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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.

Earthquake 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.”

With 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

Saving lives first

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 still functioning.

The days after

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, and people
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

Shelter 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 loved ones.

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 real difference.

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 India

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 villages.

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 thousand inhabitants.

“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 uncertain.

“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

Through 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 Solveig Olafsdottir
Jean-François Berger is ICRC editor of Red Cross Red Crescent.
Solveig Olafsdottir is International Federation information delegate in Pakistan.

For more information, see and


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 areas.
• has deployed a dozen medical teams, staffed by doctors and volunteer paramedics, to provide first-aid, curative and referral services.
• is evacuating the injured to Islamabad and Rawalpindi and assisting with rescue efforts.
• is providing blood to health facilities through its blood bank.

• 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.

International Federation
• 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.

National Societies
Working as part of a coordinated operation:
• Austrian Red Cross: water and sanitation unit in Balakot, NWFP.
• British Red Cross: logistic ERU in Abottabad, NWFP.
• Danish Red Cross: base camp and telecom ERU in Manshera, NWFP.
• Finnish Red Cross: basic health-care clinic in Pathika, Neelum Valley.
• French Red Cross: basic health-care unit in Batagram, NWFP.
• 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 in NWFP.
• Norwegian Red Cross: field hospital in Muzaffarabad, 40 trucks.
• Spanish Red Cross: basic health-care unit in Balakot, NWFP.
• Swedish Red Cross: water and sanitation unit in Balakot, NWFP.

Working on a bilateral basis:
• Qatar Red Crescent Society: hospital in Bagh, Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
• Turkish Red Crescent Society: hospital and relief in Muzaffarabad.
• 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.


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