10 October 2005

Disaster In A Place A Lot Like Home

A century ago, we might not have learned that it even happened for months, and by then it might be little more than a footnote. Now, the United States Geological Survey knew where an earthquake struck in Pakistan and how powerful it was (a 7.6 on the Richter scale) before local officials did.

This was a big one, the most deadly disaster of any kind in Pakistan, or in the part of India that later became Pakistan, in all of recorded history (according to the 2005 World Almanac's comprehensive list of notable historical disasters, in any case). More than 20,000 people are dead, including 11,000 in a city, Muzaffarabad (the capital of Azad Kashmir, i.e. Pakistani controlled Kashmir), that few people even knew existed before today. It last made news in 2003 for being the first city in Pakistan with bus service to India. According to National Public Radio, more than 2.5 million people are believed to be homeless now, as winter approaches in the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world.

Economically, the region has a lot in common with rural Colorado. According to the encylopaedia Britannica:

Wheat, barley, corn (maize), millet, and livestock are raised in the lower valleys and support relatively high population densities. In the more sparsely settled upper valleys, corn, cattle, and forestry are the economic mainstays. There are deposits of marble near Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, graphite at Mohriwali, and other reserves of bauxite, silica, chalk, zircon, and low-grade coal.

The agricultural products list could easily have come from any number of counties on the Front Range (where millet is usually called "hershey"), and Colorado is a producer of both marble and coal. This disputed province has a population of about 4.3 million, about the same as Colorado, and an area of about 84,000 square miles (compared to 104,000 for Colorado).

This disaster did as much harm as the worst case scenario fears for Katrina and Rita would have done, which thankfully didn't happen, in a part of the world that is far less prosperous, less densely populated, and in the midst of one of the longest running low intensity civil wars in the world, one that has the potential to bring two of the world's nuclear armed nations into a full fledged international war with each other. The toll from India's side of the border is not yet known in any detail.

Anyone who knows of places where readers can send assistance is encouraged to note them in the comments section of this post.

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