Pakistan: Abysmal state of disaster management – drowning, burning and bleeding


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First Appeared on Dawn Blog & Asian Correspondent

The past week has been one of the deadliest in the country’s history with over 1,100 killed in a matter of days. On August 2, a senior leader of the MQM and sitting MPA, Raza Haider was shot dead along with his bodyguard while attending funeral prayers in Nazimabad.

Panic and chaos ensued, with rioting and violence across the city, killing 26 and injuring countless others. Over 150 people lost their lives in the Airblue plane crash in Islamabad while floods, following heavy rainfall, have wreaked havoc and devastation across the country.

“According to official sources, flooding caused by torrential monsoon rains has killed more than 1,100 people in Pakistan and affected up to 2.5 million people across the country in the past week,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

As rains are expected to continue throughout the country, the death toll is feared to increase while displacing millions of people across the country. Unfortunately, the northern areas (especially Charsadda, Nowshera, Swat and Shangla) have been most affected by the recent floods – areas that have already been under immense stress due to the ongoing war. With fears of a cholera outbreak in the flood-ravaged areas, the lives of over 2.5 million people are at stake.

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The torrential monsoon rains have resulted in Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years, triggering landslides, and sweeping away homes – the situation demands immediate attention. With predictions of even more rains in different parts of the country, especially Sindh, the least we can do is focus and build on an early flood-warning system that could help minimise the damage. Recently, it appears that we have been in a state of constant crisis. There is no question that the country desperately requires a sustainable disaster management system.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) lacks a pro-active approach and transparency, two of the most important elements required for disaster management. The 2005 Kashmir earthquake is a classic example of the calibre of work carried out by the state-run departments. Ironically, every other crisis that has followed has been dealt with in a similar fashion. We clearly lack strategy, credibility and infrastructure to deal with crises may it be natural disasters or civil unrest.

Although rescue and relief operations are underway for the flood victims, it seems to be struggling due to lack of resources. This is not a new phenomenon – disaster management remains one of the country’s weakest departments which is why the Army and the Air Force is often required to step in to help with the rescue efforts. The need for an established disaster management system with stronger infrastructure is extremely crucial for the country. Such a system or department requires capacity building and should be integrated with other disaster management networks (such as NGos and welfare organisations) in order to coordinate relief efforts.

Often, human rights organisations and various NGOs are the ones helping with the rescue. This results in duplication of efforts with multiple organisations working in the same areas. Not only does it prevent aid from reaching all affected areas but it also puts volunteers and donors in a dilemma – whom to trust while making their donations. Even though the military has the equipment and man-power to carry out relief operations, ideally they should only be assisting rescue operations in areas that are inaccessible by land.

We must take action before the grievances of the unattended victims are exploited and results in an even bigger catastrophe for the nation.

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8 thoughts on “Pakistan: Abysmal state of disaster management – drowning, burning and bleeding

  1. I agree with NS Ahmed regarding consolidation of NDMA as an effective emergency mendatory institution. Yet, there is a question: why do we always believe on traditional cum military structures in every institution and what is the guarantee, the raised in fund would not fell a prey of enormous corruption-an inherited legacy of every next institution in the country?
    Sana, we hope, you would continue to reveal the facts avoiding any bias through objectivity …..Carry on your kind efforts….as amendment is no sin… there should be the people to tell those all whether elected or selected by masses in haste!

  2. Sana, I agree with what you’re saying – that the NDMA should have its own resources to deal with crises and should not have to rely upon the military. However, I believe that no matter how well equipped the NDMA may have been, the military would have had to provide the same level of aid and would have had to divert its resources. That’s because of the sheer size of the disaster, not because the NDMA is inept. It’s unrealistic to assume that our government – definitely one of the weakest in the world, and with very poor infrastructure, resources, and capacity – could ever have provided an adequate level of resources to the NDMA for even a medium-size disaster. And this is, as others have pointed out, historic. Difficult to prepare for, you would agree.

    I mean, I think your criticism of the NDMA is correct, but slightly unfair and a little misplaced. Our government is a certified WIP – and so is the NDMA. Why should we expect quality services from institutions that are only now being built, almost from scratch? Especially from a Pakistani government institution?

    In any case, thank you for your work, and good luck with your efforts.

  3. Hi Sana … Need your help with coordination efforts. Sahana Foundation has developed a disaster management system, which was deployed successfully in Haiti earlier this year. It’s used to track disaster-affected areas and people and to follow relief efforts. They’ve customised the software for Pakistan and you can find it at:
    http://pakistan.sahanafoundation.org/eden

    There will be a training session on how to use the software on Monday (tomorrow, Aug 16) at 4 p.m. at the IBA City Campus. Please spread the word and ask people to contribute whatever data they have, as well as to attend the training session. There will be another session on Tuesday at NED Karachi, which will be broadcasted live to Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar & Faisalabad.

    Thanks!

  4. Sana, I’m sure you’ve done your research, but….I still wonder – did you check out the NDMA website before writing this? What are you saying when you accuse the NDMA of not having any strategy?

    I know you’re busy,but would appreciate a response.

    1. @Nabeel: Yes I did, and when I say disaster management I don’t mean ‘research only’. NDMA is doing a lot in terms of mapping and providing information, but there is not civil disaster management task force for ‘on ground’ work. All equipment utilized is that provided by the military.
      Don’t you think they already have a lot on their plates?

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