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Pakistan: Toufiq Siddiqi - East-West Center expert sees lessons in deadly quake

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Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Originally published
HONOLULU (Oct. 13) -- Major lessons can be learned from the recent earthquake that shook Pakistan and Kashmir leaving tens-of-thousands of people dead, and estimates as high as two million homeless just ahead of the harsh Himalayan winter.

Pointing this out, Dr. Toufiq Siddiqi, an adjunct senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, adds that, "unfortunately, many of the obvious lessons are unaffordable." He notes that "Many of the houses that collapsed are made from mud or bricks, with no structural support." Earthquake resistant structures could be built but "they are clearly beyond the reach of families that generally earn less than U.S.$1,000 per year."

What is doable, according to Dr. Siddiqi, is the stockpiling of equipment and emergency medical supplies throughout the region. He notes that while "some heavy equipment was able to clear rubble and save lives in some of the larger cities, such as Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir," that was not the case in "many villages that were devastated. They are only accessible by narrow, winding roads at elevations greater than 6-thousand feet." Stockpiles of supplies kept throughout the rural mountainous area, Dr. Siddiqi believes, could go a long way toward helping in any future disaster.

The need for airlift capability is another lesson learned the hard way. "Many of the villages that were hard-hit during the earthquake were cutoff as rockslides made many roads impassable," according to the East-West Center expert. "Pakistan had to request helicopters from the United States and other countries" so rescue workers could reach the remote villages and the injured "could be taken to more distant hospitals."

Dr. Siddiqi also sees valuable lessons to be learned on the geo-political front. "India offered humanitarian aid to Pakistan. That aid was accepted. That is a reflection of the improved relations between the two South Asia countries." Dr. Siddiqi points out that Islamabad supplied aid to New Delhi several years ago in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that struck India's Gujarat region.

"Since floods and earthquakes affect both countries frequently," the East-West Center Fellow points out, "it might be desirable to set up a joint disaster response team that could be called upon by either country when required."

Dr. Siddiqi is somewhat optimistic about the future. "Natural disasters will continue to occur, but the ability of South Asian countries to respond to them will increase as they modernize." And, Dr. Siddiqi believes that "increased cooperation between India and Pakistan will enable both countries to allocate larger resources to human development and welfare and reduce expenditures for confrontational activities."

Toufiq Siddiqi can be reached at (808) 944-7456 or by email at siddiqit@EastWestCenter.org