The Earthquake in South Asia: Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Operations


Publication Date: December 2005

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: International relations



On October 8, 2005, a powerful earthquake struck northern Pakistan and India, killing at least 74,500 people and injuring over 130,000 more. The earthquake damaged the homes of as many as three million people, forcing many of them to search for alternative means of shelter. The full extent of the destruction remains unknown because government authorities and relief organizations continue to have difficulty accessing some remote locations. As of the date of this report, the United States government (USG) has pledged $410 million toward the relief effort, almost all of it to assisting Pakistan, which remains a key U.S. ally in the war against terror. So far, about 35% of this pledge has been committed. Because of the heavy USG military and development presence in neighboring Afghanistan, the logistics of bringing resources into Pakistan has been relatively straightforward. The USG, Government of Pakistan, and NATO, among others, are operating daily relief flights to ferry supplies, personnel, and victims to and from the region.

The earthquake struck a region that lies along the southern reaches of the Himalayan Mountains. While continuing to deliver humanitarian assistance and gaining full access is critical, one of the main humanitarian priorities in the coming months is ensuring that the estimated three million people who lost their homes have adequate protection from winter weather and diseases. Relief organizations are distributing winterized tents, setting up emergency clinics, and working to vaccinate children against measles, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, and polio. The most significant health problem identified so far has been a number of cases of Acute Respiratory Illness (ARI) brought on by lack of hygiene and exposure to cold weather. Cases of acute diarrhea are also emerging. The World Food Programme (WFP), which estimates that 2.3 million Pakistanis will need food aid in the next two to four months, is working to pre-position 95,000 tons of food in affected areas. A final pressing concern remains the inaccessibility of some areas due to road damage caused by the earthquake.

Although no systematic study has been conducted, anecdotal evidence suggests that the USG's aid effort has improved ordinary Pakistanis' opinions of the United States. Nevertheless, some aid agencies are saying that the country needs a great deal more aid than it is getting, and warn that the economic impact of the disaster will surpass $5.2 billion. This burden may contribute toward long-term instability in an area perceived to be of critical importance to the United States in the war on terror. This report will be updated as events warrant.

Legislative activity so far has included the introduction of several resolutions expressing sympathy for those affected by the earthquake, pledging American support for the victims, and lauding the relief efforts of U.S. personnel.