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Jennifer McKay

The writer is Australian Disaster Management and Civil-Military Relations Consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for Government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA.

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Hilal English

National Resilience Day: Honoring the 2005 Earthquake Victims and Shaping Pakistan's Economic Strength for the Future

November 2023

In 2024, let’s make National Resilience Day a wider commemoration and celebration of all achievements so far, not only in disaster management and climate change adaptation, but for all aspects of the economy, and for all people to commit to the journey towards building an economically strong, safe, peaceful, united, and prosperous country.



National Resilience Day, held on October 8 every year, highlights a transformational approach in Pakistan from reactive disaster response to proactive disaster risk management. The day commemorates the massive 2005 earthquake and all who suffered and those affected by all disasters since. The key objective of National Resilience Day is to commit to advancing national preparedness and building the nation's resilience against natural, climate and human-induced disasters. But should the scope not encompass all aspects of national resilience? Undoubtedly, economic resilience lies at the heart of everything.
National resilience is not an abstract concept. It is a tangible and essential quality that determines a nation's ability to navigate the complexities of the rapidly changing and uncertain world. By investing in economic diversification, social cohesion, environmental sustainability, strong governance, and technological advancement, nations can build a solid foundation for their future. For Pakistan to move forward, the collective efforts of governments, business leaders, communities, and individuals are crucial in shaping a resilient nation capable of thriving amidst challenges and adversity to emerge more robust, united, peaceful, and prosperous.
A resilient nation can invest in its people, infrastructure, economy, and institutions to create a robust system that can endure shocks and emerge stronger. Without economic resilience, countries struggle to meet the costs of preventing and responding to crises. International funding is becoming scarce due to the growing number of wars and disasters in many countries and a global economic crunch. Solutions are not easily found in the current economic climate, and countries with a high level of external debt generally find it more difficult to mobilise resources to offset the effects of external shocks. 
The recent attention by the Government and the Army to reviving Pakistan's economy through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), focusing on specific sectors with high investment potential, including agriculture, information technology, minerals, and energy, and enhancing international trade opportunities, is a vital step towards making the nation more economically self-sufficient and resilient overall. SIFC's vision statement captures the national ambition: "To contribute towards the economic revival of Pakistan by significantly expanding the investment pie from foreign and domestic sources, achieving macroeconomic stability, bringing socioeconomic prosperity and reclaiming rightful stature among the comity of nations." 
Another critical role of SIFC is to shake up the legal and regulatory processes that have long hindered progress in building investment and trade. The crackdown on smuggling of food, goods, oil, drugs, and money, hoarding, illegal dollar trading, electricity theft, corruption, and organised crime cartels, all of which have caused substantial losses to the national economy, is also starting to pay dividends in helping the economy recover. 


The recent attention by the Government and the Army to reviving Pakistan's economy through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), focusing on specific sectors with high investment potential, including agriculture, information technology, minerals, and energy, and enhancing international trade opportunities, is a vital step towards making the nation more economically self-sufficient and resilient overall.


The benefits of building a resilient nation are diverse and clear:
▪A resilient nation can invest in reducing the human cost of disasters and crises. Preparedness, early warning systems, and efficient response mechanisms can save lives and alleviate suffering.
▪Economic stability is vital for the well-being of citizens to provide efficient services like health and education and social protection mechanisms for those in need. Resilient economies are better equipped to absorb shocks, protect jobs, and sustain growth even during challenging times.
▪Nations with high levels of resilience are less vulnerable to external pressures. By being self-reliant and adaptable, countries can safeguard their sovereignty and make decisions that align with their national interests.
▪Resilient nations encourage innovation and creativity. When people feel secure, they are more likely to invest in new ideas, technologies, and businesses, fostering economic growth and development.


The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General syed Asim Munir, has frequently paid tribute to the resilience of the nation and the troops who serve the country in disasters and conflict, and to the communities affected. The COAS has also spoken about hope, something we must not lose sight of in challenging times.



Pakistan has had more than its fair share of crises in its 76-year young life as an independent nation. Following Partition in 1947, millions of refugees arrived in Pakistan from India to start new lives, having left everything behind. These times of great hardship established the inner resilience of the people, never to be defeated by adversities and to always have hope for a better future. Since then, almost every type of emergency has befallen the country. Natural and human-induced disasters, the impacts of terrorism which has cost many thousands of lives, internal displacements to keep them safe in military operations to defeat terrorism in ex-FATA, influxes of refugees from conflict in Afghanistan, the COVID-19 pandemic, and fall-out from global events, have had a protracted effect on socioeconomic development. But as we work towards improving things in the future, we also need to ensure we don't lose sight of those still trying to catch up. Increasing social protection mechanisms will be vital for those in need, requiring significant extra funding.
We must also never forget that many people have made extraordinary contributions to saving lives in the many disasters and other crises that the country has faced. Some have sacrificed their lives for the safety and peace of others. The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Syed Asim Munir, has frequently paid tribute to the resilience of the nation and the troops who serve the country in disasters and conflict, and to the communities affected. The COAS has also spoken about hope, something we must not lose sight of in challenging times.
Undoubtedly, disasters are a human and economic catastrophe for Pakistan. In the eighteen years since the earthquake, Pakistan has suffered two other major disasters–the 2010 and 2022 floods–and numerous small ones. The country is prone to many hazards, including earthquakes, floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), droughts, cyclones, tsunamis, heatwaves, avalanches, landslides, and tropical and snow storms. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of disasters in Pakistan and globally. 


The Pakistan Army launched a massive rescue and relief operation across the 30,000 square kilometre affected region. For many, it was also personal. Some had families in the devastated areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Others were serving in the mountainous regions along the Line of Control. Among the 73,000 lives lost were 215 soldiers, including six officers. At least 414 military personnel were amongst the more than 120,000 injured when homes, schools and public buildings collapsed on top of them.


Every disaster profoundly impacts the lives of people and the economy. Loss of life, injuries, livelihoods, disruption in education, food security, health, infrastructure damage, crop and livestock losses, education, unemployment, water scarcity, and infrastructure damages. Many people have no option but to migrate to cities, creating further pressures and loss of social networks. The frequency and cost of disasters and other crises are escalating. Seldom does the country fully recover, but that is not specific to Pakistan. It is a global problem. Few countries can cope with such economic shocks resulting from multiple crises. Building national resilience at all levels is critical for Pakistan, particularly with an economy in bad shape for some time and a burgeoning debt to manage.
In his 2023 National Resilience Day message, the Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, paid tribute to the indomitable spirit of the people of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, who have borne the brunt of harrowing disasters. He said, "The day serves as a stark reminder that we reside in a region profoundly susceptible to calamities. Pakistan ranks as one of the most vulnerable countries declared by the Climate Risk Index. We have witnessed a series of natural catastrophes in the shape of earthquakes, floods, GLOF events, scorching heatwaves, and forest fires-exacting a toll on precious lives as well as billions of dollars lost to infrastructure. On this day, we aim to raise awareness of the devastating impacts of climate change induced disasters with a special focus on disaster resilience."


The extraordinary effort between the Pakistan Armed Forces, United Nations organizations, Red Cross/Red Crescent, international and local NGOs, foreign militaries, volunteers, donors, and philanthropists, working together in harmony with the same goals but different mandates, saved lives and restored well-being to millions of people. It remains one of the most successful civil-military disaster responses in history.  


The National Disaster Management Authority's Chairman, Lieutenant General Inam Haider Malik, said in his National Resilience Day message that "due to advancements in technology and a deeper understanding of natural disasters, Pakistan is now moving towards taking proactive measures. This transformation involves the establishment of a modern National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC) at the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The NEOC is now capacitated to create a common operating picture enabled by multiple satellite feeds, software, and artificial intelligence tools that are expected to strengthen digital risk assessment, early warning systems, and preparedness strategies." This is a significant advancement.
The Chairman also said, "National Resilience Day prompts us to embrace best practices and implement policies and strategies aimed at fortifying our nation's resilience. Our policy initiatives should encompass various sectors, including the resilient and safe development of infrastructure, improved disaster preparedness, poverty alleviation, safer spatial land use planning, adherence to building codes, efficient water resource management, sound agricultural practices, and increased afforestation nationwide, including coastal areas. Given our vulnerabilities, I urge all federal and provincial stakeholders to collaborate closely to reduce disaster risks, enhance preparedness, and establish swift response mechanisms through usage of latest technological tools. It is of utmost important that we prioritise the welfare of vulnerable segments of our society, including women, children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities in all our endeavors." 


In late October 2005, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was established as an independent, autonomous, and federal institution to undertake the operational planning, coordination, monitoring, and regulating of the reconstruction and rehabilitation operations of the affected areas. 


The statements from the Prime Minister and the Chairman NDMA highlight Pakistan's many challenges and the importance of all stakeholders working together on critical issues to make the country safer and better prepared. But national resilience is not merely about bouncing back after a disaster, crisis, or climate change adaptation. It is about fortifying the foundations of a society to mitigate risks and enhance its capacity to cope with all unforeseen circumstances. 
Lessons from past disasters and other crises must be well learned and acted upon to be prepared for the future. However, that has not always been the case. Looking back over the three major disasters of the past eighteen years, it seems clear that although climate change was a significant factor in exacerbating two of them, it is far from being responsible for the level of damage and flaws in response. There are numerous other factors, some highlighted by the Chairman NDMA in his National Resilience Day message, and these must be addressed, which will require political will and budgetary support.
Commemorating the 2005 earthquake anniversary reminds us of a less discussed threat. The threat of catastrophic earthquakes in this region of high seismic risk, where fault lines run below the earth and the sea, can never be overlooked. Although rare, a major quake is highly destructive, and the death and injury toll are usually substantial. Earthquakes happen every day worldwide, including in Pakistan and this region. Minor quakes are frequent and often pass unnoticed by the population. Globally, there are between 50-100 earthquakes every day. Earthquakes cannot be predicted–the science is not yet there–but risk mitigation and preparedness matters. Unfortunately, not all lessons from 2005 have been well learned, nor have policies and plans been fully implemented. Building codes for earthquake-resistant structures continue to be ignored in regions at risk. 


Just five years after the earthquake, Pakistan faced a new challenge when the 2010 floods inundated one-fifth of the country from the mountains of the north to the sea. Having just recovered from the intervening 2009 Swat internally displayed persons (IDPs) crisis, the country was thrown into a new emergency requiring another complicated response and substantial funding. 


The 2005 earthquake was a wake-up call for Pakistan. It was unprepared for large-scale disasters and had neither the institutional arrangements nor the understanding of managing such risks. The Pakistan Army launched a massive rescue and relief operation across the 30,000 square kilometre affected region. For many, it was also personal. Some had families in the devastated areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Others were serving in the mountainous regions along the Line of Control. Among the 73,000 lives lost were 215 soldiers, including six officers. At least 414 military personnel were amongst the more than 120,000 injured when homes, schools and public buildings collapsed on top of them. Injuries from earthquakes are horrific as buildings fall and crush those within. Many were left with disabilities from crush injuries that require physiotherapy care, prosthetics, and medications for the rest of their lives. When compensation is gone, families spend the rest of their lives trying to cope.
In one of the most extensive helicopter relief operations in history, 30,474 helicopter sorties were flown to save lives, rescue the stranded and injured, and provide relief. Deploying these military assets, the many thousand personnel, and joint aviation and logistics remains imperative for rapid life-saving efforts in such disasters. With the threat of a harsh winter fast approaching, affected communities were urgently provided with food, shelter, healthcare and water, each a critical element of survival and prevention of a second wave of crisis. The extraordinary effort between the Pakistan Armed Forces, United Nations organizations, Red Cross/Red Crescent, international and local NGOs, foreign militaries, volunteers, donors, and philanthropists, working together in harmony with the same goals but different mandates, saved lives and restored well-being to millions of people. It remains one of the most successful civil-military disaster responses in history. 
The overall cost of relief and reconstruction associated with the earthquake was estimated at USD 5.2 billion by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank in the damage and needs assessment. In late October 2005, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) was established as an independent, autonomous, and federal institution to undertake the operational planning, coordination, monitoring, and regulating of the reconstruction and rehabilitation operations of the affected areas. The task was massive, and much of the work was completed. However, although the funds were received, delays over the years in rebuilding have seen costs escalating and a delay in full completion. 
If an earthquake of this scale were to strike Pakistan again, the cost would be many times higher. For example, the estimated cost of a similar-scale earthquake in Turkiye in February 2023 is around USD 104 billion. Although ERRA has now been merged into the NDMA, the knowledge and lessons learned on earthquake management must not be forgotten and remain part of the repository of disaster information. Many of those lessons are applicable in the rehabilitation and reconstruction after every disaster, including massive floods.
Just five years after the earthquake, Pakistan faced a new challenge when the 2010 floods inundated one-fifth of the country from the mountains of the north to the sea. Having just recovered from the intervening 2009 Swat internally displayed persons (IDPs) crisis, the country was thrown into a new emergency requiring another complicated response and substantial funding. Many lessons from 2005 proved helpful to the NDMA, particularly in coordinating, facilitating, and mobilising resources at the federal level, with Federal Ministries/organizations, Armed Forces, UN, bilateral donors, multilateral donors, and the network of national and international NGOs. Again, Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force, and foreign military aviation teams were at the forefront in the field.
The 2010 floods affected 78 districts covering an area of over 100,000 square km, impacted a population of more than 20 million people and caused over 1,980 reported deaths and 2,946 injuries. The floods also destroyed 1.6 million houses and 2,085,400 hectares of cropped land. The damage sustained by public infrastructure was also enormous. 23,831 km of roads, 10,192 education centres and 485 health facilities were damaged. According to the Damage and Needs Assessment (DNA) led for the government by the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB), with inputs from UN agencies and other stakeholders, the country sustained an estimated loss of more than USD 10 billion of direct and indirect damages to social and physical infrastructure, economic sector, governance, and the environment.


The 2010 floods affected 78 districts covering an area of over 100,000 square km, impacted a population of more than 20 million people and caused over 1,980 reported deaths and 2,946 injuries. The floods also destroyed 1.6 million houses and 2,085,400 hectares of cropped land. The damage sustained by public infrastructure was also enormous. 23,831 km of roads, 10,192 education centres and 485 health facilities were damaged.


Then, along came the 2022 floods. The floods affected 33 million people, and more than 1,730 died in some of the country's poorest and most vulnerable districts. As many as eight million people were displaced. Loss of household incomes and assets, rising food prices, and disease outbreaks struck hardest in the most vulnerable groups. Women working in small agriculture and livestock raising suffered notable losses, leaving them destitute. 
The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) led by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, conducted jointly with the ADB, the EU, the United Nations agencies with technical facilitation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank, estimated total damages to exceed USD 14.9 billion, and total economic losses to reach about USD 15.2 billion. The PDNA states that the national poverty rate may increase by 3.7 to 4.0 percentage points, potentially pushing between 8.4 and 9.1 million more people below the poverty line. The PDNA also revealed that estimated needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction in a resilient way were at least USD 16.3 billion, not including much-needed new investments beyond the affected assets, to support Pakistan's adaptation to climate change and overall resilience to future climate shocks. 
Unlike the 2010 floods and the 2005 earthquake, acquiring the necessary funding internally and from international donors and lending institutions has proven to be far more challenging. International assistance through loans and grants is dwindling due to the increasing needs arising from conflicts and disasters worldwide. The situation will be even more disastrous if another major disaster strikes Pakistan soon, be it an earthquake, floods, or any other category of crisis. There will be even less international support available. 
These scenarios highlight the need to build self-sufficiency and economic resilience at all levels to manage shocks with a minimum need for international assistance. We must move beyond rhetoric to action, no matter how tough it is to fix things. There is no time to waste because the implications of inaction are dire. In 2024, let’s make National Resilience Day a wider commemoration and celebration of all achievements so far, not only in disaster management and climate change adaptation, but for all aspects of the economy, and for all people to commit to the journey towards building an economically strong, safe, peaceful, united, and prosperous country.


The writer is an Australian Disaster Management and Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Advisor who lives in Islamabad. She consults for Government and UN agencies and has previously worked at both ERRA and NDMA. 
E-mail: [email protected]
 

Jennifer McKay

The writer is Australian Disaster Management and Civil-Military Relations Consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for Government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA.

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