South Asia earthquake
Tragedy and destruction in Kashmir
Still provisional, the toll of the
earthquake that struck Pakistan and India on 8 October is
harrowing: at least 65,000 dead, 75,000 injured and more than
3 million made homeless. For survivors, there is no choice
but to start over. In a race against time, the International
Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement mobilized its network
and sizeable operational capacity to meet the population’s
basic needs, which have been growing since the start of the
Himalayan winter. Red Cross Red Crescent looks at the humanitarian
effort under way in the earthquake zone.
survivors in Lamnian, a village in the Jhelum Valley
in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
©Fred Clarke / ICRC
“We were unprepared for such a disaster,” says
Syed Sarfaz Hussain Naqvi, secretary of the Pakistan-administered
Kashmir branch of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS)
in Muzaffarabad. “Out of our 500 volunteers, I don’t
know yet how many are dead or wounded, but many are. An hour
after the quake hit on 8 October, we gathered a first team
of four volunteers and went with our first-aid boxes around
the city. There were bodies lying on the street and the city
reverberated with people’s cries of pain and despair.
The layout of the city had changed.”
more volunteers joining the fledgling team in the next three
days, efforts focused on rescue, especially in schools, where
pupils were trapped under debris. With the combined forces
of the PRCS, the Turkish Red Crescent Society, the ICRC, local
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and several international
agencies, many lives were saved in the first few days. But
Muzaffarabad was just one of many areas to be devastated in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In the deep Neelum and Jhelum
Valleys, destruction was widespread, especially in hundreds
of villages perched 1,200 to 1,800 metres above sea level.
With each passing day, news of the scale of the disaster spread,
as the Pakistani army and ICRC field teams reached more of
the devastated areas.
A victim of the early morning earthquake is
brought into a field hospital run by the French Red Cross
in Bana, NWPF, 19 October 2005.
©Eric Feferberg / AFP Photo
Because the local health system had been decimated, the
ICRC launched a large-scale medical programme. During the
first three weeks after the earthquake, more than 1,000 injured
people were evacuated by helicopter or treated on the spot
by mobile health teams sent in by the Japanese and Finnish
Red Cross Societies. In Muzaffarabad, the ICRC, together with
the Norwegian and Finnish Red Cross, set up a 150-bed field
hospital (similar to one used earlier in the year for tsunami
victims in Indonesia’s Aceh province), followed by a
basic health-care unit provided by the German Red Cross. Two
additional basic healthcare units were opened, one in Pathika
(Neelum Valley), run by the Finnish Red Cross, and one in
Chinari (Jhelum Valley), run by the Japanese Red Cross.
“I have never seen so many injured... It’s comparable
to a gigantic battlefield,” commented Dr Joel Lagoutte,
who was one of the first ICRC staff members to be dispatched
to Pakistan-administered Kashmir and who organized some 300
medical evacuations. “In addition, one month after the
disaster, old open fractures, infected wounds, gangrene and
tetanus cases are still pouring in.” For those who have
lost limbs, physical rehabilitation will be needed, requiring
ICRC prosthetics services in the long-term.
Public health also tops the list of priorities, with repair
work to the watersupply system being undertaken in many parts
of Muzaffarabad, as well as in isolated health posts and dispensaries
How did people directly affected by the earthquake react
to the disaster? Red Cross Red
Crescent spoke to victims and helpers on the spot.
“I have lost my friends, my relatives and my father.
But look around me, everyone
has lost so much, now I have given up all fears.”
Muhamad Wasim, 16-year-old boy, Shala Bagh
“It was as though all things, roofs and hills, were
coming down on us.”
Zameer, 12-year-old boy, Gharri Dupatta
“You know, it has been so tough, so sudden and so painful,
have been kind and so helpful.”
Arif Hassan, 21-year-old student, Chinari
“In the first days, I was in a state of shock did not
know what was in
store for me and my relatives back in the valley.”
Anita Durrani, 16-year-old girl, Muzaffarabad
“I could not stand... I thought: I have to face death,
this is God’s judgement.”
Syed Qamar, 35-year-old farmer, Rakkot
“I took the dead body of my sister out of the house...
What is the purpose of my life now?”
A young man, Chakothi
“People are shocked but very resilient.”
Dr Shafiq, Chakothi
“Listen to the hammering! This is still recovery, but
soon it will be time for rehabilitation.”
Zubair Khan, PRCS official
and food for survival
Thousands of mud and concrete buildings have collapsed,
while deadly landslides have damaged or destroyed houses and
blocked access roads. While some people have moved south to
Islamabad, Rawalpindi or Lahore, many others are keen to stay
and rebuild their homes. They have started to construct shelters
with the rubble of their former houses, but with the arrival
of winter, they are in dire need of protection from the elements.
To buy them time, the ICRC is providing tarpaulins and tents,
as well as blankets, construction tools and essential household
items. In these harsh conditions, food is also scarce. The
ICRC is distributing a two-month food ration consisting of
rice, split peas/lentils, oil and sugar to destitute families,
about 200,000 people in total.
Getting these vital supplies to those who need them most,
however, is a logistical challenge. Many roads have been cut
— entire sections of asphalt have literally fallen away
into surrounding rivers — especially in the Neelum Valley.
Many places are accessible only by helicopter. The ICRC is
the second largest air transporter of relief after the Pakistani
army. Its ten helicopters drop off large quantities of relief
goods in the worstaffected areas, providing they can land
safely. As roads are progressively cleared, trucks are able
to deliver tarpaulins and food to more and more places. But
with villages still cut off and the first snows on the horizon,
mules are sometimes the only means of transport to remote
and mountainous areas. With communication links broken, many
villages have become cut off from the rest of the world. The
ICRC helped re-establish family links through satellite telephones:
thousands of people were able to contact and reassure their
To succeed in such challenging circumstances, exceptional
manpower is needed: pilots, aircrews, drivers, radio operators
are just a few of the specialists who were mobilized within
days. Worthy of special mention is the “Kabul Club”,
a dozen of the ICRC’s Afghan employees who arrived in
Muzaffarabad shortly after the quake, whose operational knowledge
and mastery of Pashto, one of the local languages, made a
The magnitude of the disaster and its geographical complexity
requires sustained coordination with the Pakistani authorities,
United Nations agencies and NGOs operating in similar fields.
With the lead role for the Movement’s action in Pakistanadministered
Kashmir, the ICRC is working in close partnership with the
PRCS, the International Federation and numerous Red Cross
and Red Crescent National Societies.
This boy with a broken arm was brought by his
mother to the ICRC/Japanese Red Cross mobile clinic in Chika,
Jhelum Valley in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
©Olivier Moeckli / ICRC
In Jammu and Kashmir (India), where 1,300 people have been
officially confirmed dead, the Indian Red Cross Society has
dispatched thousands of blankets, tents and tarpaulins from
its headquarters to the affected areas, while local Red Cross
teams are distributing relief items such as kitchen sets and
first-aid kits. Initially, 400 Red Cross first-aiders have
been engaged in search and rescue, as well as in relief operations
in Poonch, Rajouri, Baramulla and Uri, with the support of
the ICRC’s regional delegation in New Delhi.
On 30 October, India and Pakistan agreed to go ahead with
plans to open up five crossing points across the de facto
border in Kashmir, which would enable many separated family
members to get back in touch with each other.
Pakistani Scouts and PRCS volunteers distributing
tents in the area of Garhi Habibullah.
©Till Mayer / International Federation
Bordering Pakistan-administered Kashmir, vast areas of North-West
Frontier Province (NWFP) have been badly affected by the earthquake.
Little remains of the lively town of Balakot — a resort
well known to hikers and tourists, situated at the bottom
of the Kaghan Valley and surrounded by the scenic mountains
of the Hindu Kush. Balakot and its neighbouring villages were
almost completely destroyed in the earthquake. It is estimated
that almost 80 per cent of its population of 35,000 were killed.
Most villages in the mountains above were also totally demolished.
Although the Kaghan Valley has one of the highest death tolls
in the area struck by the earthquake in the NWFP, the problems
faced by the remaining population are similar in all the locations
where the Red Cross Red Crescent is carrying out relief efforts.
At the best of times, these communities live in a harsh environment
in tough mountainous terrain. They are used to coping in difficult
conditions, but they need more than just resilience to survive
now and in the long term. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
is striving to provide them with the means to carry on through
winter. With temperatures plummeting to minus 15 degrees Celsius
in the highest settlements as early as November, the urgency
of the task is even more imminent.
“Make no mistake. This is one of the most complex relief
operations ever. Our operation has been able to overcome many
of the problems caused by bad weather, landslides, aftershocks
and generally difficult terrain, but these problems will worsen
with the onset of winter,” said Markku Niskala, secretary
general of the International Federation, after having visited
the quake-affected area in Pakistan. “I am appealing
to individuals and governments around the world to support
us in this work.”
The operation faces a serious challenge. The International
Federation appealed for US$ 117 million to assist some 570,000
survivors, but less than half this amount has been secured.
Nonetheless, Red Cross Red Crescent relief distribution has
continued to gain momentum despite the harsh conditions. Getting
tents, blankets and tarpaulins to survivors has called for
new and innovative measures. Small jeeps, mules and sometimes
people are used to carry relief items up the mountains to
remote villages, and the International Federation has started
airlifting special relief teams by helicopter to isolated
A long wait
Siddique Muhammad waited for two weeks while roads were
cleared and made accessible for Red Cross Red Crescent aid
to be brought up to his isolated village of Hangrai, high
up in the Kaghan Valley. It has been a long wait, as his wife
and four sons have only had tarpaulins and plastic sheeting
to shield them from the cold. His home was completely destroyed
— as were all other houses in Hangrai. Some 150 people
were killed in this small community, which counts only a few
“Everything was destroyed in a single second,”
Siddique says when asked about the earthquake. “Throughout
the day you could hear people crying. Then the rain fell in
the night. It was awful.” After receiving a tent from
the Red Cross Red Crescent distribution point in Jabra, Siddique
struggles to carry it up the steep mountain slopes to his
village. Once there, and with help from friends and family,
he puts it up besides the ruins of his home. Under the rubble
lie all his worldly belongings, and he wants to salvage as
much as possible while the weather allows. The future remains
“If the weather permits, we will stay up here. If
it gets too cold, we will have to shift down to the valley
— to Balakot or surrounding towns,” he explains.
What he wants most of all is to stay close to where his life’s
fortune lies buried.
Regional disaster response teams (RDRT) from sister Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies in South and Southeast Asia, together
with volunteers from the Pakistan Red Crescent, have been
instrumental in organizing relief distributions in the mountain
villages around the towns of Balakot, Batagram, Gahri Habibullah
and Mansehra — which also serves as the International
Federation’s operation centre and is the location for
its main warehouse and base camp. They have managed to reach
out to isolated communities with much-awaited relief items
such as tents and blankets. An RDRT mobile medical clinic
has also provided basic health care and assistance to more
than 100 villages in the mountains.
The International Federation/PRCS teams are, on average,
reaching some 30,000 people a week in their relief efforts,
focusing on remote isolated villages in the mountains. Red
Cross Red Crescent teams and PRCS mobile health teams are
providing medical care to some 7,000 people every week. Water
and sanitation teams in Batagram, Maira and Balakot are producing
about 150,000 litres of water daily, serving approximately
20,000 people. In addition, the Pakistan Red Crescent has
distributed hundreds of truckloads of tents and blankets.
Blankets and food distribution by ICRC in Subri,
Jhelum Valley in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
©Olivier Moeckli / ICRC
Winter is a major challenge for survivors of
the earthquake. An Indian Kashmiri family keeps warm with
a bonfire in Dildar, near the ‘line of control’
in Indian-administered Kashmir, 22 October 2005.
©Reuters / Arko Datta, Courtesy www.alertnet.org
winter and beyond
“Shelter and health care are our key priorities, but
we must also look ahead to reconstruction and make sure that
people are able to survive the harsh winter and helped to
stand on their own feet in the longer term,” said Jahandad
Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society. The PRCS
is already developing a longer-term recovery plan, looking
at re-establishing livelihoods and providing improved shelter.
Many of those living in the mountains traditionally migrate
to lower ground with their livestock in winter and return
to their villages around six months later. The migration to
the valleys is likely to increase this winter because of the
harsh conditions, but whether people decide to stay or go,
they are all going to need adequate shelter, blankets and
stoves to see them through the months to come.
Most importantly, aid needs to be provided as far as possible
to people where they live, in order to avoid further disruption
of community life. “Indeed, rebuilding their lives is
the best way for disaster victims to recover from shock and
loss,” stressed Jakob Kellenberger, the ICRC’s
president, during his meeting with Pakistan’s President
Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in early November.
While attending to the immediate needs of the population
during the harsh winter months will help save lives and protect
livelihoods, it is also necessary to look ahead to next spring
and beyond. The economic and social dislocation wrought by
the earthquake will take months if not years to set right
and will require a sustained effort from the Movement, whether
in the areas of health, food and material assistance, reconstruction
or in the restoration of contacts among dispersed families.
The local population will also need support in improving their
income-generating potential, including agricultural and livestock
activities and micro-economic initiatives. In order to pursue
the crucial efforts the Movement has deployed from the very
first days, pledges of support from both public and private
entities are essential. Every minute, every donation counts.
Jean-François Berger and
Jean-François Berger is ICRC editor of Red
Cross Red Crescent.
Solveig Olafsdottir is International Federation information
delegate in Pakistan.
For more information, see www.icrc.org and www.ifrc.org
Facts and figures
Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from around the world
mobilized personnel and relief goods in response to the disaster
and to the appeals launched by the International Federation
and the ICRC. They include the National Societies of Austria,
Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain,
Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the
United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS)
• is continuing its emergency operation in the affected
• has deployed a dozen medical teams, staffed by doctors
and volunteer paramedics, to provide first-aid, curative and
• is evacuating the injured to Islamabad and Rawalpindi
and assisting with rescue efforts.
• is providing blood to health facilities through its
• 2005 budget for Pakistan: US$ 48 million in order
to assist some 200,000 people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
• Staff: 900 in Pakistan, including 200 expatriates.
• Logistics: 10 helicopters, over 100 trucks.
• Budget appeal for US$ 117 million.
• Staff: more than 157 expatriate delegates from emergency
response units, and South Asia/South East Asia RDRT’s,
and bilateral participating National Societies, and some 30
International Federation delegates.
• Logistics: 40 M-6 trucks with 20 trailers. The International
Federation airlifted special relief teams by helicopter to
isolated villages in the North-West Frontier Province.
Working as part of a coordinated operation:
• Austrian Red Cross: water and sanitation unit in Balakot,
• British Red Cross: logistic ERU in Abottabad, NWFP.
• Danish Red Cross: base camp and telecom ERU in Manshera,
• Finnish Red Cross: basic health-care clinic in Pathika,
• French Red Cross: basic health-care unit in Batagram,
• German Red Cross: water and sanitation unit in Batagram,
NWFP, and basic health-care unit and basic administrative
unit in Muzaffarabad.
• Japanese Red Cross Society: basic health-care clinic
in Chinari, Jhelum Valley.
• Malaysian Red Crescent Society, mobile health team
• Norwegian Red Cross: field hospital in Muzaffarabad,
• Spanish Red Cross: basic health-care unit in Balakot,
• Swedish Red Cross: water and sanitation unit in Balakot,
Working on a bilateral basis:
• Qatar Red Crescent Society: hospital in Bagh, Pakistan-administered
• Turkish Red Crescent Society: hospital and relief
• Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
Italian Red Cross, Republic of Korea National Red Cross, Kuwait
Red Crescent Society, Singapore Red Cross and the Red Crescent
Society of the United Arab Emirates.