The devastating earthquake that struck northern Pakistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir on October 8, 2005, killed approximately 75,000 people, injured 70,000 more, left an estimated 3.5 million people homeless, and devastated the basic infrastructure of a region the size of Belgium. Despite a daunting array of obstacles - inaccessible mountainous terrain, the onset of winter, the challenges of coordinating an unprecedented diversity of providers of humanitarian assistance, and the sheer numbers of people in humanitarian need - a wide range of local, national and international actors rose to the humanitarian challenge. Unlike the aftermath of many other natural disasters there were no significant numbers of subsequent deaths from injury, cold, food shortages, or disease. The earthquake response, which was led from the earliest stages of rescue and relief to the ongoing reconstruction phase by the Pakistan Army, is judged by many to have been the most effective response ever to a natural disaster of this magnitude.
The objective of this study was not to conduct an evaluation of the earthquake response, but to learn from the perceptions of a wide range of aid recipients and providers in order to better understand and more effectively address some of the key challenges currently facing humanitarian action. This case study is part of a multi-country study being conducted by the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University entitled, 'The Humanitarian Agenda 2015: Principles, Politics and Perceptions' (HA2015). Each case study has focused on understanding perceptions regarding four interrelated issues that are likely to influence the humanitarian agenda during the coming decade:
- The universality of humanitarianism - is there anything truly universal about what we call humanitarian action or are the principles and apparatus of humanitarian action perceived to be primarily Western and Northern?
- The implications of terrorism and counter-terrorism for humanitarian action - to what extent is the humanitarian enterprise perceived to be part of the security agenda of the US and its allies, and if so what are the implications for humanitarian action?
- The search for greater coherence and integration between humanitarian and political/security agendas - does the cost of more integrated approaches exceed the benefits?
- The security of humanitarian personnel and the beneficiaries of humanitarian action.
The field research for this study was conducted in March 2007, 18 months after the disaster. Most of the report's findings are based on focus group discussions with men and women in the most earthquake-devastated areas of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), as well as key informant interviews with Pakistani military and civilian officials, and the staff of donor agencies, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs. While the focus of the research was on the initial six months of rescue and relief efforts, respondents also communicated their perceptions - generally much more negative - of the subsequent reconstruction phase.