Keep your earthquake bag in a sturdy container

I was filling up my water bottle around midnight on Eid eve when the entire filter started to shake.  The ten litres of water I was staring at turned into a stormy sea for a few long seconds.  Uh oh, I’d thought, not again.  A few months back, while watching a World Cup match on a friend’s couch, I first experienced the strange sensation of movement caused by (very big) rocks breaking against one another underground.  Cat and I jumped around like hyenas for the next half hour, wondering whether a bigger earthquake was about to follow.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a great feeling.

Commentators forecast that the next quake to hit densely populated Dhaka, which sits along fault lines, could be much, much worse.  None of the earthquakes in recent years have exceeded a magnitude of 5.4 on the Richter scale, which places them in the category of ‘slight’ to ‘moderate.’  Between 1869 and 1930, five earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 or higher affected Bangladesh; two of the epicentres were inside Bangladesh.  According to Wikipedia and others, earthquakes with a magnitude higher than 5.6 occur approximately every 100 years.  The maths is scary.

Thousands of people in Bam, Iran, are still living in temporary accommodation that was set up after an earthquake struck the historic city in 2003. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.6 and a death toll of 26,000 people, and it injured a further 30,000 people.

Perhaps scarier still are newspaper reports stating that the majority of buildings in Dhaka (and indeed the rest of the nation) are not earthquake proof and that hospitals are unprepared for such a calamity.  Professor Kazi Matin Ahmed told BD Can that, “Dhaka is the second most risky city [for mass damage caused by earthquakes] after Tehran because of unplanned urbanisation, which is very inadequate.”  Interestingly, the level of fear is so high in Iran that the government has actually held talks about whether to move the capital altogether and has forced some government officials to leave the city.  Though conspiracy theories surround the mere suggestion, it’s not difficult to understand that the logistical nightmare involved in moving eight million people is preferable to repeating a tragic history that continues to repeat itself.  Most recently, in 2003, more than 30,000 people died when an earthquake hit the eastern city of Bam, which is close to the border with Afghanistan.  I visited the city in 2009 – six years later – and thousands were still living in the very basic shelters shown on the left. They were donated from Japan.

I don’t want to carry on using this tone of doom and gloom, and I hope you’ve not reached the point where you feel that there’s not much you can do about anything.  Because there is something small, yet practical, that we can do: pack an earthquake bag.

According to Khurshid Alam, a natural disaster and climate change expert, packing an earthquake bag would be a “big asset.”  He told me that emergency bags should be packed according to the specific context, that is, the specific disaster being apprehended.

An earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005 (magnitude 7.6) killed nearly 80,000 people. This picture was taken two years later.

Khurshid said, “If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you may need certain kinds of things that you can use to stop bleeding.  If it’s a flood context, you may not have the same kinds of fractures or injuries.  Cyclones typically cause multiple injuries from flying debris.”  As emergency services could be delayed for days or even weeks, having some of your own supplies could prove extremely handy.  I’ve trawled the internet to find tips specifically for earthquakes, and below is a list of items that may be useful.

Once the earthquake bag is packed, keep it in a cupboard.  It’s advised to store it somewhere close to the front door, so that you can grab it quickly if you leave your home.


  • A first aid kit (and a manual) with bandages, aspirin, antibiotics and antiseptic lotion, plus any prescribed medicines
  • Oral saline and as much water in bottles as possible.  Humans can last 30 days without food but only three days without water.
  • A torch with spare batteries, candles and matches
  • A spare phone charger and even better, an old phone too
  • Blankets and spare clothes – including shoes, as you may not be wearing any
  • Non-perishable food – cans are best and don’t forget the can opener.  Don’t pack sugary foods that will make you thirsty.
  • Cash in small denominations (if you find a shop that’s open, they may be unable or unwilling to give change)
  • A radio with spare batteries
  • A strong implement – you may need to make your way through debris to find family members.
  • Basic toiletries and soap
  • If you are living with children or the elderly, consider their specific needs.  It might be a good idea to pack a few toys if there’s room.

Rotate the food and water supplies every few months – mark the calendar.

And if the unthinkable does occur, Khurshid offers a couple of lines of hope:

“In my 12 years’ of experience, I haven’t seen a disaster when aid took primacy over the courage of human beings.  Aid is critical, but secondary.”