India: Gujarat earthquake - an update two years later

By Jim Lane
On January 26th, 2001, Gujarat province in India experienced one of the two most catastrophic earthquakes in history. The earthquake, rated at 7.9 magnitude, left an estimated 25,000 people dead, 200,000 people injured, an estimated 600,000 people homeless, with over 348,000 homes destroyed and an additional 844,000 damaged. An estimated 15.9M people out of a population of 38.9M in the region were directly or indirectly affected by the quake, with losses estimated between$1.3B and $5B.

It is important to note that the high number of casualties and building collapses has been linked to poor building practices and general disregard of building requirements. The press has blamed the corruption within the construction industry with the high number of losses. It is noteworthy that many of the worst performing buildings were recently built, and that most states ignored the central government's "recommendations" regarding improving construction methods.

Significant Indian and global relief efforts have taken place since the earthquake to rebuild and restore the region, but much work remains. The World Bank provided initial international assistance that provided highly satisfactory results for both immediate relief and for longer-term rehabilitation. Such work under this Phase I of the relief project included the construction of temporary shelters, the repair of homes, schools and public buildings; a strong training program in those professions required for the rebuilding efforts; building of rehabilitation and counseling centers; upgrading the central medical stores; improving dam safety and irrigation systems; and introducing plans for future disaster management.

Phase II of the World Bank efforts will provide an additional $442.8M of funding to promote sustainable recovery and to focus on:

  • Emphasizing the creation of disaster resistant homes
  • Increasing awareness and preparedness for natural hazard mitigation
  • Enhancing emergency response preparedness

U.S. AID likewise provided immediate relief efforts of temporary shelters, significant initial funding of $12.8M, as well as emergency food supplies. Recent ongoing efforts include $8.5M in grants for home reconstruction and building under USAID's Gujarat Earthquake Recovery Initiative, and working with and through a number of assistance organizations, has improved the medical infrastructure. An additional $1.5M was provided to help the region improve its disaster prevention and mitigation efforts.

Other national and international organizations, including the EU have provided additional funds for these reconstruction and improved readiness efforts, but there remains a sense that little has been accomplished despite the significant funding provided.

The rebuilding has been slow, and it is estimated that much of the new construction does not meet modern western earthquake disaster resistance measures. Likewise, many people in urban areas remain in temporary shelters and tents in primitive conditions, with little rebuilding of destroyed dwellings. Likewise exists in the rural regions, where corruption and bureaucracy have resulted in little rebuilding action and slow compensation.

Despite the critical threat that another similar quake can and will present, much effort today is focused on the religious strife in the region, which although significant, does not impact the large number of people that this earthquake event did. It is interesting to see how quickly the memory of such a disaster fades. Indeed recently 56,000 fled their homes due to this religious violence.