozen villages
affected by the earthquake around Ziarat town are more difficult to

Most of the houses in the area are reported to have collapsed, said
to be the main cause of death in the area, said reporters reaching
the area. They also say there is an urgent need for tents, blankets,
food items and drinking water.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area, but its
most sparsely populated and poorest in terms of development and
social indicators, although rich in natural mineral resources, and
natural gas. Most of the ten million or so inhabitants – a fraction
of the country’s estimated 160 million – of this rugged, water-scarce
plateau region are tribal nomadic herders or fruit farmers.

Situated on a known fault line, the province is no stranger to such
destruction. The devastation caused by the 1935 earthquake is part of
legend now, when some 35,000 were killed in Quetta, wiping out half
the city’s population.

However, successive governments have done little to take
precautionary measures or enforce safety regulations that would
reduce earthquake casualties in the country.

The British who then ruled India introduced the Building Code Act of
1935, notes M. Ejaz Khan, a veteran reporter based in Quetta. The Act
included the stipulation that no buildings in the earthquake-prone
area would be higher than a single-storey.

“But many buildings in Quetta are four-storey high,” Khan told IPS
over the phone. “In Ziarat, there are mostly mud houses, but several
government residences go up to two or three-storeys high.”

The international community has stepped forward with expressions of
condolence and offers of aid, including Britain, China, India and the
European Union. Germany has already committed USD 3,15,000 as well as
tents, blankets and other essentials.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has announced Rs 300,000 (around
USD 3,600) compensation for each casualty and Rs 100,000 (around USD
1,200) for each injured survivor.

However, many families affected by the devastating earthquake in
Kashmir in the north-west almost exactly three years ago have yet to
receive the compensation promised then. Over 80,000 people were
killed then, with about as many injured and maimed.

“Some claimants gave up and made the tough decision to migrate to
other areas, while others took loans for reconstruction. Yet others,
generally the poorest, unable to pursue any of these options,
continue to live in tents or other makeshift arrangements,” according
to `Three Years On, The Realities of People’s Lives’, a report
released by the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation on Oct. 8, the third
anniversary of the 2005 earthquake.

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