By Arsalan Kashfi, Atlas Corps Fellow serving at Disaster Accountability Project
October the 8th 2005 at 8:52 am an earthquake shook parts of Pakistan with such veracity that millions wondered if this was the end. In initial reports, the media immediately focused on the collapsed Margalla Towers (Islamabad) where 73 people died and around 100 were injured. Meanwhile, outside Islamabad, things were far worse.
Within an hour of the earthquake, Pakistan Army Aviation helicopters were in the air to assess the extent of damage and to evacuate the seriously injured. By midday reports were pouring-in about the massive devastation in Northern Pakistan. Cities like Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Bagh and Balakot have been reduced to dust and debris. In a few tragic moments, thousands of people were buried under a shower of stones, wood and concrete. The buzz of human life was reduced to an airy silence. With its epicenter near Muzaffarabad and a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale it was the worst natural disaster ever to strike this region – triggering landslides, flattening homes and schools and raising bold infrastructures which took years to build. Many mountains have sunk several meters thus impacting the topography of this area. In Azad Kashmir (a region with one of the highest literacy rates in the country), 8000 schools have been destroyed and thousands of school children killed. It was a whole generation that appeared to be lost in this worst affected area.
It was a testing time for the nation but people faced the calamity with ineffable courage and pluck as thousands of people flocked to help their fellow citizens, who had been hit by the worst and most horrible earthquake.
Ten years later, the heart-rending reminiscences continue to live on in our memories. The day is a memento to remember those who lost their lives and loved ones, and also to pay gratitude to those individuals, organizations and governments who offered assistance for relief and reconstruction work in the affected areas.
After surviving this event, I still find myself searching for solutions to prepare for the next earthquake in Pakistan. This journey has led me to my current Atlas Corps fellowship at Disaster Accountability Project (DAP), where we are building a platform that will allow Pakistan’s civil society organizations to directly compete for the sudden influx of donor dollars that follows a disaster.
I have seen first-hand the generosity of the global community that follows these disasters and I know there are many ways to improve how fast the funds is utilized and allow organizations based in Pakistan to take the lead and be strengthened themselves, instead of outside groups that are often slower and often profit too heavily from our disasters.
Today, special ceremonies and prayers will be held all over the country, particularly in Muzaffarabad, Balakot and Bagh to pay homage to thousands who were injured and displaced due to the calamity. Though the suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake was of unimaginable proportions, but the calamity also brought out a positive aspect of the nation and inspired solutions that will strengthen our civil society.