Disaster response

Published March 23, 2023

THE earthquake which struck Afghanistan and the northern parts of Pakistan late Tuesday, has come as a stark warning to the authorities tasked with preparing for disasters and mitigating their effects. The quake, reported to have had a magnitude of 6.5, resulted in the tragic loss of 10 lives and left 62 injured in KP. At least 65 homes were damaged by the strong tremors, which also triggered landslides in Gilgit-Baltistan, although, thankfully, no loss of life was reported there. Meanwhile, there was considerable panic in different cities in Punjab, with severe jolts felt in major metropolises like Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad, among other cities. In Islamabad, an emergency was declared at Poly Clinic and Pims after reports that some high-rises had developed cracks. There were reports of apartment-dwelling citizens spending the night in their cars or with loved ones elsewhere over fears of a repeat of the Margalla Towers tragedy of 2005.

The reports of residential buildings being structurally compromised by the quake are most concerning. If indeed the damage to high-rise buildings is as serious as reported, they cannot be considered fit for habitation until they are thoroughly inspected and cleared for use by a competent authority. The question also ought to be raised as to how these faults developed. Was it the builders’ failure to factor earthquake resilience into their construction plans, or something else? The memory of the Margalla Towers collapse is still fresh for the people of Islamabad. The families of the victims of that tragedy never received the closure they deserved, and other citizens will now find it difficult to believe the authorities, even if they are told their homes are safe. This only adds to the psychological cost of the disaster. Likewise, in reference to the reports from KP, it is quite regrettable that people living in earthquake-prone areas are still unsafe in their homes, even during intermediate-level seismic events. It is the responsibility of the provincial government and its attached departments to update local building codes, if not already done, and also have them strictly implemented in order to prevent loss of life and property. There also needs to be an ongoing programme to proactively educate and inform citizens about risks from natural disasters and to provide them guidance about modern methods of construction that may help residential structures better withstand natural disasters.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2023

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