On Saturday 8, October 2005, an earthquake (whose epicentre lay 95 km north-east of Islamabad, Pakistan), with an intensity of 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India. It was rated as one of the largest earthquakes ever to hit the region during the last century. Over 80,000 people were estimated to be killed, the condition of more than 70,000 required immediate medical attention. Some 4 million people were rendered homeless.
The Commission made a rapid and generous response to help the victims of this terrible earthquake. On the day of the disaster, the European Commission contributed €3.6 million in emergency aid for immediate relief operations focusing on medical services and supplies, shelter, food and blankets.
The Commission responded to continuing needs, allocating a further €10 million for healthcare, camp management, logistics and psychological assistance. €25 million in aid was allocated in December 2005 to bring sustained relief through the winter and into 2006. This provided livelihood support such as seeds and tools as well as water and sanitation programmes and disaster preparedness initiatives.
The overall reported European Union financial package in response to the earthquake is now €600 million, and for the humanitarian component alone, €171 million.
The Commission provided an overall financial package of € 98.6 million in response to the crisis, of which €48 million was for humanitarian relief and €50 million for early recovery and rehabilitation.
The Commission's humanitarian funds have been channelled through over 30 partners comprising of European Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), United Nations Agencies and Red Cross/Red Crescent family members.
All of ECHO's partners are carefully selected, taking into account their capacity to carry forward the projects successfully. ECHO scrupulously ensures that the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and equity are faithfully adhered to by the partners, at all stages of implementation.
ECHO's work in the quake-hit region
Shelter was naturally the topmost priority immediately after the disaster. In the first phase, mainly tents and plastic sheets were distributed, followed by corrugated iron sheets, which were resistant to heavy snowfalls. All categories of shelters were supplied with various types of materials and tools, according to the specific needs.
Food distribution commenced immediately, especially for pregnant women and children. The supplies included flour, cooking oil, and high protein biscuits. Essential non-food items like stoves, kitchen, hygiene kits, and clothes were also distributed during the first months of the relief operations.
Likewise, the health sector too received a good deal of attention. Since multiple injuries and bone fractures were common, and since a large number of health facilities had been destroyed in the earthquake, the ECHO partners quickly deployed four emergency response units (in Balakot and Battagram) and one field hospital in Muzaffarabad to provide medical aid to the victims. The Commission also provided funding to assist the people disabled as a result of the earthquake. In all, 11 health-related projects have been, or are being funded in response to this crisis; they aim to cover a substantial portion of the affected area, through the establishment of basic health units, prefabricated structures including reproductive health centres, mobile units, etc. Psycho-social support was also provided by a selection of partners.
The water and sanitation sector emerged as a serious worry, primarily for the established camps as well as the makeshift settlements, and later for the villages affected by the earthquake. Improved water-sanitation was addressed through a series of projects led by 'German Red Cross' and 'Swedish Red Cross' in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 'Première Urgence' in the Neelum Valley - Machiara, Heer Kotli, Muzaffarabad, 'Solidarités' in Allai Tehsil, 'Mercy Corps' in 6 union councils of NWFP and German Agro Action in Bagh, Azhad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and NWFP.
ECHO supported the logistics sector through co-funding of World Food Programme (WFP) for the helicopter operations which made relief available in the remote mountainous areas, transporting humanitarian staff and evacuating medical emergency cases. It also helped WFP-UNJLC and Atlas Logistique to provide road transport and storage to a number of international and local humanitarian organisations.
Disaster preparedness also figured on ECHO's agenda for tackling this major catastrophe. Funding to the tune of€ 1 million was allocated to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA-ISDR) for creating awareness about the dangers of earthquakes, the after-effects and the ways and means to cope with these natural calamities, in various communities (for example, establishing contingency plans in schools), besides acquainting and training the local population in anti-seismic construction techniques.
The Commission also strongly supported the new coordination mechanism (i.e. cluster approach), recently agreed upon by UN agencies, the RC Movement, NGOs and key donors through the Inter Agency Standing Committee, and implemented in the response to the South Asia earthquake. A key element of this approach has been the exercise of cluster leadership in full integration with the national authorities in charge of the management of the disaster response.
ECHO's Partners in Relief Work
Thanks to its long presence in the region and experience in handling emergencies of various types, ECHO was able to select a wide variety of competent partners to respond to this major emergency. They have rendered invaluable assistance to the victims of this earthquake.
The partners who have been funded by ECHO from October 2005 are: TSFI, Action Aid, Finnish Red Cross, Aga Khan Foundation, WFP, Spanish Red Cross, MEDAIR, French Red Cross, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam GB, ATLAS Logistique, UNOCHA, German Red Cross, Handicap International, Danish Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross, UNHCR, IOM, WHO, IFRC, ICRC, WFP, FP-UNHAS, UNFPA, MERLIN, UNOCHA, Hilfswerk Austria, Save the Children UK, Malteser International, FAO, Première Urgence, GAA, Action Against Hunger Spain, Diakonie, Solidarités, and Mercy Corps.
ECHO's Role as a Coordinator
Coordination is essential for ensuring that the relief is equally distributed across the entire disaster-affected area.
The Commission is fulfilling this role with rapidly-deployed ECHO field teams, to ensure coordination with all major players. From its field office in Pakistan, ECHO is able to efficiently monitor the activities and interaction of its partners, to avoid duplication of activities in some areas and identify gaps in funding, in others.
Lastly, ECHO has allocated €1.5 million to UN-OCHA (Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) for their coordination and overall informatory role. In addition, specific cluster lead agencies i.e. UNHCR for camp management, WHO for health, IOM for shelter, and WFP for logistics, have received financial support from ECHO.