Earthquake Solidarity – Syed Moazzam Hai

Aftershocks as earth shattering as a full-grown earthquake have continued to jolt Nepal off the path to resurrection since April 25. On May 12 tremors measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit Nepal, taking life away from dozens more.

The mother quake that surfaced on April 25, and measured 7.8, had already killed around 8,000 people. No one around Nepal feels their grief as close to heart as we Pakistanis do, having suffered similarity of pain back in 2005.

Our lifelong detractors in our near east did not even spare the human tragedy in Nepal; they brought out the beef controversy against us and marinated it with mischief masala yet they couldn’t cook up anything meaty and fishy against the brotherly spirit and drive with which we went all out as far as we could to be with our Nepalese friends in the most demanding of times.

Not just similarity of pain but homogeny of a Himalayan geology liable to bring up earthquakes is also shared by Nepal and Pakistan. It’s a legacy as overwhelming as our K2 and Mount Everest and as overpowering as we witnessed in Muzaffarabad, Balakot, Kathmandu and Namche Bazaar.

According to a report titled ‘Seismic Hazard Analysis and Zonation for Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir’, prepared by the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and Norsar (Norwegian Seismic Array) in 2007, Pakistan is situated in a highly seismically active region which has experienced many disastrous earthquakes in the past like the 1945 Makran coast earthquake measuring slightly above 8.0 on the Richter scale, the 1931 Machh earthquake, the 1935 Quetta quake of 7.3, the 1974 Pattan earthquake of 7.4, and the 2005 Muzaffarabad earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale.

There are five high seismic activity zones in Pakistan, the Hindukush region, the northern areas of Pakistan and Kashmir, the north-western part of Balochistan, the coastal areas of Pakistan (near the Makran region) and the south-eastern corner of Pakistan (Runn of Kutch). This puts even Karachi in close proximity of the possibility of a major earthquake. Even Lahore suffered devastation by the Kangra earthquake back in 1905.

Every earthquake of intensity leaves behind tales of tears and trails of terror and a lesson to be learnt – the lesson to lessen the terror and tears of an earthquake. The lesson to never ever again let corruption turn government schools into rickety skeletons condemned to be the mortuary of their pupils and to never let towering oversights like Margalla Towers overshadow hopes of lives under them. The lesson for all of us to build houses, not cemeteries.

NDMA was formed in 2007. Something is better than nothing, some would say. Now we at least have something in times of need, some others would say. But everyone would agree that we must make ourselves do more. Things like training doctors and paramedics to save lives and limbs amid earthquakes instead of embarking upon a spree of mass amputations. Like creating mass awareness on how to build houses that could hold ground on shaky earth, and what to look for in big housing projects as signs of veritable earthquake resistance. And like educating the people on how to deal with an earthquake.

Countries like Japan and New Zealand nestled on restless grounds have learned how to live with the undependability of the land underneath. Every month earthquake drills are held in Japanese schools during which alarms sound and children retreat under their desks to shelter from falling debris. All offices and many private houses in Japan have earthquake emergency kits. Offices and schools also keep hard-hats and gloves for use in the event of a quake.

Construction damage is reduced due to uncompromising adherence to strict building regulations (can we imagine that in our plundered city of Karachi?). In New Zealand building regulations ensure that earthquake shaking is taken into account in the building design.

Pakistan should establish a joint earthquake public safety organisation with Nepal to create constantly upgraded mass public awareness on survival against earthquakes ranging from construction codes to school and office drills. The public body should consist of highly trained seismologists, safety and rescue experts and medical professionals with non-profit participation of personnel from relevant nongovernmental organisations not only from Pakistan and Nepal but also from China and other countries like Japan and New Zealand.

Pakistan’s armed forces have vast and impressive experience and expertise in rescue operations. Representatives from Pakistan, Nepal and China’s armed forces will add essential functional value to the proposed body.

Nepal’s recent earthquake should help Pakistan and Nepal be better prepared for the next time an earthquake visits us again.