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Rescue timeline - 2005

Responding to the most destructive earthquake in Pakistan's history

On the morning of October 8, 2005, a powerful earthquake rumbled through northern Pakistan, wiping out villages, burying roads in rubble and cutting off electricity and water. The devastating quake, the worst in the country's history, killed at least 80,000 people and left three million homeless. 

The International Rescue Committee arrived on the scene within hours of the disaster, providing shelter, food, water, medical assistance and psychosocial counselling to thousands of survivors. Because the IRC had worked in Pakistan for 25 years, primarily with Afghan refugees, we were able to respond quickly.

IRC aid distribution team supervisor Taimoor Khrisro handed out high-energy biscuits to supplement the villagers' diet in quake-ravaged Hotil, Pakistan Photo: Scott Anger/IRC

Emergency response

The IRC response teams encountered scenes of utter devastation. "We found people in shock, having lost everything and overwhelmed by grief," recalled Laila Khan, the IRC's assistant emergency coordinator in Pakistan in the wake of the disaster. IRC medical teams treated thousands of patients in makeshift clinics scattered in the remote villages of the Himalayan foothills. Since most survivors had no access to water, IRC health teams constructed portable tanks and latrines.

The IRC also set up "child-friendly spaces" to provide a safe, structured and welcoming environment where children could play, learn and start to heal from trauma. And as a harsh winter approached, the IRC distributed kits that included warm bedding and clothing to help survivors prepare for deep snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures.

We found people in shock,having lost everything and overwhelmed by grief.

Rebuilding and recovery

After months of focusing on emergency provisions, the IRC turned our attention to long-term reconstruction, working alongside survivors to restart their lives by building homes, creating jobs and helping children return to school. "Every day the situation gets better," said Gillian Dunn, then the IRC's director of emergency response.

In the 12 months that followed, the IRC continued to be at the forefront of the efforts to rebuild the lives of the quake victims, providing emergency assistance to some 230,000 people.

A family in the Danna region of Pakistan collects water at a tapstand restored by the IRC after the October 2005 earthquake. Photo: Joanne Offer/IRC

In a 2007 interview with GEO television news, Mustafa Elkanzi, the IRC’s Pakistan country director at the time, said that his first reaction after the quake struck was that “this country would never return to normal again.” However, he called the recovery that had been achieved in just two years — through the collective effort of the international community, humanitarian aid groups, Pakistan’s government and local citizens — nothing short of “extraordinary.”

Impact at a glance


Within the first year after the quake, the IRC:

  • Treated over 66,000 patients at IRC-supported health facilities;
  • Restored and rehabilitated 140 water supply systems and constructed 3,000 temporary shelters using reclaimed materials;
  • Trained some 800 government teachers;
  • Distributed school materials to 100 schools;
  • Established over 60 "child-friendly spaces," where young survivors could go to heal and resume play and learning activities

The IRC also helped survivors prepare for winter by distributing kits that included warm bedding and clothing. And we provided farmers with seeds and fertilisers so that they could grow wheat and other crops suitable for winter temperatures.

Our work today

The IRC has worked in Pakistan since 1980. Read more about how we are helping communities affected by conflict and natural disaster today.

Country overview: The IRC in Pakistan