Disaster Management Woes in Pakistan By Raesa Fatima
“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives would not have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness”. Pakistan is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Monsoon rains over the past month have killed at least 150 people as rains continue to lash Pakistan, triggering flash floods in some parts of the country, hence severely impacting civic life. Karachi, the metropolitan city of Pakistan, is immersed in water. In all areas of Karachi, houses were filled with water, which even ruined the festival of Eid for them. The monsoon rains also damaged homes, roads, five bridges, and power stations across the country. At least 163 people were also injured in rain-related incidents since June 14, it said in a statement. Heavy rains and flash floods fully or partially damaged more than 1,000 houses all over the country.
The situation was particularly grave in the major southern port city of Karachi where entire neighbourhoods remained submerged on Monday. Commuters were left stranded in places or attempting to wade through knee-deep water on foot or bicycles. Some residents arranged for boats to move them to safer places.
In May 2020, National Disaster Management Authority announced that 61 districts across Pakistan are under attack from locusts. The locust swarms have been devouring mango, cotton, and sugarcane crops, causing severe damage to the agricultural sector. This tells that Pakistan keeps suffering from dire consequences of natural and man-made disasters.
Historically, Pakistan has been hit by disasters several times. For example, a tropical cyclone struck former East Pakistan on November 1, 1970. It was the deadliest cyclone ever recorded that left around 5 lac people dead. Similarly, in the year 2000, 1.2 million people in Balochistan were affected by drought and over 100 died, mostly because of dehydration. In another instance, super cyclonic storm ‘Kyarr’ rapidly intensified in the Arabian Sea in 2019. It caused havoc in Karachi and its coastal belts. Parts of Karachi located on the coast also experienced minor flooding. Since 2005, according to the statistics, Pakistan has suffered over $18 billion in damages and losses from natural and man-made disasters.
National Disaster Management Authority is not an independent body. It has no cadre of its own.
The disaster management system in Pakistan is facing multiple challenges and gaps. To begin with, a government’s response to a disaster can be classified under three heads: Relief, rehabilitation, and reform. When it comes to relief, NDMA does not possess the capacity to serve the length and breadth of the country. When it comes to rehabilitation, NDMA lacks a mandate for rehabilitation works such as constructing homes post-earthquake or repairing dykes post a devastating flood. The third leg of disaster response known as reform involves taking measures to ensure that subsequent disasters of a similar nature do not cause as much damage, but on this one too, NDMA fares as good as it does on the first two heads. This is mainly because NDMA is not an independent body. It has no cadre of its own. For example, even the decision about whether to go for a lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic does not rest with NDMA. Another challenge is the financial constraints. While each district has formulated a District Disaster Risk Management(DRM) Plan, putting the plan into action is hampered by a lack of resources. Direct allocation of budget from the federal level to PDMA and DDMA is not in alignment with the requirements that need to carry out their activities. For example, there is a need for a dense seismographic network in the city. The seismic potential of around 800-900km circle is considered a threat, but because of a lack of funds, Sindh PDMA is unable to resolve this issue. How can Pakistan regulate its disaster management authorities as effective and fruitful bodies? All is not lost yet. Firstly, a comprehensive, reliable multi-hazard vulnerability and risk assessment are a starting point for implementing the strategy of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. NDMA should create a risk assessment model by utilizing the latest GIS (Geographic Information System) technology capable of stimulating disaster scenarios. This would enable the authorities to reduce vulnerability by budding a comprehensive regulatory mechanism. NDMA should ensure a standardized methodology of risk assessment and data feed into a national database. Efforts should be made to upgrade the early warning system to the latest lines for timely information. The early warning system, particularly against flash floods/hill torrents, needs to be strengthened. Although Pakistan’s short-range weather forecasting capability is quite impressive, medium and long-range weather forecasting capability should be enhanced. Thirdly, institutional reforms are the need of the hour. The issue of multiple institutions with overlapping mandates but different chains of command should be addressed by reforming the legal and organizational framework. The disaster management act 2010 should be amended. Incorporating all existing laws there should be a single law regulating the whole framework by making a single authority responsible for the whole spectrum of disasters. The best example in practice could be PDMA KPK. They passed their legislation and merged all relevant departments under one command of PDMA, and DMU at provincial and district levels respectively. Fourthly, the realignment of budgetary allocation to meet the needs of the new institutional framework should be ensured. For this purpose, there should be an amendment in the rule of business in the constitution of 1973 that the subject of disaster management is now under climate change division so that the funds are allocated to the relevant authorities. Fifthly, the DMAs should ensure the availability of advanced rescue machinery and equipment at places from where they could be shifted to the disaster-hit points. Wheel dozers, trolley blades, excavators, rock drills, hydraulic cranes, air compressors, and all such equipment should be procured on an immediate basis and a meticulous plan for ensuring their maintenance should also be devised. Along with this, proper training of personnel should be done through training programs. Community sensitization can also help minimize disaster-related damages. Campaigns should be launched through media and educational institutes. People should be educated regarding the best-suited immediate response at the time of disaster. Successful emergency management relies upon preparedness, experience, and expertise.
The writer is a staff member of Daily Times and can be reached at email@example.com
Disaster Management Woes in Pakistan By Raesa Fatima