October 8 will go down as a somber day in our na­tional calendar, as on this day a magnitude 7.6 quake wrought unprecedented havoc in our northern and northwestern areas.

The violent jolts made us believe that millions would die countrywide on that day, as never in our life had we seen such a powerful quake. As we waited out the quake outside, distress calls started pouring in telling horrifying stories of death and destruction.

AJK suffered the worst followed by Balakot district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Thousands of precious lives were lost in AJK alone with thousands entombed in tons of rubble of the buildings.

After the violent jolts had died out, we all got back into our offices of the PRCS headquarters. The first bad news that poured in was that a part of Margalla Towers in F-10 Markaz had collapsed with 70 people inside. Being the leading humanitarian orga­nization, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) immediately dispatched its ambulances and trained volunteers to the spot to help the other departments in taking out those trapped under the rubble and tend to them.

The same day, I got a call from the Turkish Red Cres­cent Society (PRCS) telling me that they were sending their team to help us in the relief and rehabilitation activities in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. As per com­mitment, a plane carrying a TRCS team, comprising doctors, engineers, and volunteers, touched down the Islamabad Internation­al Airport the next day.

I along with our media team visited Azad Jammu and Kashmir [by air] and Balakot the next day. As we entered AJK and later Bala­kot, an eerie and spooky si­lence welcomed us. We saw long rows of mangled and twisted buildings of school, college, and shopping cen­ters. At some places, the mountains, which once stood tall and proud had collapsed with their rubble choking the flow of water channels. The telecommu­nication, power, and water distribution system was thrown out of joint. Dam­aged highways and roads, aftershocks, landslides and falling rocks hindered sup­plies of food and non-food items and other necessities of life.

At many places, we saw sad, marooned, and down-and-out people sitting out in the open exposed to el­ements. Some were sitting with their chins resting on their knees, and some were sitting back with their sunken eyes staring in the space, with the fast currents of cold air hitting their bodies. Their faces were telling the story of what had happened to them the previous day. In a nutshell, death and de­struction was dancing ev­erywhere.

Being the only major humanitarian organiza­tion in Pakistan at that time, the PRCS opened up its warehouses and start­ed dispatching necessary goods to the troubled areas besides sending teams of trained volunteers to treat the injured and shift them to the medical facilities.

Meantime, realizing the magnitude of the chal­lenge, the PRCS partner organizations and other international humanitar­ian organizations rushed planeloads of relief goods carrying beds, blankets, quilts, mattresses, medi­cines, potable water, win­terized tents, and thou­sands of other necessary items to Pakistan, which were promptly handed over to the PRCS for their onward distribution in the quake-hit areas.

The PRCS provided relief and medical assistance of worth over Rs4.5billion to around 2.7 million benefi­ciaries and reconstructed 38 health, educational and vocational training facili­ties in the affected areas costing Rs1.4 billion. This was the first ever venture of its kind in the country’s history. Most of the proj­ects were completed and handed over to the author­ities concerned within the stipulated time.

It is worth mentioning that during the magnitude 5.8 quake in Mirpur, AJK on September 24, the PRCS National Headquarters mo­bilized its first aid teams in Bhimber, Kotli and Mirpur district offices within 15 minutes of the disaster and sent 30 first aid respond­ers to the affected areas. Four ambulances carrying necessary medicines and other relief items were also dispatched to the affected areas. Over 100 injured people were provided with first aid and around 400 people were rescued.

Three truckloads of food parcels were also dispatched for 500 vic­tims in collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent Society. Each food parcel, weighing 14.5kg, con­tained rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and pulses. These parcels were distributed among the affected people in Sang Kikri, Kalyal/Sam­wal, Zaildaran Naka, Sam­wal Khekri, Sang Roshan, Sang Hil, Parai, Nai Abadi, and Chak Sagar.

The quakes of October 8 and September 24 require us to do some introspec­tion in the cold light of the day and come out with a flawless strategy to ad­dress such challenges in an effective and well-coordi­nated manner.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

* Presently, the contem­porary national disaster management bodies are working according to their own understanding and mandates, causing confu­sion, duplication of efforts, wastage of precious time and resources and unnec­essary delay in respond­ing to disaster/s. In order to overcome this problem, a disaster management cell should be set up at the Prime Minister House, headed by the prime min­ister, which should clearly define the roles and re­sponsibilities of all these bodies.

* The clearly defined mandates will help the di­saster management bodies to respond to natural and manmade disasters in an organized, disciplined, and coordinated manner.

* Following the Consti­tutional mandate of PRCS and being a part of the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement and a partner of 192 National Societ­ies across the world, the PRCS enjoys an edge over the contemporary disas­ter management bodies in terms of international expertise, institutional ca­pacity, and resource mo­bilization. In view of these merits, the PRCS should be given the lead role in relief and rehabilitation with the other organizations aiding and assisting it as auxiliary bodies.

- The writer is Secretary General Pakistan Red Cres­cent Society