Notes from the Field

From Pakistan: Responding to the Balochistan Earthquake

December 17, 2008

In the early morning hours of October 29, 2008, an earthquake hit Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Striking multiple times, its most intense jolt measured  6.4 on the Richter Scale. Over two hundred people lost their lives, thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people were left homeless as a result. An emergency was declared in Balochistan, and Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps troops were called in to conduct rescue and relief operations. Many international and national NGOs joined in much-needed relief efforts as well. With winter setting in and temperatures dropping, support was badly needed for the families affected by this natural disaster.

The Asia Foundation’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, where I work, was able to rapidly create and implement a plan to provide assistance to these families. After initial preparatory work in Islamabad and Karachi, I arrived in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, on November 12th. I was extraordinarily fortunate to be supported there by my  colleagues, particularly Dr. Kaleemullah Kakar, who knows the area we worked in well.   Over the next four days we conducted a survey of affected families and distributed aid.

The areas most affected by the quake were in northern and central Balochistan, including district Ziarat, district Pishin (tehsils Khanozai and Barshore) and parts of Qilla Saifullah, Loralai, and Harnai districts. Our survey covered 16 villages in district Ziarat and five  villages in district Pishin. Despite efforts by the government and nonprofit agencies, when conducting the survey, numerous people told us that they had not received any assistance to date. Though the government and many agencies were working (and continue to work) very hard to provide assistance, not all villages had been reached; many were hard to access due to landslides.

Following completion of the survey, which helped us identify who to assist, we began the process of distributing relief provisions: we distributed cash payments to 220 families, 10 iron corrugated sheets each to 60 families for the roofs of their homes, and 200 wool shawls to women and girls. With cash in hand, families were able to purchase high-priority items that suited their greatest needs ” for some families this might be medicine or food, for others, materials to help rebuild their home.

The Asia Foundation is a flexible organization; we can respond quickly to real challenges on the ground. While in Balochistan, we realized we had to adjust the number of iron sheets we had originally planned to give to each family; the number we had originally allotted was not enough to roof a decent sized room. We also added shawls to our distribution, once we saw firsthand that the women simply needed them to keep warm. Most of the Foundation’s work in Pakistan is not relief work. However, through over fifty years of continuous, in-country presence and the incredible country-wide network of colleagues and partners we’ve amassed in that time, we are able to respond efficiently when disaster strikes.

M. Zia Ul Hassan is The Asia Foundation’s Manager for Security, Institutional Relations, and Special Projects in Pakistan. He can be reached at zhassan@asiafound.org.


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