Monday, October 31, 2005

Imran S

Imran S from London is volunteering with Relief Shelter Drive. He has just returned to Islamabad from a visit to a village in the Sorrel Valley in Bagh that still hadn't received any aid three weeks after the quake. He was told:

"We don’t want your food, shelter and medicines – we just want you to help bury our dead."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Dr Amanat Hussain

Dr Amanat Hussain is an independent management consultant and expert in project & change management. He lives in London. He flew out to volunteer in Pakistan a week after the earthquake. His assessment of the situation is posted below.

Earthquake – An Initial Assessment
Dr Amanat Hussain
17th October 2005

1. Introduction

The initial rescue and then relief operation has been underway for 9 days. The scale of the earthquake, the number of people injured, the inhospitable terrain and the deteriorating weather conditions means that the situation is still in the initial stages of the disaster management operation i.e. rescue and life saving stage.

2. Issues – Complex and Dynamic Environment

The earthquake hit an area that is both rugged and remote. The road infrastructure is generally poor with many communities inaccessible by road even before the earthquake. The area affected is larger than many countries.

The situation on the ground is both complex and dynamic. The remoteness of many of the locations means that new tragedies are coming to light on a daily basis. There are many agencies operating in this environment. These range from the Federal Government, Army, local civil administration, national and international NGOs as well as small teams and individuals. The increasingly bad weather provides an additional dimension to this complex environment, both by increasing the urgency of the rescue/relief operation, and by increasing the access/logistical difficulties it faces.

This tragedy has moved the entire Pakistani nation. There has been a spontaneous mobilisation of people from all parts of the country and all strata of society to provide support, succour and aid to the people affected by the earthquake.

While the Army has been mobilised to provide support in terms of distribution of aid, provision of field medical support and evacuation where necessary, there is still a lack of overall coordination of the efforts made by government agencies, NGOs, and individuals. It seems that there is still no clarity of the scale of impact of the earthquake on some of the communities in the remote locations. There is little assessment of the needs of individual communities and therefore little effort to provide targeted aid. Additionally, there is little visibility of what aid is available or what aid is on route so that it can be distributed effectively.

Muzaffarabad has been all but destroyed, along with all civil administration functions with the result that civil administration in the areas affected, particularly Azad Kashmir, has totally collapsed. There appear to have been no contingency plans to deal with this.

3. Stabilising the Current Relief Effort

To operate in this complex environment requires a shared understanding of an overall disaster management strategy with a tactical implementation of that underpinned by effective organisation and an information management system that is able to provide a real-time picture of the needs of the victims and the availability of the resources to meet these needs.

-Well defined and clearly articulated strategy
-Clear and visible leadership at all levels
-A dedicated team with supporting systems to provide strategic leadership and overall coordination of the effort
-Tactical teams with clear understanding of the strategic direction and with plans for its implementation.
-It appears that very basic information is unavailable to commanders so that they can prioritise and target aid. These information gaps must be addressed.

The immediate need is to stabilise the currently very difficult situation. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

-The pace of the relief effort must increase. Currently these are hampered by:
-Lack transport facilities – The uncoordinated but massive relief effort by the private sector (both individuals & organisations) have choked the road network. The mountain passes are built for light vehicles but have been blocked by huge lorries being used for the relief work
-Inadequate infrastructure
-Inadequate coordination
-There needs to be better and more visible coordination among the agencies that are working in this environment
-There needs to be better intelligence and more complete information so that the relief effort can be better targeted and focused

4. Evacuation of the Survivors

Given the scale of the disaster with some 3 million people made homeless, it is vital the government makes provisions for their survival through the very harsh winter in the affected areas. It would be an unforgivable tragedy if further lives were lost because of lack of foresight and planning.

As many experts have commented, the winters are very harsh in the earthquake affected areas. It seems unlikely that the tents being provisioned will provide sufficient protection against the elements in this harsh climate. Provisions therefore need to be made for the migration of the people from the mountains into either the valleys where winters are less harsh or into other parts of the country. This is a huge logistical task that needs to planned, coordinated and implemented. There is a need to:

-Assign responsibility for this activity. This will need to include the identification of the communities that need to be evacuated, the logistics of the evacuation and well as the development of the infrastructure to receiving the people.
-Scope the extent of this activity i.e.
-Develop estimates as to the number of people affected by this and how many are likely to migrate.
-How long are they likely to be accommodated for?

-Identify target sites to take the evacuees
-Develop infrastructure i.e. water, electricity, sanitation etc
-Develop strategies and plans to mange the social and economic impact on the evacuees and the local communities.
-Develop plans to relocate evacuees to their home areas following the winter, to prevent camps intended to house them for the winter turning into permanent urban slums

5. Supporting the injured

Tens of thousands of people have been injured in the earthquake. Many of these are children who have been evacuated to hospitals outside their areas with no access to family or relative. Indeed many have had their entire families killed in the earthquake. Having been victims of a natural disaster these children are in danger of falling prey to criminal elements who prey on the innocent and the defenceless.

There is a need to develop some strategic thinking about how the future of these children will be managed within either existing or new institutions. There are many NGOs that were already in Pakistan or have arrived in response to the earthquake that may be able to provide support for this activity. The government needs to coordinate all these activities and develop a sustainable plan that will deliver its strategic aims in this area. The activities need to be:

-Develop a long term strategic framework with identified responsibilities and defined criteria for success
-Within the strategic framework, identify roles for the various government & non-government agencies that are lively to contribute to this effort. The effective coordination of these activities will critical to the success of any initiative in this area
-Develop both short term and long term plans that deliver the strategic vision.

Many people trying to find the whereabouts of their injured kith & kin have nowhere to go to have access to information. There is little recorded information about individuals who may have been impacted.

-In the short terms there needs to a significant effort to begin to gather and collate information held either within the various national or international agencies.
-In the longer term there is a need to develop a national capability that can be brought into operation in the event a disaster. This can provide a central point for collecting and collating date and also provide a contact for people looking either to provide or obtain information. There is a need to develop systems that may be used in at times like these to record and collate information about the casualties so that there is a readily available database that can be used to provide the information.

6. Longer Term Assessment

In the longer term there needs to be an exit strategy from the current situation. The current role of the Army in terms of the rescue, relief and rehabilitation needs to taken on by the civil administration. There needs to be a plan and a timescale for handing over to the civil authorities. The AJK government infrastructure has been virtually destroyed in the earthquake. There needs to be an assessment if its capacity and capability and a plan to ensure that it is functioning at an optimal level so that it can play its role in the reconstruction.

The reconstruction activities need to be coordination across many national and international agencies. The long-term redevelopment plan of the whole area impacted by the earthquake needs to be addressed.

7. Some Early Lessons

-There appear not to have been any contingency or disaster recovery plans either by the military or the civil administration. These need to be developed.
-There appear to be no formal plans for handling major crises. The result is a significant delay in the initial response to the disaster.
-One of the key problems has been the lack of information and coordination for the whole effort. A greater focus on developing an integrated and coordinated plan would make a significant contribution to stabilising the situation.
-There is no national capability that can be utilised in the event of a disaster to collect and collate information and provide it to various agencies and members of the public.

A note on what we’ve been up to so far

Haven’t been in Islamabad that much so blog postings pretty sparse so far. Will now attempt to update more regularly.

When we first arrived we tried immediately to figure out how we could most effectively contribute to the relief efforts. Having spent the day before we left the UK contacting as many people/organisations as were willing to listen, we arrived armed with a list of contact names, telephone numbers, appointments, and the few thousand pounds we had raised from family. We were met at the airport by TH, a friend from the UK who happened to be in Pakistan at the time of the quake, in a Hiace van we had arranged to hire.

We went straight into the first of several meetings that day with NGOs and individuals involved in relief efforts. By the end of the day we’d decided there was an issue with distributing the considerable aid already collected, with a substantial amount of aid bottlenecked in Islamabad. There was already a shortage of transport vehicles in Islamabad – we used ZA’s contacts in Mirpur (a part of Azad Kashmir largely unaffected by the quake) to get hold of a few more Hiace vans, including two which had been converted to ambulances. These were a convenient size as larger vehicles were having trouble getting through the still damaged roads. In addition to the vehicles, between us we had some knowledge of the areas affected which we felt would be of use, since the NGOs involved are mostly manned by Islamabad-based staff.

We spent the next few days making delivery runs with our vehicles, transporting aid piled up with Islamabad NGOs supplemented by goods purchased with the funds we’d brought. We visited between us Muzaffarabad, Bagh, Poonch, and drove up the KKH past Abbotabad & Mansehra to just short of Balakot. With the large NGOs focussed on the major population centres, we looked for smaller settlements where we’d heard there was severe need of aid. Information on such villages trickled in from all sorts of sources – requests for aid made to NGOs, as well as through friends who’d been contacted by people they knew in the area.

Where possible we transported injured people back to Islamabad in our ambulances, which could be used to take relief goods up on their outward journey. A friend of ours called to tell us of a woman who’d damaged her backbone/ spinal column and broken/ paralysed both legs. A relative had got her to a hospital in Abbotabad, but she urgently needed an operation which was unavailable there. One of our ambulances picked her up and brought her back to Rawalpindi, where she was operated on the same night. Our friend had arranged for a surgeon, and separately for a hospital space (both in short supply). Fortunately the operation was successful. We realised that our friend had never met the injured woman; he had just had a phone call from a friend of his asking if he could help. We later realised just how common such acts were. Stunned by the unprecedented scale of the disaster, the entire country was hugely mobilised to help the victims. Otherwise notoriously fractured, it is unfortunate it takes this to bring the Pakistani populace together.

Over the next few days we continued these delivery runs, and our activities evolved as we got a better feel for what was happening on the ground. We bought a satellite phone and could now communicate with Islamabad from the affected areas – this made it possible to do things like visit field hospitals, find out exactly what the needed, and communicate these requests immediately back to Islamabad, where we arranged for the goods to be procured and dispatched. Without this, it would take these hospitals perhaps 10 hours to get this information back to Islamabad, and that too when they found someone travelling to Islamabad or if they despatched someone themselves.

The visit to one field hospital remains particularly vivid. It was on the edge of Bagh town, which lay beyond a bridge which fortunately survived. It was evening when we arrived, and we stopped at the hospital before entering the town. The hospital consisted of a few tents, and part of a surviving college building. Supplies of food were piled to one side, under a makeshift shelter erected to protect them from the elements. The workers looked weary. The injured/displaced filled the tents.

The operating theatre was on the second floor of the college building. A huge crack ran through the walls and floor, no-one would have been allowed near this building in England. Two amputations were being carried out simultaneously, one of a hand, the other of a leg. The injuries looked horrific. The surgeons explained that amputations were now the most common operation, as five days after the quake most wounds had turned gangrenous. They were desperately short of anaesthetics, and also asked for strong antibiotics and some surgical instruments/sterilising equipment.

I asked one of the camp supervisors what conditions were like in the town itself. As with the other volunteers there, he appeared exhausted from several days of work with little rest. He looked at me for a minute: ‘you must be new here’, his gaze seemed to say, then replied, “Beta, wahan zindagi nahi hai“. Son, there’s no life there.


Another tremor. This one shook me a little, though it only lasted a couple of seconds. I’d just lain down to sleep – on the floor, so I felt even the slight movement. This is the second I’ve felt since I’ve been here, the last one a couple of days ago, was also very minor.



During our first few days we identified the following as key problems that were hampering relief efforts:

-Dispersed population - the majority of the affected population lay in remote, outlying areas, and was hugely dispersed across small villages
-Difficulty of access - Access was difficult even to the population centres, and severely difficult to some of the worst affected rural areas
-Lack of communication – landlines were down in most of the affected areas, and the majority of them had never had never had mobile access – the few that did were largely damaged.
-Lack of coordination – there was a lack of coordination of effort between the various parties attempting to provide aid. These included civil administration/army, international relief agencies, local NGOs and individual citizens.
-The result of the above was a failure to provide appropriate aid to the right places, in the right quantities, in a properly prioritised manner.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Day 1 cont'd

We sent one van to Muzafarabad this afternoon, are expecting it to return tomorrow a.m., so hopefully will get some feedback on the situation there.

We now have 3 vans available from tomorrow morning, and are coordinating our efforts primarily with the NGO Sungi. Their office in Isb has large amounts of relief goods building up here.

Now that we've started telling people what we're doing, we're beginning to get calls from people who need help. As the bigger towns & cities affected (eg Muzafarabad) are being served by the larger agencies (who are more effective at doing this), we would like to focus on some of rural areas getting no aid. The affected region is scattered with remote villages, often no-one seems to know these exist except people in the next village along! We are getting calls from people who's chowkidars (watchmen) are from these areas - they are willing to go along to direct any relief vans we can arrange. The 3 vans we hope to send tomorrow a.m. are to villages in the Bagh & Poonch districts.

Many goods are in short supply here - e.g. the Nestle distributor we tried to buy packaged milk from (for children) told us they've sold out in Islamabad and there won't be any more till Thurs. Tents in particular seem to be expensive items that are largely unavailable. We have some people donating plastic sheeting/tarpaulins to us which we hope can be used to construct makeshift shelter. Their was a 30 minute torrential downpour in Isb this afternoon, mixed with a hailstorm with huge hailstones - thata doesn't bode well for what the weather's like further out in the hills.

Tents - maybe someone in the US/UK could look into where these are available in bulk? It sounds like they're pretty essential. I'd think a cost-effective way might be to see if we can find manufacturers in say China or India who can quickly & cheaply ship large quantities. Just a thought...

1st update from Islamabad

Arrived at 7 this morning and went straight into meetings with the orgs/ppl we'd been in touch with from London.

Initial view (so far just from what we hear in Islamabad) is that the situation is truly dire, and the amount of aid that has reached the areas most affected is still tiny compared with the need. Estimates of the death toll commonly heard among NGOs are much higher than official 20-30K figures.

A bottleneck that we've identified that we're going to try to fill is moving relief goods on from Isb. Many of the smaller NGOs have collected/purchased goods, but they're stuck in Isb as these NGOs don't have access to vehicles (all vehicles available for hire in Isb seem to already have been taken). ZA has access to some vans in the parts of Azad Kashmir unaffected, and we are hoping to get these on the road tomorrow, along with possibly some light trucks we may be able to hire from Lahore.

[have to go now, post to be continued...]

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Situation in Pakistan

Two British Pakistanis trying to fly out tomorrow (Monday) to Islamabad. Will meet various aid agencies, assess situation and update blog. Many people have got in touch wanting to go to Pakistan and volunteer. If we find opportunities for people to do this, we'll post them on here.

To get in touch with ideas for people/orgs in Pak we can contact, email