On the morning of October 8, 2005 our family had been in the car driving to get some early morning shopping done for an iftari we were hosting at our place that evening. As we got to the market we saw people, with slightly flustered faces, engrossed in conversation about something that seemed important. This was the same sight that greeted us at all the three shops we visited. At a family friend’s bookstore, where I used to get my favorite Archie Comics, we were told that there had been an earthquake. Strange, we hadn’t felt a thing. Since earthquakes are not commonplace, we felt that the concerned faces were because of shock of the incident. As we got back home, I switched on the lights in my room and found all my trophies from school events, down on the ground. And as Baba turned on the TV, we realized the significance of the calamity that had struck Pakistan.
Life had been upended for countless people. Families were torn apart by the heavy hand of nature
The initial reports, of how a certain Margalla tower in Islamabad had collapsed due to the earthquake turned out to be minuscule compared to what unfolded over the next few weeks as news started trickling out of all the cities, towns and villages in the Northern Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(NWFP, back then), Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir. Families were torn apart by the heavy hand of nature and cities as big as Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir were severely affected and Balakot, with a population of 30,000 people, were completely driven to the ground due to massive landslides triggered by the earthquake.
Source: Mark Pearson
On a trip to Muzaffarabad, back in 2012, the city felt vibrant, especially from the grand PC hotel that sits atop a hill with a stunning view of the whole city, and the valley beyond. However, a trip into the city took us to areas that were still ravaged by the tragedy. Ruins of buildings that had been split from roof to the ground, roads that still had huge cracks and the historic Red Fort that lay in shambles were a picture of how devastatingly permanent the stamp that October 8, 2005 put on Pakistan, was.
Life is, proverbially, back on track but what has changed forever are the hearts, and lives, of the people of the area.
Today, thanks in large part to the massive charity drives all across the country and beyond, where Pakistanis and people from all over the world donated generously, much of the more populated areas have been rebuilt. Life is, proverbially, back on track but what has changed forever are the hearts, and lives, of the people of the area. A friend from Balakot, who wishes not to be named, recalled rather passionately how the city has been completely rebuilt, with shiny new school buildings for children and an impressive road infrastructure.
However, he repeatedly emphasized that the rebuilding was done all by the people of the city.
I was impressed by the quick action taken to recover from the tragedy, however, he repeatedly emphasized that the rebuilding was done all by the people of the city.The government was not supportive of rebuilding, he said. Local and federal agencies, on their part, have repeatedly raised concerns about rebuilding the city on a fault line that is prone to another possible catastrophe in the future.
Source: Espen Rasmussen
“But where do we go? We have our lives here, our families are buried here,” says my friend. Although residents of Balakot and other northern areas clarify that it is they who rebuilt their lives, they have no particular grievance or animosity against the government.
“The government did give in when all of us locals started rebuilding the city, they made the roads and all,” recalls Mehran, a resident of Balakot, “but then all of their funding was redirected to the flood rehab when that happened soon after.”
Each aftershock caused panic and distress among the thousands who had already lost their homes.
The physical damage that the earthquake caused was up for display for the whole world, thanks to the very active broadcast media. Devastation, although felt the strongest near the epicenter, in Kashmir, was felt in cities as far as Multan. People recall being fearful of sleeping under roofs for weeks and each aftershock caused panic and distress among the thousands who had already lost their homes. In the 14 days after the earthquake, reports have recorded 978 aftershocks, with some of a magnitude as high as 4.0 and above on the Richter scale.
“When we were at the Cadet College, we were so afraid of the tremors that we ran out of the buildings in our pajamas, I even forgot to put on a shirt and slippers,” recounts Saqib Rehman, a development sector professional who was in class 8 at the Cadet College Kohat, when the quake struck.
Source: Mark Pearson
“For a whole two weeks after that we ‘slept’ outside,” tells Rehman, “we would lay awake all night for the fear of aftershocks because to us, as 15 year olds, they were exactly the same as the big earthquake and we feared we’d be buried under our hostels if we slept inside and the shocks came.”
As a nation, Pakistanis did not disappoint
Although tragedies have long-lasting negative effects, one rather positive reaction to this catastrophe, 10 years ago, was that Pakistan was roused. As a nation, Pakistanis did not disappoint. Help, in the form of donations, volunteers and camps, showed up from all corners of the country. A massive $20 billion was mooted for rehabilitation efforts by the country. And the international aid was no less, either; according to some estimates, well over $5.4 billion was collected from overseas aid to help the victims of the natural disaster to start rebuilding their lives.
The scars that have been left on the impressionable minds of people by the devastation that ruined their livelihoods, families and realities, a decade ago cannot possibly be healed ever.
What we can do is learn from the events and the response that poured in, in the aftermath. We can recall that humanity still exists within Pakistanis, we can recall how we stood up to give a helping hand to our fellow countrymen when they were suffering, we can recall that it was passion to do good regardless of who the people in need were that allowed Pakistan to recover from the deadly earthquake the jolted us as a nation. We can learn that we must look within ourselves for the same kindness, compassion and virtue for everyone today when there is an evermore need to be show that helping hand of kindness and acceptance.
Source: Mark Pearson