Pakistan earthquake relief operation

  • Last updated: 27 Oct. 2010 12:38

NATO airlifted close to 3,500 tons of urgently-needed supplies to Pakistan and deployed engineers, medical units and specialist equipment to assist in relief operations after the devastating 8 October 2005 earthquake.

The earthquake is estimated to have killed 80,000 people in Pakistan and left up to three million without food or shelter just before the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter.

The mission came to an end, on schedule, on 1 February 2006.

Practical implementation of the NATO mission

On 11 October, in response to a request from Pakistan, NATO launched an operation to assist in the urgent relief effort.

NATO airlifted supplies donated by NATO member and partner countries as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees via two air bridges, from Germany and Turkey.

168 flights delivered almost 3,500 tons of relief supplies. The supplies provided included thousands of tents, stoves and blankets necessary to protect the survivors from the cold.

In addition, NATO deployed engineers and medical units from the NATO Response Force to assist in the relief effort. The first teams arrived on 29 October.

In just three months of operations, NATO achieved the following:

  • NATO’s air bridges flew almost 3,500 tons of aid to Pakistan with 168 flights. These flights carried in nearly 18,000 tents, 505,000 blankets, nearly 17,000 stoves/heaters, more than 31,500 mattresses, 49,800 sleeping bags, tons of medical supplies, and more;
  • NATO’s field hospital treated approximately 4,890 patients and conducted 160 major surgeries. Mobile medical units treated some 3,424 patients in the remote mountain villages; they also contributed significantly to the World Health Organisation immunisation programme that has helped to prevent the outbreak of disease;
  • In the cities of Arja and Bagh, NATO engineers repaired nearly 60 kilometres of roads and removed over 41,500 cubic meters of debris, enabling the flow of aid, commerce and humanitarian assistance to the inhabitants of the valley. Nine school and health structures were completed and 13 tent schools erected. The engineers distributed 267 cubic meters of drinking water and upgraded a permanent spring water distribution and storage system to serve up to 8,400 persons per day;
  • NATO engineers also supported the Pakistani Army in Operation Winter Race, by constructing 110 multi-purpose shelters for the population living in the mountains;
  • NATO helicopters transported more than 1,750 tons of relief goods to remote mountain villages and evacuated over 7,650 disaster victims;
  • NATO set up an aviation fuel farm in Abbottabad, which carried out some 1,000 refuellings for civilian and military helicopters.

During the mission some 1,000 engineers and supporting staff, as well as 200 medical personnel, worked in Pakistan.

NATO was part of a very large effort aimed at providing disaster relief in Pakistan. The Pakistani Army provided the bulk of the response, with the support of NATO, the UN and other international organizations and several individual countries.

The evolution of NATO’s assistance

On 10 October, NATO received from Pakistan a request for assistance in dealing with the aftermath of the 8 October earthquake.

The next day, the North Atlantic Council approved a major air operation to bring supplies from NATO and Partner countries to Pakistan.

The airlift begins

The airlift began on 13 October and the first tons of supplies arrived in Pakistan on October 14.

On 19 October, NATO opened a second air bridge from Incirlik, Turkey, to deliver large quantities of tents, blankets and stoves donated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Deployment of engineers and medical personnel

On 21 October, in reponse to a further request from Pakistan, NATO agreed to deploy engineers and medical personnel from the NATO Response Force to Pakistan to further assist in the relief effort.

A NATO headquarters was deployed to Pakistan on 24 October to liaise with Pakistani authorities and pave the way for the incoming troops.

The first troops, the advance elements of the medical team, began arriving on 29 October, and immediately began treating hundreds hundreds of people a day.

Engineering teams followed and began working in the area around Bagh in support of Pakistani efforts to repair roads, build shelters and medical facilities. NATO engineers also supported the Pakistani Army in Operation Winter Race, by constructing multi-purpose shelters for the population living in the mountains.

On 9 November, NATO opened a sophisticated 60-bed field hospital, which provided a wide range of care including complex surgical procedures.

On the same day, heavy-lift transport helicopters assigned to NATO for the operation, began flying, delivering supplies to remote mountain villages and evacuating victims.

NATO also set up an aviation fuel farm in Abbottabad, which carried out refuellings for civilian and military helicopters, which were essential to the relief effort.

Further requests for assistance

On 27 October, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Tariq Osman Hyder addressed a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, asking for further assistance.

He said that NATO could provide continued airlift, funds, logistic and airspace management, mobile fuel tanks, spare parts for helicopters and tactical aircraft, command and control, winterised tents and sleeping bags.

That same day, NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre received from the UNHCR an urgent request for the transport to Pakistan of additional shelter and relief items stored in Turkey before the winter sets in.

NATO's relief mission came to an end, on schedule, on 1 February 2006 and all personnel have left the affected zone around Bagh.

The participants

NATO's short-term relief mission was based on five elements :

  1. co-ordination of donations from NATO and partner countries through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Relief Co-ordination Centre (EADRCC) in Brussels;
  2. the air bridge from Turkey and Germany for the transport of relief goods to Pakistan;
  3. five helicopters operating in the earthquake-affected area for the transport of supplies to remote mountain villages and evacuation of victims;
  4. medical support with a field hospital and mobile medical teams in the area of Bagh;
  5. engineer support operating in the area around Bagh in support of Pakistani efforts for the reparation of roads; and building of shelters, schools and medical facilities.  

The NATO Land Component in Pakistan was led by the Spanish and headquartered in Arja. It included:

  • A headquarters element in Arja;
  • Two light engineer units in the Bagh district (one Spanish and one Polish);
  • An Italian engineer unit with heavy construction equipment;
  • A unit of British engineers specialized in high-altitude relief work;
  • A multi-national team of medics operating the NATO field hospital, including staff for inpatient and outpatient care, as well as mobile medical teams in the area of Bagh — led by the Dutch Army and including Czech, French, Portuguese and British personnel;
  • Four Water Purification teams (one Spanish, three Lithuanian);
  • Two civil-military cooperation teams from Slovenia and France.

The NATO Air Component in Pakistan came from the French Air Defence and Operation Command and included:

  • a German helicopter detachment;
  • Luxembourg rescue helicopter;
  • a French ground handling team;
  • a fuel farm operated by a French unit at Abbottabad.

The NATO HQ in Pakistan was comprised of personnel from NATO's Joint Force Command Lisbon, augmented by staff from NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

In total some 1,000 NATO engineers and supporting staff, as well as 200 medical personnel, worked in Pakistan during the operation.