Monday’s earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale according to the US Geological Survey with the Pakistan Metrological Office giving its severity at 8.1 spread a wave of terror throughout the country.
While the deviation in the magnitude of the earthquake is significant yet it may be recalled that the 2005 earthquake was measured at 7.6 on the Richter scale by the US Geological Survey, 7.5 by Pakistan’s Met Office and 7.8 by the Japan Metrological Survey with the final magnitude given at 7.7.
Be that as it may, it appears that in spite of the magnitude of the 2015 earthquake being comparable to the one in 2005, yet the fatalities as well as destruction of public and private property have not been as severe. The reason: the epicenter of this quake was far deeper than the one ten years ago to the month. In 2005 there were around 100,000 fatalities and destruction as per the needs assessment study undertaken by the multilaterals was estimated at over 6 billion dollars.
Comparisons between the 2005 and the recent earthquake are being made and the question is whether any lessons were learned from the 2005 earthquake that may account for considerably lower fatalities and destruction today.
Analysts point out that given that large parts of the country are on a fault line it is unfortunate that appropriate measures identified in 2005 were not enforced especially with respect to the building codes that are required to withstand tremors. Development specialists cite that over two to three months are required to accurately assess the number of fatalities as well as the true extent of damages to public and private sector assets.
One would assume that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s response to Narendra Modi’s offer of assistance that the country would bear the cost of the earthquake from its domestic resources is no doubt based on the preliminary reports. Information Minister Pervez Rashid confirmed that so far the government is not appealing for outside assistance, though there have been offers of help from the UN and the US.
The army leadership has taken the lead and as per the instructions of General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, it is actively engaged in rescue and relief operations in all affected parts of the country particularly in Malakand, Dir, Chitral and Bajaur.
The CoAS himself proceeded to Peshawar to take stock of the situation. The Prime Minister and his entourage on an official visit to the US that ended Saturday was in London at the time of the earthquake and as per schedule returned on Tuesday.
A press release noted that the Prime Minister would take charge of relief activities himself upon his return. However the focus, as has become the norm, was on giving cash grants to those who lost loved ones – Shahbaz Sharif announced 5 lakh rupee per fatality (and a donation of 10 crore rupees to the Prime Minister’s relief fund) while Pervez Khattak announced 3 lakh rupee per fatality – decisions with clearly political overtones.
While data on fatalities and the extent of destruction have yet to be firmed up yet economists reckon that the disaster may be a Godsend for the economic team (given the currently ongoing ninth mandated quarterly review of the 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility of the International Monetary Fund) enabling the authorities to request and get more waivers.
The IMF has already granted 12 waivers, required because of failure to meet the time bound structural and quantitative targets agreed. In layman’s terms, the budget deficit would be higher than agreed with obvious implications on the rate of inflation and skeptics argue that given the penchant of the Finance Minister to procure external loans the Ministry of Finance may well use the earthquake as a means to access grant assistance and/or loans. In short, higher indebtedness would no doubt increase the annual outlay on debt servicing as well as repayment of principal amounts as and when due, shrinking the pie for social sector development outlay in particular further.
Source: Business Recorder