Managing a Disaster in Pakistan

‘Disaster Management’ is only a part of ‘Managing a Disaster’. Foremost thing is to prevent disaster in the first place or to minimize its chances of occurrence to a level that probability of its happening becomes reasonably remote. Another important aspect is recovery from disaster, which covers post-disaster assessment of loss; recovering from it; reconstruction and rehabilitation.

For disaster prevention or avoidance planning, prime activity is to identify impending risks to the country. Risks become disasters when they occur. Disaster refers to an occurrence causing widespread distress; it is a catastrophe that causes great loss of life or physical damage. Risk refers to a probable situation involving exposure to danger; damage or loss.

Until recently the approach has been reactive in nature i.e., limited only to ‘emergency response’ in the country. Planning has now also been started for disaster prevention without practical ground work. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) confesses lack of systematic approach towards averting and handling risks at http://ndma.gov.pk/PlanAhead.html as under:

“A reactive emergency response approach has remained the predominant way of dealing with disasters in Pakistan till now. The Calamity Act of 1958 was mainly concerned with organizing emergency response. A system of relief commissionrate at provincial level was established. An Emergency Relief Cell (ERC) in the Cabinet Secretariat was responsible for organizing disaster response by the federal government. The awareness of policy makers, media, civil society, NGOs, UN agencies and other stakeholders remained low about disaster risk management and the Country as a whole lacked a systematic approach towards disaster risk management.”

According to recent newspaper reports, Dr. Zafar Qadir Chairman NDMA acknowledges that his institution lacks proper disaster management framework because it has been run on an ad hoc basis since its inception.

Following natural risks have been identified by NDMA:

  • Avalanches;
  • Cyclones/storms;
  • Droughts;
  • Earthquakes;
  • Epidemics;
  • Floods;
  • Glacial lake outbursts;
  • Landslides;
  • Pest attacks;
  • River erosion; and
  • Tsunami etc.

Man-induced risks identified by

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NDMA include:

  • Road accidents;
  • Industrial accidents;
  • Industrial hazardous waste & pollution;
  • Oil spills;
  • Urban and forest fires;
  • Terrorist attacks;
  • Civil conflicts; and
  • Internal displacements of communities due to multiple factors etc.

After identifying broader risk categories, it is imperative to analyze the current situation and measure the readiness of the Country to cope with each category of risks. As the old management edict goes; what cannot be measured cannot be controlled or managed so measures need to be identified and erected. Chances favor only the prepared ones, we do not prepare for emergency and still hope that we would be able to defy odds. The gap between the current and desired situations shall be ascertained. Subsequently a strategy shall be devised to bridge the gaps between current and desired situations. Capacity building of individuals and institutions should follow, which should be the main activity to be carried out in good times.

In order to form disaster aversion or management strategies both top-down and bottom-up approaches may be employed. Top-down in the sense that NDMA shall define broader parameters; establish coordinating offices at federal; provincial and district levels and deploy macro-level policy reforms. Bottom-up approach should enable input from individuals & organizations in forming disaster evasion; management and recovery strategies.

International donors and private parties have bad experience of committing funds to the Pakistani Government. It has happened on quite a number of occasions that emergency funds were either misappropriated or embezzled resulting in erosion of donor confidence. It would take a long time to restore public trust now. It is therefore necessary to develop channels for private funding without involvement of the public relief coordinating agencies in terms of collection rather the agencies should identify private individuals and trustworthy organizations and recommend their names to interested donors.

In the wake of the 2010 floods many people wanted to commit funds but they had reservations on Government. In fact when Army announced setting-up of its relief fund it was seen by many as the only trust-worthy funding mechanism. Government used such unfair methods to collect funds in which the sponsors had very little option to deny funding. For instance deductions from salaries against flood surcharge were made. Participation in welfare campaigns should be on voluntary basis and should not be mandatory. There is a belief that its not the people who suffer rather Government machinery becomes the ultimate beneficiary of funding schemes.

During the event of a disaster, information becomes vital to steer the relief measures and to avoid duplication of activities. People should get all the relevant information from NDMA website regarding the extent of loss or damages; progress in relief activities and daily updates.

Disasters have become so rampant in the Country that now people know what to do and who to contact. For instance for the ongoing flood in Sindh people know what sort of food and shelters are to be provided and exact specifications of medicine required by the flood affectees. many institutions are collecting relief goods and medicines on voluntary basis.

Recovery efforts should focus on exact assessment of losses and damages; suitable compensation to the affectees; rehabilitation of the sufferers and restoration or improvement of the physical infrastructure. Most important part of the recovery stage is to document the lessons learned and make them public.

In future, survival would only depend on the propensity to learn from time and placement of right sort of people at the helm of affairs.

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