Emergency response

South Asia earthquake

© UNICEF/HQ05-1440/Pirozzi
In minutes, the earthquake that struck South Asia on 8 October 2005 took the lives of around 75,000 people and the livelihoods of those who survived. The greatest devastation occurred in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, densely populated regions in the Himalayan foothills encompassing thousands of small villages and towns.

Of the dead, most were in Pakistan and around 1,300 in India. Afghanistan was also affected. Of approximately 4 million people affected, around 3.3 million became homeless, including 1.6 million to 2.2 million children. Hospitals, health centres and government buildings were destroyed. Ten thousand schools collapsed, killing 17,000 children and almost 900 teachers. Landslides and aftershocks made roads impassable. And what little the earthquake had left intact was threatened by an early winter and the difficulties of coordinating relief in such inhospitable terrain.

Quick response

Yet global reaction was quick, and victims were reached with large quantities of life-saving supplies within 48 hours. UNICEF’s policy of pre-positioning proved to be of great assistance, as supplies were already stored in Karachi and Peshawar, ready to address the immediate needs of 140,000 to 180,000 people. Warm clothing, blankets, high-energy biscuits and emergency health kits were dispatched to the affected areas immediately.

The UN ‘cluster leadership’ approach to humanitarian response, piloted during this emergency, helped to coordinate aid delivery. Working closely with the Government of Pakistan, UNICEF coordinated the response in water and sanitation, child protection, education and data communications, and jointly led the food and nutrition cluster with the World Food Programme.

At the end of October, UNICEF appealed for $93 million in humanitarian assistance, part of a consolidated appeal for $550 million. Donors stepped in and pledged more than $98 million.

As a result of UNICEF and partner efforts, more than 7 million water purification tablets, 6 million sachets, 3.5 million bars of soap, 100,000 buckets and 350,000 jerrycans were distributed to help ensure access to safe water. In the quake-affected and surrounding areas, 4 million children aged 6 months to 15 years received measles vaccination and vitamin A supplementation.

Two weeks after the disaster, the first school was opened in the affected area. Children received psychosocial support, and systems were put in place to register 10,000 vulnerable children in camps and reunite them with their families.

As they assist those most in need, UNICEF and its many partners are looking beyond the landscape of jagged ruins to work with the Government of Pakistan so that new buildings can withstand seismic activity and reconstruction can contribute to improved education and health systems – and the reduction of poverty. As the population is assured that new buildings will not collapse upon them in the next disaster, they become free to imagine, and work towards, a better future.