Pakistan: Quetta residents fearful of further tremors

QUETTA, 10 November 2008 (IRIN) - At least 1,000 aftershocks have hit Quetta, capital of Balochistan, and the nearby town of Ziarat since the earthquake of 29 October. Around 300 of the jolts have measured above four on the Richter scale, according to Pakistan's Met Office.

Quetta, with a population of some 700,000, has been in a state of panic with residents saying they have seen little peace since the quake struck, killing around 270 people.

"We live all the time in fear. There is no sense of calm at any time. The private school my daughters go to has been closed due to the tremors and this adds to the sense of fear prevailing everywhere," local resident Nusrat Jehan, 38, told IRIN. She and her three daughters spend much of the day outdoors, on a piece of open ground near their home, afraid of another quake.

"At night, we have moved back indoors because temperatures in Quetta are now falling to near freezing point. But we sleep in one room on the ground floor and rush outdoors whenever a tremor hits," said Nusrat.

While some schools have resumed classes in the city, many have been holding lessons outdoors to minimise risk.

"The children feel safer in the grounds, even though it is uncomfortable. We ask them to wear gloves and hats when they come each morning so that they can remain warm," said Sajjida Shabbir, 40, a teacher at a primary school.


Shabbir said: "Many of the children seem traumatised. They have picked up on the fears of elders in their houses, and some of the smaller children spontaneously burst into tears even when there is a mild tremor."

This sense of trauma runs deep. Fauzia Sabir, a doctor who has been working in both Quetta and Ziarat, said: "Women and children are badly affected. The continuing tremors mean they cannot put the memory of the quake behind them. The lack of awareness about such trauma means there are virtually no efforts to offer counseling or support."

Women sit in groups outdoors much of the day. "We sit outside our homes while the sun is out and we talk to each other. This helps calm us," said Zakia Bibi, 50.

The Pakistan Met Office has predicted the series of tremors in Balochistan will continue for some days.

Zahid Khan, a shopkeeper in a market near Meezan Chowk, said the lack of shoppers was "very badly affecting business. We have virtually no customers, although usually, at this time of the year, people buy items for the upcoming winter including blankets and woollen clothes."

Aid efforts

Elsewhere, relief efforts continue. At a press conference in Quetta on 8 November Sabir Durrani of the Balochistan Chapter of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society said about 32,000 quake victims needed shelter.

Around 3,000 winterised tents have been distributed, but Durrani warned that as winter set in, it was a "race against time" to get relief to affected families and to begin rehabilitation efforts in the area.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it would continue work till all quake survivors were rehabilitated.

Relief workers in Ziarat and nearby villages said most families were desperate to rebuild their homes, and needed support to do so.

"Victims of the quake require cash aid/or building materials so they can put up homes again," said Zaheer Khan, who works with a local NGO.

Quake drills in schools?

There have also been calls to review the quake safety situation in Quetta and advise people on measures they can take in an emergency.

"There should be quake drills in schools and in other places. People should know what to do. This could help save lives," said primary school teacher Sajjida Shabbir.

The continuing jolts have brought home to people how vulnerable Quetta is to an earthquake. Images from the disastrous tremor of 1935 that killed at least 30,000 people have been appearing in many publications - and they have acted as a reminder of just what perils could face Pakistan's ninth biggest city, which according to experts lies within one of the country's most active seismic zones.

Head of the Metrological Department Qamaruzzaman Chaudhry said his office had proposed measures to reduce damage and suffering in the event of an earthquake. These included the implementation of a seismic building code, the strengthening of existing community buildings, and educating people about the seismic risk potential in their areas.