The sufferings of survivors continue one month after the magnitude-7.6 earthquake ravaged northern Pakistan on Oct. 8. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called the quake “a huge, huge disaster — perhaps the biggest we have ever seen.” But it is never too late for other nations and peoples to put their sympathy into action and to do what they can for the relief of quake victims.

Last week, Pakistan’s top relief official, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, announced that the official death toll had reached more than 73,000. Local officials suspect that at least 79,000 have died. An additional 1,350 people died in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. More than 69,000 people are said to have suffered serious injuries. The real number of people suffering from injuries must be much higher.

The earthquake is reported to have left some 3.3 million people homeless, many of them children. Tents are in short supply, and an estimated 800,000 survivors, many of them living in remote mountainous areas, are said to still lack basic shelter. As winter approaches, relief operations are racing against time. During winter, an estimated 5.5 meters of snow is forecast to fall in the devastated region. It is feared that thousands more victims could die from diarrhea, untreated injuries and diseases, including tetanus, if aid does not reach them in time.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) executive director Ann Veneman said “without urgent action, large numbers of children could die needlessly.” The U.N. says it will need $550 million over the next six months. It has received only about 20 percent of that amount so far. Japan has offered up to $20 million to help quake survivors.

Apart from relief-fund shortfalls, there are transportation problems. Devastated communities lie far away from traffic centers, and roads leading to those places have become impassable. Aid workers and volunteers even have difficulty delivering aid supplies that have arrived in Pakistan, including food, clothes and water. In such a situation, perhaps helicopters are the most effective means of delivering supplies to survivors. As of Oct. 20, more than 80 helicopters from various countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Afghanistan, were taking part in the relief operation.

Besides volunteer workers, the Japanese Air and Ground Self-Defense Forces have joined the relief operation. With 188 members involved, they had airlifted about 16 tons of aid supplies to Pakistan by the end of October. Together with the supplies, they transported six disassembled helicopters and reassembled them in Pakistan for use in the country. The Japan International Cooperation Agency also dispatched disaster relief medical and rescue teams.

Over nine days, the rescue team, composed of 49 firefighters, policemen and coast guard members, retrieved three bodies but unfortunately was unable to rescue anyone. It appears that the team arrived on the scene too late — about 50 hours after the quake occurred. This clearly points to the need for Japan to develop air transportation capabilities that foster dispatch of disaster relief teams more quickly.

There is a strong possibility that the locations of houses — on the sides of mountains or hills — and their fragile structures contributed to the devastating damage from the earthquake. Many people were crushed to death when their houses were destroyed. These houses were mostly made of pieces of concrete, stone or bricks laid atop each other.

A method developed by a Japanese expert on engineering to mitigate earthquake disaster is likely to help make such houses quake-proof in an inexpensive way. Professor Kimiro Meguro of Tokyo University’s Institute of Industrial Science visited Pakistan to get a firsthand look at the quake damage. He was reported to be ready to talk with Pakistani officials about introducing his method into Pakistan. It consists of affixing adhesive polypropylene bands on the surfaces of a house so that each surface is covered with a mesh formed by the length of the band. The band thus affixed will make a house resistant to horizontal vibrations. Professor Meguro claims that such a house can stand strong vibrations.

A positive political byproduct of the Pakistani earthquake has been the agreement of Pakistan and India to open the ceasefire line in the disputed Kashmir region to facilitate the flow of relief goods and allow the reunion of divided families. Although India opened only one point — scaled down from an originally agreed five — the emergency cooperation between the two nuclear rivals offers a ray of hope for relaxing tensions between the two countries and making the coming winter bearable for quake victims in the region.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.