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Earthquake impacts in rural Kashmir

© Ejaz Asi CC BY-NC 2.0

Pakistan

In 2005, the Kashmir region in Pakistan experienced an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude. The earthquake killed over 46,500 people, while 33,489 were injured. Around 329,600 houses collapsed, which resulted in displacement of over 2 million people.

Casualties and injuries in the region were attributed to the collapse of poor quality, single storey, un-reinforced stone masonry buildings and reinforced concrete frame school buildings. It was observed that local people did not have knowledge about earthquake resilient construction technologies, the cost of which was beyond the capacity of the majority.

Kashmir is a predominantly rural society, with the majority living in small settlements on mountain sides. The rural economy mainly depends upon agriculture and livestock rearing. People do not have savings to use on improving their living or housing standards or to develop other income generating ventures. The second key source of income is remittances from migrants. In the earthquake affected area of Northern Kashmir, skilled people from the region migrate in search of better opportunities. Those left behind are mainly the unskilled, illiterate, women and the elderly. They are dependent for their survival upon remittances and are responsible for taking day-to-day decisions, such as about the construction of a house. Given the geography of the region and the lack of proper road infrastructure, it is extremely difficult for people to bring in construction materials such as steel, bricks and cement from outside even if they could afford it.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, in collaboration with the National Society of Earthquake Technology, have trained thousands of masons in safer construction practices. However, since local people cannot afford the higher wages demanded by the trained masons, many have left for cities, such as Karachi, where they are better paid. This indicates the difficulty of promoting earthquake safety in Kashmir until development conditions such as income, education and road networks are improved.

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