Emergency Update: Pakistan & Afghanistan Earthquake, 10/27



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The death toll from Monday morning’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan, which struck near the border with Pakistan, was revised up from 147 to more than 300. With information still coming in and many areas still inaccessible, that figure is expected to rise. According to government officials and news reports, entire villages in the worst affected of Pakistan’s provinces may have been entirely destroyed. Still, the Pakistan government has stated that it does not require international assistance, as this is nowhere near the scale of the massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Kashmir in Northern Pakistan in 2005 ten years ago to the month.

The 2005 earthquake not only sparked a massive international aid effort, but it spurred the Pakistan military into action as a pivotal humanitarian actor. The 2005 earthquake also marked the first time the UN cluster system was activated.

While the 2005 earthquake had vastly greater humanitarian impact, it did offer lessons that still hold relevance.

  1. Physical environment: High levels of deforestation, steep mountainous terrain, poorly constructed roads and alpine weather, combined with an earthquake, make the northern Pakistan areas exceedingly difficult to access. This delays the delivery and receipt of information regarding the humanitarian toll of a disaster.
  2. Built Environment: Typically in these mountainous areas, the roofs of houses are earthen and set atop wood beams and serve as platforms to store livestock such as cows or goats. Such weight increases the likelihood that a roof will collapse in an earthquake.
  3. Political environment: Another feature of the 2005 response involved the disputed status of Kashmir. When the British withdrew from India in 1947, the territory was partitioned into what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the decades that preceded Partition, the British gradually ceded political power to the indigenous political system, but political fractures and power interests made the British exit exceedingly complicated.  Many assumed Kashmir would go to Pakistan, but it ultimately sided with India, leading to a war between the two fledgling nations. The front lines became the de facto border, now known as the line of control. Beyond its historical importance, Kashmir holds strategic value for its access to the main water sources flowing south and its high ground. Several wars later, Kashmir remains a highly militarized zone.

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