Pakistan’s March Towards Climate Action

On September 20th 2019, the biggest global climate strikes the world has ever seen so far took place. Happening on the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, marches were held in more than 150 countries, with protesters calling on governments and businesses to end their inaction on climate change. On that day, a historic development took place in Pakistan itself as the country held its first ever climate strike, with protesters marching in several cities and towns. In Islamabad, a large crowd marched from the Press Club to the Parade Ground and presented demands to the Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul.

I joined the March in Islamabad and saw that the participants were mostly youth who showed a lot of enthusiasm for the cause. They eagerly signed the online petition I launched to urge the government of Pakistan to declare a climate change emergency by logging onto (https://www.change.org/p/petition-to-ministry-of-climate-change-for-enforcing-climate-change-emergency). One of the participants I met had earlier attended an awareness-raising session with me on income generation through eco-tourism in Pakistan’s salubrious areas.

In the Pakistan Climate March, a few political personalities attended. I personally didn’t see any except a lady who introduced herself as PTI senior member Nadia Khattak. She was filming young marchers and asking them what their message to Imran Khan was. Several gave their message, but one point they made in general was that Imran Khan has shown much interest in fighting problems like corruption but has not paid enough attention to Pakistan’s biggest problem of all, climate change.

This is an important point to consider. Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan mission aims to overcome the problems that have been holding us back for so long. Environmental degradation is a serious threat to the country, with Pakistan classified as one of the world’s top ten most vulnerable countries to climate change. Therefore, it has to be taken into account if we are to make a better Pakistan. Also, we must consider that creating a Naya Pakistan means equipping the nation with the means to tackle the challenges of the future. Climate change is a threat that is materializing extremely slowly and puts Pakistan’s very future in jeopardy. It is vital that we pursue policy to overcome climate change before the calamity becomes unavoidable.

Something else we have to realize is that while Imran Khan’s greater focus on corruption than climate change may seem like a skewing of priorities, the first goal actually aids the other. Pakistan will need extensive state action to tackle climate change, but widespread corruption hampers the proper functioning of the state. Certainly, corruption stands in the way of environmental causes. Corrupt officials take resources away from the hefty efforts needed for protecting the environment and in the perpetual conflict between profit-making and environmental preservation, they will always be in favor of profit-making. Corruption means the serious neglect of environmental regulation and the go-ahead to industries to pollute. What this means is that if Imran Khan succeeds in his mission to rid Pakistan of corruption, the country will be better able to fight for the environment. Moral cleansing “Naya Pakistan” and building ‘Clean Green Pakistan’ go hand in hand.

In fact, climate change goes hand in hand with a very wide range of other issues, putting it far from being the distinct and isolated problem that we often seem to treat it as. Take three issues that are of high significance to Pakistan, poverty, illiteracy, and war, and look at their relevance to the occurrence of climate change and the struggle to mitigate it. Rural poverty compels communities to harvest what little timber they can from their forest covers without acquiring means to reforest their land, removing a critical carbon sink. The people cannot be engaged in the effort to fight climate change without education. War makes the emission of greenhouse gases skyrocket. Pretty much everything in our lives determines our vulnerability and capacity to adapt to climate change.

It is clear that the distinction between climate change and “other” issues is entirely an artificial one. Climate change is a universal issue because the climate is a universal influence on the world we live in. The two are, in fact, interwoven into every mesh. Every aspect of the world is determined by the climate and every aspect of the world influences climate. This means that climate change will impact everything and everything will play a role in how climate change occurs. The proper path for Pakistan, indeed for all nations, is to find out how to incorporate all other issues with the climate issue and to learn how to bring everything together in fighting climate change. That is MY message to Imran Khan.

It is a message the whole world needs to heed. We cannot fight climate change without discovering the proper way to do it. That is an area in which the climate change movement appears to not be paying enough attention to. This is exemplified by the recent climate strikes involving school-skipping by a lot of youth climate activists. Youth should not just be pushing harder on the rulers to take action. They should also be getting knowledge in what needs to be done to fight climate change.

Young activist Greta Thunberg, the inspiration behind the climate strikes, has been urging politicians to “listen to the scientists.” Yet, it seems what she mostly means is that they should listen to what the scientists say about how global warming is occurring. What about listening to what scientists say about how to fight climate change? The basic idea of the climate strikes appears to be that because we know that climate change is happening, all we must do now is put pressure on the authorities to start taking action against it, as if we already have all the right solutions in plan.

Perhaps the reason why politicians aren’t taking action is because they don’t know enough about what action to take. Neither does anybody else when it comes to practical and effective climate remedies. Instead of just protesting and lobbying, the climate change movement must also put the people’s energy into thinking and researching and discovering potential solutions to climate change.

Regardless, what climate strikers have done around the world is outstanding. They have essentially succeeded in making the world pay attention to climate change and be concerned about it. It is a good beginning. The marches held in Pakistan are a promising sign for our nation. Pakistan Climate March has been a citizen-led initiative, with students spontaneously and enthusiastically coming out to answer the call spread by Climate Action Now. Majority of the marchers were very young people still in school and university. It shows that Pakistan’s next generation is eager to tackle the climate crisis.

Still, some people speak of ways the event could have been better. They say, for example, that there should have been even more youth attending, because of how the next generation will have to deal with climate change. But the PTI member Nadia Khattak gave a different view on the Climate March. Noting how most of the participants were young, she said that people are generally concerned about the environment when they are age 13-25, but their concern wears off afterwards as their own lives take center stage. It is the working professionals, she emphasized, who are most capable of taking action on climate change and regretted that not many were present at the march.

My take is that maybe working professionals don’t need to be out marching because they are working. We must bear in mind that protesting is not everything. When you are marching in a climate demonstration, you are calling on others to do the actual work needed to mitigate climate change, but it is distinct from that work. It doesn’t matter if the working people are not involved in climate strikes as long as they are busy in other ways tackling the issue. But the young people and students also have obligations besides marching. They need to be studying the subject of climate change and preparing for tackling the issue throughout their lives. I hope our students don’t get into the habit of skipping school over and over again to protest climate change. There is a lot we can do in school to contribute to saving the world from climate change.

In fact, we should increase coverage of climate change and related topics in our curriculum. Pakistan’s education system devotes too little time to environmental issues. Not only do we have to change that, but our coverage of climate change should be organized in such a manner as to enable students to comprehensively understand it and be good at thinking up solutions for solving climate change. My main advice is that we should not treat climate change as a distinct subject to be taught separately. Rather, all other subjects should be taught in school in such a way as to emphasize whatever relevance they have to climate change.

In physics and chemistry class, we can learn how the greenhouse effect works and how the burning of fossil fuels happens. In technology and engineering class, we can learn a lot more about the machines that burn fossil fuels and how we can design the industry and technology that powers civilization to be more environmentally-friendly. In earth sciences, of course, we can learn directly about the climate and how it is changing. In biology class, we can learn about how life on Earth interacts with the climate and how it will be affected by, and affect, climate change, which will also give us insights into how to manage the biosphere to enable it to fight climate change. In economics class, we can learn about how the world economy enables the human activities that are changing the climate and about how we can change the way the economy is structured to make it more sustainable for the environment. The list goes on and on.

We must keep the lessons of the climate strikes of 20 September in mind as we plan for what we need to do next. Thanks to the historic Climate March held in our nation, Pakistan now has its own fully-fledged climate movement. If we succeed in pushing climate change to the forefront of the nation’s attention, there are many ways Pakistan can play its part in fighting climate change. We contribute only a tiny percentage of global CO2 emissions while at the same time being one of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. This means that making Pakistan more carbon-neutral will by itself not help very much. But we can fight for the climate change cause on the international stage, pushing other countries to work together and do more on climate change. We must always remember that we are one player in the larger scheme of things and humanity can solve climate change if all the countries of the world engage in collective action.

Pakistanis can also contribute immensely to the field of knowledge regarding climate change. The question of what the future holds in store and what we can do about it is still largely unanswered, so it is we, the people, who need to dig for answers. Pakistan’s youth and professionals can get involved in finding solutions to the climate change crisis only by empowering themselves with research and inquiry. Just know that the scope of the knowledge we are dealing with is vast. To study climate change is to study the entire world and the way it works. We also have to look in every possible direction for climate solutions. We better start now, because there is a lot we have to do to push forward the new and fast-growing frontier of knowledge about both the reality of climate change and what we can do about it.

The climate strikes of September 20th were unprecedented, but as we wake up to the climate change crisis, it is only the beginning of what is bound to be a very long and difficult road ahead for humanity. Climate change is a huge problem, one that puts the future of civilization and the planet in jeopardy, and the world needs to give everything it has to solving the problem. It is vital that Pakistan involves itself in this fight and fully devotes its resources and energy, regardless of how much it has available, to making it possible for its people and all of humanity to continue having a future. Whatever we deal with on a daily basis, climate change is Pakistan’s number one national issue. We now just have to deal with it as such.

Author’s bio;

Writer is director at Pakistan’s People-Led Disaster Management and author of upcoming book on Pakistan’s multi-hazard risk analysis.

PLASTIC SUBSTITUTE AND ECONOMIC BENEFIT

Published in Pakistan Observer, 13 October 2019.

Sindh government has been vying for a year to achieve phased withdrawal of plastic bags, without success. On October first 2019, it announced serious enforcement of the ban on plastic under section 144 of the code of criminal procedure of Pakistan, entailing stricter punishment and monetary fine. Traders in Sindh province’s (and Pakistan’s) mega city, Karachi, have already announced non-cooperation, saying sudden abandonment of plastic with no better substitute would harm their business.

Co-incidentally, yesterday evening, (October first) I witnessed a woman stepping out of a car parked on a busy roadside in Islamabad. She suddenly jumped onto the road, seemingly oblivious to moving vehicles and hastily picked something up from the road. The tyres of a moving vehicle screeched right behind her but fortunately, the driver was able to steer clear of the woman and continue on a one way road.
I later found that one of the lady’s paper bags carrying tomatoes had burst open. Tomatoes fell on the road and she tried to pick them fast before they were crushed by a car.

I was stunned and couldn’t help telling the lady that she risked her life to save her tomatoes. She said when tomatoes suddenly fell through the paper bag, all she could think was carrying grocery home in time for dinner as her family was hungry. In hindsight, she realized how dangerous her action was for her life.

Had the lady been run over by a fast moving vehicle, we would have witnessed first human death by ban on plastic in Islamabad.

Paper bags are not a good substitute for plastic bags in terms of utility. They are not good for environment either because the manufacturing of paper bags is more resource intensive than plastic bags, requires four times more energy, generates seventy percent more air pollution and fifty times more water pollution than plastic. On top of that, paper bags generate many more tonnage of sold waste for municipalities to manage and paper bag landfills generate greater number of environmental contaminants such as bisphenol A, phthalates, phenols, mineral oils, polychlorinated biphenyls, and toxic metals. Some of these chemicals are in plastics as well.

Paper recycling requires industrial infrastructure and involves extensive transportation, itself an environment pollutant. When paper is recycled, dies and inks from paper are removed using chemicals that cause water contamination and air pollution. Paper has limited recycling capacity, only six to seven times before it can’t be recycled any more. Egg cartons made of cardboard is the last use of recycled paper, after which it can no longer be recycled. This means the solid waste from used cartons heads for landfills.

Pakistan neither has paper recycling programs nor industrial infrastructure for large scale recycling. The cost of instituting it is enormous. Paper bags that have carried groceries cannot be recycled because paper with food particles, or paper that is wet or damp, is no good for recycling. Even our paper mache making cottage industry cannot utilize paper recycled from grocery bags due to this. Scientists have observed that paper bags cause fourteen percent more eutrophication of water bodies compared to plastic. Four times more water is used in making paper bags, not to mention increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Bags made of cotton are much better for Pakistan’s environment and for our national economy. Large scale manufacturing of cotton bags will provide stimulus to our textile manufacturing and retail industry, cottage industry, and will re absorb the hundreds of thousands of workers who are faced with job extinction due to government imposed ban on the manufacture of plastic bags.

A cotton bag would have to be reused approximately two hundred times more to emit a level of global warming potential that is emitted through reusing of plastic bag just once. Cloth bags can be reused for years. Cotton is the least polluting material as it decomposes organically at the end of its life. For cotton bags to be hygienic while in use, they just have to be kept clean and dry.

There are endless socio-economic benefits in using cotton cloth bags as the substitute for both plastic and paper bags. Producing millions of cotton cloth bags per day will create employment, stimulate textile and garment manufacturing sector, provide household and rural populations, especially that of women, opportunity to save and earn at the same time. Cloth bags can be re-utilized as cushions, pillow covers, even larger size bedding. The poor can use them to make clothing, especially children’s clothing and blankets. Rural women can use the cloth bags to create embroidered cushion covers, bed covers and ladies bags, thereby creating cottage industry that employs and empowers rural and urban women and reduces gender based poverty. There are endless benefits to the multiplier effect of manufacturing cotton cloth bags in Pakistan, but it is the government that has to take the initiative in making this possible.

Government must commission manufacturing of fabric suitable for bags to carry different goods. It must rate and certify each kind of fabric for distinct use, heavier, medium, soft (as shopping bag for apparel, for instance). The textile industry must be mandated to produce proper amount of material for end use utility through suitable subsidy, as starters. The manufacturing sector must be mandated to manufacture required amount of cloth bags. Recycling of cloth bags for both industrial purposes and for household utility should be taught in educational institutions and can be popularized through media. There is an endless array of utility end users can use cloth bags for.

The more cloth bags are produced, the more stimulus will be provided to the textile industry of Pakistan, the garment manufacturing sector in Pakistan, and the cotton growing farmers, not to mention the economic opportunities in savings and earnings that reuse of cloth bags bring to the citizens. The socio-economic and ecological benefits of bags made from fabric are endless. Government needs to pay attention to large scale supply of bags made from cotton, simultaneously as it outlaws plastic bags.

OCTOBER 8, 2019: MIRPUR QUAKE DEMONSTRATES OUR LEVEL OF RESILIENCE

Today is 8 October, National Resilience Day in Pakistan. It is a day dedicated to promoting the disaster risk management in Pakistan and improving our collective capability to protect ourselves by competent handling of crises that occur. Inaugurated in 2015 originally as National Disaster Awareness Day, October 8 as the National Resilience Day marks the anniversary of what can be considered the worst ever natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, the Kashmir earthquake of 2005. It killed more than 80,000 people and left millions to face brutal suffering through the winter. The calamity also affected the entire nation. Pakistan was experiencing economic growth in the years up till that time, but the earthquake put a halt to it and Pakistan’s economic prospects took a hit. As a result, Pakistan was woken up to the vital need to safeguard itself against natural disasters. After October 8, 2005, we found that the nation’s disaster management capabilities were deficient and we resolved to change that.

Yet, we have not managed to come very far in this regard, as showcased by our response to disasters that have struck since. Imran Khan pledges to change this with his vision of a “Naya Pakistan”. He has only been in office for a year and there is no indication of fast progress yet. Making the nation capable of handling crises that arise from time to time should be one of his top priorities.

It is not just about being prepared for the risk of disaster and responding to disasters when they occur, it is also recovering after disaster. One of the most glaring shortfalls in Pakistan disaster management is the slowness and inadequacy of the recovery from the great 2005 earthquake in the northern areas, especially AJK. Even today, 14 years since the earthquake struck, recovery is still not considered complete. In a nutshell, the promises that governments have made to the quake affectees go unfulfilled, mostly in infrastructure. Some of it is not rebuilt fully and a lot of what was rebuilt is not as good as what was before the earthquake.

The lack of reconstruction is particularly stark when it comes to schooling. More than 2,800 schools were destroyed by the quake but only a few hundred have been rebuilt. Hospitals are another weakly restored area. While main highways are of international standard, many side roads and sewerage lines that were rebuilt are dilapidated. People rendered homeless by the quake have found it a huge challenge to get housed again. The government gave little compensation to rebuild houses and millions of rupees have been spent on building new government buildings that are not fully functional yet. New buildings in many areas have yet to be rebuilt.

The government’s management of the reconstruction and rehabilitation has shown poor results. Apparently, it began when the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari came in, which was corrupt and did not do things as well as the previous military government. Even after he left office, things have not been easy. The Prime Minister of AJK has said today that the job is 90 percent finished, which is quite low for a passage of 14 years. The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) is in charge of overseeing the rebuilding of the quake-hit region. It speaks of lack of funds.

To showcase our national resilience capacity on National Resilience Day, we have an opportunity in the recent Mirpur earthquake. It struck the southern part of AJK on September 24 and was followed by many aftershocks. Now that two weeks have passed since, we will evaluate the response to the crisis created by the earthquake, as well as how much the impact of the earthquake was mitigated by reforms supposed to have been put in place since the 2005 earthquake. In the time ahead, Pakistan will of course be able to work on the recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation and see how it goes.

It was a small earthquake, only magnitude 5.8 but with a very shallow focus. The death toll is now put at 40 people. However, information about the other kinds of effects are not very consistent. Some of our recent reports say that around 500 people are injured and others say as many as 800. The number of buildings destroyed, or “severely damaged”, however you want to put it, varies from 1,000 to 4,000. The government has just said it has completed survey of 95 percent of the earthquake damage. What we are sure is that damage is severe around the district of Mirpur. The quake may have affected a small area, but that area appears to be absolutely devastated.

Bringing things back to normal, including by repairing the massive damage incurred to buildings and roads, is going to take a long time. The emergency situation created by the earthquake lasted for many days, in which countless were in need of medical treatment, shelter from the rain and night, and essentials such as water. The crisis should have largely abated by now.

Indeed, some sources, including the president of AJK today, say that the rescue and relief operations for the quake victims have now concluded and all efforts have transitioned into the rehabilitation phase. Some normalcy has returned to the area. Schools were closed in the disaster zone for several days but they have now just been reopened. Of course, while some of the students returned to their old school buildings, others have to carry out their studies in tents. A very large number of people, probably hundreds of thousands, also have to live in tents because their homes were destroyed or rendered unsafe. The authorities say they have delivered thousands of tents to the area. Water delivery systems are largely yet to be restored. That means many quake affectees will still have to rely on water being delivered to them as aid.

Aftershocks have been part of the disaster. The biggest one, a magnitude 4.7 on 26 September, reportedly injured 67 people. The worst of them are likely over, but even just a few days ago, on 6 October, a small tremor in Mirpur caused the collapse of a two-story building, killing one person and leaving two others injured. These casualties were avoidable, because of knowledge of present danger. People could have stayed away from unsafe buildings. The building which collapsed two days ago, for example, was reportedly damaged in the September 24 quake. Why were there still people living there? Difficulty in identifying unsafe buildings and in finding people new shelter plays the main role in the further tragedies occurring post main quake. More aftershocks may yet occur.

People are ambiguous as to how the official response to the earthquake is to be judged. The people had to go through a lot of hardship and wait quite some time for enough aid to arrive. The government says that action was speedy and well-coordinated between all the different aid agencies. Of course, as usual, the Pakistani military led the charge and hosted speedy response, delivering much in the way of aid.

All in all, however, the response to the earthquake by the government may not be considered exemplary. The fact is that the September 24 earthquake is minor in intensity and extent and struck an area that is rather well-developed and easily accessible. Mirpur is not very far from Islamabad, after all, unlike the epicenter of the huge 2005 earthquake disaster which was in northern Kashmir. It was not really a huge challenge.

Compensation that will enable victims to get their live back on track has to be delivered or earmarked. The Information Miniter, Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan (the one who gaffed while feeling the quake) said that 200,000 rupees were given as compensation for fully damaged houses, which numbered 1,000, and 50,000 rupees were given for partially damaged houses that numbered 3,500. These packages are considered by many to be inadequate. Many people, for instance, need to tear down their homes and have new and resilient ones built. Such a project can cost a lot more.

Money is going to be a major issue as Pakistan undertakes recovery from this quake, much like the 2005 quake. Many of Mirpur’s businesses and industries have been destroyed. Many vehicles have been destroyed. The roads opened up and swallowed them. In a place like Mirpur, the people will not have much to come by for themselves. State of Pakistan also seems to have trouble getting enough money for them. Imran Khan says he will go after all the corrupt officials, which means the latter will spend a lot of the money they stole on lawyers now. Can they cough up some for Mirpur?

Thankfully, Mirpur diaspora in Britain is a sizable number. Perhaps it can be mobilized to send money back to rebuild earthquake damaged lives.

Getting the area back to normal aside, we have an urgent priority of sheltering the earthquake affectees through the winter. Winter can get brutal in Kashmir. The tents that scores of people are huddled in will not do. New and firmer structures will have to be built and this will require major undertaking.

The recent Mirpur earthquake exhibited stark indicators that lessons from 2005 have not been implemented properly. For one thing, the government was supposed to enforce building codes so that the people of the northern areas would have buildings that could stand up to eve major earthquake. Secondly, not just buildings but road construction techniques in mountainous areas also had to factor in earthquake resilience. But in Mirpur, we had buildings fall by the wayside and roads split even though last month’s quake was comparatively mild. Pakistan’s engineering expertise will have to deploy techniques for making all mountainous roads earthquake resilient, there is more economic reason now that we are preparing our northern areas for income through tourism.

Now, a big aspect of Pakistan embarking on a quest for seismic-resistant infrastructure after the 2005 earthquake is that some of the work was already done for them by that very earthquake. Normally, you need to tear down the buildings that are already there, expending money and making occupants sacrifice their shelter, and then build new buildings in their place. If a catastrophic earthquake already struck, you just have to clear the rubble and start rebuilding, so recovery of the quake-affected areas offered ample opportunity for implementing building codes. But Mirpur and the rest of southern Azad Kashmir actually were not very badly affected in 2005. The earthquake affected mainly the northern parts of Kashmir and Khyber-Paktunkwha, so Mirpur kept most of its buildings intact. These include all the buildings that can’t be relied upon to remain intact in the event of a quake.

In general, while abiding by building codes was high on Pakistan’s agenda after 2005, efforts bore little fruit. Raja Arsalan Nusrat, the chief executive officer of the charity Muslim Hands, says that “Had building codes been implemented properly, public losses [from the Mirpur earthquake] could have been much lower”. If a puny 5.8 earthquake could cause such devastation, imagine what would happen if another mighty earthquake like the one of 2005 happened. The whole point of our National Resilience Day is that we must strive to make sure that a repeat of that earthquake will not result in a repeat of disaster of similar magnitude. Mirpur is just another reminder of how we are still far away from realizing this dream.

Managing the Mirpur Earthquake

An abridged version of this blog post appears in Pakistan Observer as the Op-Ed titled Mirpur Relief Ordeal (https://pakobserver.net/index.php/2019/10/01/mirpur-relief-ordeal/)

A small part of Pakistan’s northern areas continues to cope with the devastation wrought by a shallow 5.8 earthquake centered near the city of Mirpur, a few miles north of Jhelum, in Azad Kashmir. In the past several days, rescue workers have been digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings, looking for survivors. Many people have been rendered shelterless by the quake. Hospitals have been overburdened. Many seriously injured people are still being treated. The authorities and aid agencies continue to struggle to reach affected areas over damaged transportation routes. Many aftershocks posed further threat.

All this time, reports have been rather unclear and contradictory about the state of the disaster zone, which encompasses mainly Mirpur and Jhelum districts. The final official death toll is 40. Reports of injuries have varied but agree that around 700 people were injured. Many reports now say it was 746. As for the damage, government reports said that less five hundred houses suffered major damage in the earthquake. But NGOs who visited the area said that 1,600 houses were destroyed and 7,000 others were damaged. It also seems that authorities have yet to assess the full scope of the disaster.

Recurrent aftershocks have continued to terrorize people. On Thursday, a magnitude 4.7 struck the area around Mirpur at a depth of ten kilometers, practically causing a second calamity. According to officials, 67 people were injured by this quake. The number of homeless also increased. Fortunately, it seems nobody was killed.

Still, this is a serious situation. The large number of wounded from the small tremor could have been entirely avoided. The earthquake of 24 September was a sudden disaster, striking out of nowhere and catching people by surprise. But afterwards, people were surrounded by damaged structures and knew that aftershocks are going to happen. The people who were injured yesterday would all have been fine had they not been around those structures that gave way. Reasons for why they were there could be the inability to identify hazardous buildings, to communicate to the people in the disaster area, and to get people into proper shelters.

Shelter is a vital need, especially since the seismic activity has coincided with a time of bad weather and the onslaught of severe winter. I witnessed huge rainshowers in Islamabad for a few days, which is worrying, because if the rain also occurred in Azad Kashmir, it would be very bad for the earthquake-affected area. Plus, as it is nearly the beginning of October, it must be very cold in Kashmir. As I learned on the news, heavy rain has indeed been occurring in the quake-struck area. This is creating miserable conditions for the scores of people who have no shelter and must spend the night outside.

Except for a few areas in which most buildings were destroyed, there is plenty of shelter for people but availing them is dangerous because of the building damage and the aftershocks. Even now, aftershocks are still occurring at a robust rate. Any moment, another one could add to the casualty rate. Remember that even if buildings themselves do not come down, when they are affected by earthquakes, small pieces of debris can detach from the ceilings and walls and fall on people. They can be heavy enough to break people’s backs if dropped on the head, so even the thickest helmet cannot protect them. All sorts of other severe injuries can happen if they fall on people in a lying-down position. It is possible that in a building damaged by the Mirpur earthquake, an individual piece of debris could drop at any moment anywhere.

As many people languish in the open air and are being rained upon, there has to be a way to get people into safe shelter. One way is to identify buildings that have a lot of room and are guaranteed to remain undamaged because they are sturdy and suffered no damage already. Even if there are only a few such buildings, the people of the affected area can concentrate in them. We can have a lot of people living together in a small space for a short period of time, even dozens of people huddled in a small room, until the aftershock risk is no more or better shelter has been delivered. The whole women’s Purdah issue may be one obstacle, but otherwise, in times of crisis, people have to do what they would not do on a regular basis.

Government reports have claimed that engineers are being sent to assess the safety of buildings. Hopefully, they are doing a good job, because the earthquake-affected people rely on them for ascertaining which buildings are safe to go into. But otherwise, there are ways for the people to make themselves safe.

Buildings are meant to protect you from the outside, but if they fall down or break into pieces, they become a danger to you. People can place small structures in their houses which will shield them from falling rubble. Then, they can sleep under the small, makeshift roof and otherwise spend their indoors time. Surely, such structures would have protected the 67 people from being injured in the biggest aftershock.

Relief goods, including shelter like tents, are being delivered across Azad Kashmir but the people cannot just rely on them. They have the ability to be safe and make their situation better using what they already have with them, as long as they know what to do and can organize themselves. So if the authorities cannot get the tents in on time, they should find a way to get safe and adequate shelter for themselves. They may be able to continue living in hazardous buildings if they make innovative arrangement. The people in the earthquake zone can decide for themselves what to do by observing their circumstances.

It is always best that people are thoroughly versed in the disaster risks they live under and what to do. But if a disaster strikes and they lack the necessary knowledge, communication with them becomes vital. We should disseminate information to the people of the earthquake-affected zone about what they can do to help themselves and others. Connectivity in the area has been greatly hampered by the effects of the earthquake, with not only the movement of people and things being blocked but means of telecommunication being down, such as cell towers. But the movement of information is not that difficult. For example, public announcement systems from a mosque minaret can be used and if a minaret is down, loud speakers from tree tops can function just as well. Fliers can be dropped from aircraft. The good thing about information is that it can be delivered in an economical manner. The packaging of the relief goods being distributed to the area can have instructions written on them about what people should do and what they should watch out for.

Besides shelter, people are also in great need of potable water. The earthquake damaged the water systems in the area it struck, mixing water with dirt, so the people need to have clean water delivered to them. Some of them, reportedly, have been drinking from unsafe water sources. Delivering water to them is a challenge because of the damage to the transportation routes. Perhaps use could be made of the rain that is currently happening in the region? People would be able to get clean, potable water if they manage to collect rainwater. People in such situation do not only need water for drinking but for medical use also. It is okay for people to drink water that has relatively high level of dirtiness, because the digestive system is made to withstand contamination. But water that is for washing out wounds or washing medical equipment has to be very clean.

The inability to move people and goods around is possibly the main issue that the affected area struck now faces. Images from the disaster zone show roads sustaining massive damage. Some are torn wide apart and have cracks big enough for vehicles to fall into. Many roads have been damaged and destroyed, as have a few bridges. The Pakistan Army is diligently taking up the task of restoring road networks. This type of work is something armies are well suited to. War and military operations usually require the need for extensive transportation over terrain which was not developed for it and terrain which saw destruction of transportation networks. Army personnel therefore have to be good at repairing paths and constructing makeshift paths in a very short period of time. These skills are essential in responding to an earthquake. The same is true for a wide variety of other military skills.

Soldiers and army engineers heading to the affected area will produce enormous results, but much further benefit could be obtained if the local people themselves got involved in the huge amount of work needed for the earthquake relief. Local communities represent a lot of manpower, manpower equivalent to the amount of help needed. It is best that the people affected by the quake be organized in an effective manner, called CBDRM, Community-Based Disaster Risk Management, and use their local resources to manage the aftermath of the quake. CBDRM usually requires preparation to be ready for any disaster that may strike. Implementing it spontaneously when a disaster has already struck will be difficult, but let us try it right now in Mirpur.

Concerning the roads, there are some educational videos detailing how to construct makeshift transportation routes. One is a documentary that was made by the US Army during World War 2 and is now a YouTube video called How It’s Made: WW2 Military Roads, found on the YouTube Channel DocumentaryTube. Its description of soldiers building temporary routes from raw materials found around them may, if watched now, serve us even in relief of the earthquake-affected area around Mirpur.

In an odd twist of fate, the calamity in Mirpur is a crisis not only for Pakistan but also for Britain. A lot of people from Mirpur migrated to Britain and many later returned. That means that a lot of people in Britain have ties to Mirpur and a lot of people in Mirpur have dual British-Pakistani nationality. This should create an incentive for Britain to get involved in the earthquake response. We should ask the British government to do so. Also, the concept of CBDRM can even be extended across national lines. Remittances have developed Mirpur a lot over the decades and now, in this time of crisis, expats should spring into action and get involved in sending aid to the relief operations.

When a sudden crisis like this breaks out, people are best able to respond if they are ready for this beforehand and already know what actions they are supposed to take. Innovation is something that usually takes time. But when necessity demands it, we must always try and see if it is something that can be done on the spot. Right now, as the crisis is ongoing, people should develop new approaches and put them into action as they see fit based upon the circumstances.

After the massive 2005 earthquake calamity in Kashmir, Pakistan was supposed to improve its disaster risk reduction capacity. The endeavour is ongoing process. The Many complain that the government could have done more. PPLDM was founded to promote innovative, people-led disaster risk management.

Speedy communication is vital. All those who are reading this should share it and spread its advice. The people of Mirpur and Jhelum need help right now. Guidance has to be given to them, the emergency responders, and all who can play a part.
Media coverage of the crisis is one of the areas which we need to improve upon. Comprehensive news is hard to find. Unless people know all about the situation in the earthquake zone, how can they come up with the right ideas? We need more reporters heading to Mirpur and Jhelum and thoroughly documenting the situation on the ground. Access to telecommunication must also be given to the people within the disaster zone as it will help them know what to do. Transparency of news regarding disaster is the first step in disaster management. Glossing over is criminal and should be treated as such by not only national but also international law.

As Pakistan engages in disaster relief, let us not forget the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, who were likely in the path of the earthquake but whose current situation cannot even be ascertained because of the blackout imposed on their homeland. It is time for Imran Khan and other powers that be to speak up about this and bring the issue to international attention.

When all of this is over, let us make our management of the earthquake in Azad Kashmir the test of how we are to determine the course of Pakistan’s future disaster management. In the run up to our National Resilience Day that falls on October 8, Mirpur earthquake relief can be showcased as a model of how far we have come since the massive earthquake struck Kashmir on October 8, 2005.