Pakistan earthquake: 100 days after

Published: 18 January 2006

Relief effort still struggling as second humanitarian disaster looms

Survivors of Pakistan’s devastating earthquake still face dangers and difficulties 100 days after the country’s worst natural disaster warns Oxfam International today.

Conditions for earthquake survivors in the official camps remain difficult, especially with the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter, while inhabitants in many spontaneous camps are finding that even their most basic needs are not being met.

“It’s 100 days since the earthquake struck and we’re still in full lifesaving mode as this crisis shows no sign of abating. We’ve been very lucky that the heavy snowfalls have only just struck and the challenge now is to reach vulnerable people before it’s too late,” says Farhana Faruqi Stocker, Oxfam’s Pakistan Country Director.

The difficult Himalayan terrain and rudimentary infrastructure have presented local authorities and relief agencies literally with a mountain to climb, with scores of villages entirely inaccessible by road.

Many existing roads were damaged during the quake and have been frequently blocked by landslides caused by subsequent tremors and rainfall, or by heavy snow brought on by the onset of a harsh winter.

The UN’s relief operation has been hampered by a lack of pledges to the UN’s earthquake appeal fund. Barely half of the funds appealed for – $300 million of the $549 million required – has materialized to date.

“The international community must support the Pakistani authorities and the UN to improve co-ordination and management of the relief effort,” says Stocker.

“Internationally agreed minimum standards for camp management – the Sphere standards – must at least be reached and the transition from military to civilian responsibility must proceed carefully and sensitively.”

People in smaller spontaneous camps have missed out on aid provisions owing to confusion over responsibility for food distribution as well as other urgently needed items.

The worsening weather has brought new – albeit predictable – dangers. Most tents rushed to the earthquake zone in the aftermath of the quake were unsuitable for winter conditions. Like many other NGOs, Oxfam has been busy winterizing the tents it provided as well as providing materials to build sturdier shelters.

But Oxfam’s warnings of a possible second humanitarian disaster still apply to the most vulnerable – children and the elderly – trying to shelter in flimsy tents in remote areas above the snowline where access to aid deliveries has been difficult.

Cold-related illnesses such as pneumonia have risen as temperatures have fallen, and several deaths have been reported across the region.

The struggle to stay warm – especially in crowded spontaneous camps – has posed its own hazards, with reports of several fatalities and injuries from tent fires that blazed out of control. However, with temperatures plummeting to -15C in some areas, authorities in Pakistani-administered Kashmir have decided to provide paraffin stoves to camp residents.

Oxfam strongly believes the reconstruction planning and implementation must accelerate to help earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. In Pakistani Kashmir alone, 80% of crops and 50% of arable land was destroyed and more than 100,000 cattle were killed.

Attention must also be paid to the issue of land and relocation, especially for women – many of whom have been left widowed and without legal proof of property.

Moreover, these efforts must do more than return people to the dire poverty many suffered before the disaster- what is needed is “reconstruction-plus”. The authorities should also ensure that reconstruction lessens vulnerability to future earthquakes. The awarding of building contracts should include references to earthquake-resistant standards, for example.

At a meeting of 65 international donor countries on 19th November, $5.8 billion was pledged to Pakistan’s government for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

“Worryingly, a large amount of the pledges (about $4 billion) are in loans – albeit soft loans – and concerns remain over the sustainability of debt repayments,” explains Stocker.

Over three million people were affected when an earthquake registering 7.6 on the Richter scale rocked northern Pakistan on 8th October, reducing hundreds of towns and villages to rubble.

It is estimated that at least 73,000 people were killed directly and a greater number left injured in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and neighboring North West Frontier Province.

Around 2.5 million people were left homeless. About 185,000 of the displaced are living in over 40 official and 333 spontaneous registered camps. Numerous smaller unregistered ‘tent villages’ have also sprung up.

More than two million have been dependent on food aid – roughly half of those relying on relief agencies. Serious problems in the provision of food to many earthquake survivors remain.

Oxfam is involved in over 131 camps across the earthquake-hit region, providing water and sanitation facilities to more than 300,000 people so far. More than 180,000 have received shelter assistance, including tents and materials to build sturdier structures known as bandis.

Notes to Editors

Humanitarian situation

  • An estimated 400,000 survivors are living above the snow line. At least 18 deaths have been reported from the cold so far but this doesn’t amount to an increase in the usual mortality rate. However, cases of pneumonia are on the increase and severe upper respiratory diseases amount to 80% of health cases treated in the area.

  • Of the two million made homeless by the earthquake, around 20% are estimated to be actually displaced from their area of origin, with 1.7 million living in tents. A still undefined number of those who lost their homes in the quake remain either in the mountains – often in ‘tent villages’.

  • The first phase of operation ‘Winter Race’, (the UN’s term for the programme to meet the urgent winter needs) has now been completed. Phase One targeted those above 5000ft, but the relief operation is now increasingly focusing on shelter programs to lower altitudes. Over 3.3 million corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets, and 4.8 million blankets have been distributed and around 133,000 transitional shelters have been constructed as part of the ‘winterization’ process.

Unmet needs

  • Overcrowded camps, with poor drainage, are becoming increasingly unbearable as the weather worsens. Only a handful of camps meet Sphere standards – the internationally agreed minimum standards for a disaster response. Drainage has become a real problem as rain and snow has fallen.

  • Most tents rushed to the region - intended as a stop gap measure - were unsuitable for harsh winter conditions. Of the more than 250,000 tents distributed, 74% were not adequately ‘winterized’ as of mid-December.

  • Large gaps remain in the provision of food in both planned and spontaneous camps. People still do not have access to necessary heating equipment, or to appropriate and adequate food to sustain them in freezing temperatures. The World Food Programme estimates that about 40% of those people in need of support are not receiving enough.

What needs to happen?

  • The quantity and quality of the relief effort must be scaled up to address gaps and needs, while ensuring that all humanitarian agencies understand and apply humanitarian principles in the delivery of relief assistance.

  • Coordination needs to be improved in order to address the gaps. UN agencies must provide the necessary leadership in identifying the appropriate actors to fill these gaps. The UN, donors and the Government of Pakistan must include NGOs in strategic coordination mechanisms for relief and recovery planning and delivery.

  • Better camp management in many of the spontaneous camps is urgently needed. Policies and roles in camp management – which impact on the coordination of delivery of relief in camps – need to be clearly defined and fully supported at all levels, ensuring that clear and transparent policies are fully implemented and communicated to all those responsible for delivering relief. The UN needs to ensure that any lack of clarity on camp management does not damage coordination of relief assistance.

  • The UN relief operation continues to be plagued by a poor response from international donors. The UN fund has only 56% of the total required to sustain the relief efforts through the winter. Donors have generously pledged a large amount to the Government of Pakistan’s relief and reconstruction efforts. But these pledges must be fulfilled quickly.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Oxfam international media officer Shaheen Chughtai on (92) 300 856 0632 or schughtai@oxfam.org.uk, or
Oxfam national media officer Daud Malik on (92) 300 856 9312 or dmalik@oxfam.org.uk.