SOUTH ASIA EARTHQUAKE
On 8 October 2005 a massive earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck Pakistan, India and Afghanistan at 8.50am local time. This was the most devastating earthquake for a century in the region. In Afghanistan, tremors were felt in Nangarhar and Jalalabad provinces, leading to four deaths and minor building collapses. In India, the worst-hit region was Jammu and India-administered Kashmir, with 1,300 people dead, 7,510 injured and more than 37,600 houses and buildings damaged.
In Pakistan the earthquake completely destroyed 30,000 square kilometres of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PAK). The official death toll was over 73,000, with a staggering 69,400 severely injured and some 3.3 million people left homeless. It is estimated that over 3.5 million people were affected, including up to 2.2 million children. The earthquake destroyed 400,000 homes and 230 health facilities as well as many government buildings. Hundreds of doctors, government officials and community leaders died.
In Afghanistan, UNAMA coordinated a rapid relief response with the local government. The Government of India did not request international assistance and coped with a large national response relief and rescue operation managed by the National Crisis Management Committee. The UN Disaster Management Team organised information-sharing on UN and NGO relief activities.
Over 200 international and national relief organisations, including the UN, international organisations, NGOs, EU, NATO and bilateral partners, participated in the humanitarian response alongside the Government of Pakistan and its agencies. Initial interventions focused on search and rescue for earthquake survivors, the provision of first aid and the delivery of relief goods to inaccessible mountainous areas. The difficult terrain, coupled with the fast approaching winter, meant that the humanitarian response was conducted under great time pressure and posed a major coordination challenge.
- Mobilise and coordinate the emergency relief response in support of the Government of Pakistan, through sustained cooperation and strong partnerships with all stakeholders
- Support the Humanitarian Coordinator through the establishment of appropriate coordination mechanisms, the development of a strategic emergency response plan and appropriate contingency planning
- Provide strategic and operational guidance through thematic cluster meetings
- Ensure that the international community, donors and the media are kept informed of the situation and challenges in order to maintain engagement and elicit support
Rapid emergency response coordination was achieved through the deployment of an eight-member UNDAC team to Islamabad on 9 October, and the establishment of a UN reception centre at Islamabad Airport for incoming search and rescue teams. Public information support and civil-military coordination teams arrived soon after to reinforce the team.
To identify priorities, OCHA Pakistan worked closely with the government and other key partners in preparing a Priority Humanitarian Actions document in November, and a 90-day Winter Plan issued in December, to guide efforts in a coherent manner. The Winter Plan aimed to ensure assistance and support for an estimated 350,000 to 380,000 people in remote, high-altitude locations. It also aimed to support an estimated 250,000 people living in camps at lower elevations.
By mid-October, OCHA Pakistan had established humanitarian hubs in four cities in PAK and NWFP, namely in Bagh, Muzaffarabad, Mansehra and Battagram. The Humanitarian Information Centre was established on 14 October 2005, with staff based in Islamabad and the four hubs, to support and complement information management.
OCHA also moved to strengthen coordination mechanisms through the establishment of a reinforced integrated office in Islamabad, containing the key units of Cluster Coordination, Field Support, Civil Military and Civil Authority Liaison, NGO Liaison, Public Information, Reporting and Analysis, Administration and Finance, and an Emergency Coordination Centre. The OCHA office brought together and continuously updated an overview of the activities of the international community, available assets and the movement of relief items. OCHA’s field presence continually provided much needed support at the provincial level.
The UN adopted a new relief coordination framework in Pakistan, with the support of OCHA, comprising 10 thematic clusters that brought together a broad range of partners, including the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani army – with which OCHA worked in close coordination throughout – as well as NATO and NGOs. To mobilise resources for the response, OCHA issued the South Asia Earthquake Flash Appeal three days after the disaster. After a subsequent revision, following more detailed assessments, US$ 550 million was requested for a six-month period.
The cluster approach was applied to coordinate relief assistance for the first time in Pakistan. Clusters met regularly, initially daily and later weekly, to discuss operational issues, identify gaps, coordinate relief operations and build harmonious strategies. In many cases, OCHA co-chaired cluster meetings with Government of Pakistan counterparts. As expected, the cluster mechanism had teething problems, as lead and partner agencies reduced their visibility to ensure effective implementation and delegated leadership and coordination required continuous strengthening.
The organisation of regular press conferences, joint assessment missions and a number of high-level visits, including by the ERC and the Secretary-General, helped to mobilise the support of the international community. The additional support of OCHA through verbal briefings to all stakeholders, compilation of consolidated overviews, updates, achievement matrixes, press interviews and media queries, daily and weekly press releases, and situation reports kept the wider humanitarian community informed of priority needs, funding status, operational constraints and cluster activities.
In late October, the Flash Appeal was only 12 percent funded. Six months later the pace had picked up and the appeal is now over two-thirds funded, sufficient for current agency relief efforts.
OCHA worked in close collaboration with the Federal Relief Commission (FRC) and the Pakistan Army to help ensure that emergency humanitarian needs of the affected populations, especially those at severe risk, were understood and identified and appropriate aid delivered, and that sufficient assistance was provided to those in the most remote areas to prevent mass population movements. In doing so, OCHA also facilitated the efforts of donors, UN Agencies, IOM, FRC and NGOs. There were no major outbreaks of disease, and no increase in morbidity and mortality by comparison with pre-earthquake levels. The “second wave of deaths” predicted in many media reports was avoided.
Some of the shortcomings identified in early 2005 with regard to the tsunami response were avoided in the Pakistan earthquake operation, according to the findings of a lesson-learning review undertaken by OCHA’s Evaluation and Studies Unit.
The Flash Appeal served as the principal resource mobilisation tool for the earthquake response in Pakistan. OCHA, working with the government and its partners, managed to reduce the preparation period for the Flash Appeal from 11 days to three, helping keep the profile of the crisis high in the international media from the very start of the humanitarian operation – although there were concerns that the production of the appeal may have been too quick, cutting short discussions around projects and budgets, and limiting the completeness of data.
The Priority Humanitarian Actions document in November 2005 and 90-day Winter Plan issued in December 2005 established the priorities and provided a common strategy for the response of the humanitarian community. Through chairing the ‘Heads of Cluster meeting’, OCHA helped ensure that gaps were raised and addressed.
Relief assistance, carried out in a rather chaotic operational environment, became more focused and better integrated through OCHA’s streamlining of relief coordination using the cluster approach. There were teething problems with its use, especially around analysing national relief capacities, collaborating to best effect with the Pakistan authorities and defining the roles and responsibilities of different IASC partners. The Humanitarian Common Services were particularly challenged by the cluster approach.
Although the experience was too short to measure success, it was already clear at year-end that the
cluster approach was a useful framework for relief coordination and offers significant potential for addressing sectoral gaps and building systemic capacity for humanitarian response. In Pakistan, humanitarian actors lacked sufficient information on and related understanding of the approach and sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between cluster responsibilities and agency functions. Maintaining close communication between the Islamabad clusters and the field clusters was a constant challenge.
The lessons-learning review noted that strengthened advocacy and public information capacity at the field level from the earliest stages of the response, and high-profile missions – including that of the ERC – were considered highly effective and useful, allowing the development of a ‘one voice approach’ within a more focused, strategic communication policy. The establishment of a HIC also created improved access to information through regular mapping and monitoring products that provided an overview of cluster achievements, although a number of necessary improvements to the HIC were identified as required in a joint OCHA/donor mission in early 2006. Despite improvements, UN capacity to provide mass information to the beneficiary population remained uneven and lacking in coordination.
The early deployment of UNDAC and senior, experienced OCHA managers was welcomed, and standby arrangements (such as International Humanitarian Partnership and airlifts) worked well, but would have benefited from greater capacity. The timely deployment of the HIC module from the UK ensured timely set-up of the HIC.
Concerns remained about the clarity of command and reporting lines; the absence or non-use of specific guidelines and checklists; the sustainable strength of OCHA’s surge capacity; delays with recruitment and deployment of personnel; and certain aspects of internal logistics and supply, including technical support to field bases.