DISASTER MANAGEMENT IN PAKISTAN
Hassaan Bin Zubair
The issue of governance has gained more prominence and relevance due to the emerging challenges arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting the whole gamut of life. To tackle such disasters, governments world over have developed disaster management bodies from the central government right down to the community level. Pakistan has also had its share of disasters in the last at least 14 years in the form of insurgency and terrorism, earthquakes, floods and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The people of Pakistan have always demonstrated resilience while coping with such problems but the efficacy and flaws in the operations of disaster management at various tiers also surfaced during such times. As disaster management has a deep correlation with overall governance, it should therefore be analysed from that perspective.
Disaster management is the systematic process of using administrative directives, organization and operational skills and capacities to reduce the risk of natural or manmade disasters and their adverse effects. Disaster management can be realized at various levels sub-national (local, regional), national and international, as well as at various times before, during, and after the disaster. International disaster management can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, it is the management of international disasters affecting several countries, such as tsunamis, floods, droughts, hurricanes, epidemics or wars. The term describes international assistance to national (regional or local) disaster management. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) introduced the paradigm shift from a reactive to a proactive approach in the form of the Hyogo Framework of Action (2005-2015) signed by 168 countries including Pakistan.
Under the UNISDR, Pakistan modelled its proactive Disaster Management by enacting the National Disaster Management Act 2010 that establishes three tiers for disaster-management system: national, provincial and district. The National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) is composed of the Prime Minister, Leaders of the Opposition in the Senate and the National Assembly, some cabinet ministers, chief ministers, and the Chairman NDMA amongst others at the national level, with the responsibility of laying down policies and guidelines for disaster risk management and approval of the National Plan.
The NDMA, in line with the NDMA Act, 2010, serves as the implementing, coordinating and monitoring body at the national level. It has also developed a framework under the National Disaster Risk Management Fund (NDRMF) which provides guidelines for disaster risk management at national, provincial, and district levels. The NDMA also claims to have formulated a response plan (NDRP) in 2010 outlining the specific roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder involved in dealing with emergencies. Similarly, a National Disaster Management Plan was conceived with a total investment of $1,040.9 million with its main components being human resource development, multi-hazard early-warning system plan and instructors’ guidelines on community-based disaster risk management.
Experts believe that due to geophysical risks, extreme climatic conditions, and high degrees of vulnerability, Pakistan is located in a disaster-prone region. Hydrometeorological, biological and geophysical hazards such as cyclones, avalanches, storms, floods, droughts, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), landslides, earthquakes and epidemics are threats for the Pakistani nation. Some of these dangers (e.g. landslides, floods, etc.) are mainly recurrent and occur almost annually whereas other risks such as earthquakes are infrequent but potentially extremely damaging. In addition to natural hazards, manmade disasters also impend for the Pakistani society, environment and economy. This heightens the importance of having a robust disaster management system in Pakistan.
There is no denying the fact that the best disaster management practices lead to lasting solutions to natural calamities and create resilience among the communities. It is due to t his fact that Pakistan has a number of organizations to deal with disasters. At present, the agencies that are responsible for disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation are the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), and the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) at the ground level.
- The NDMA is mandated to develop policy guidelines and frameworks addressing preparedness, relief, rehabilitation, and recovery from disasters.
- The PDMA is responsible for implementing policies and plans for disaster management in the respective province, capacity building of lines departments, and coordinating with the districts; and
- DDMA headed by the Deputy Commissioner with the membership of select lines departments is responsible for developing and implementing district-level preparedness, plans and coordination.
When it comes to addressing the needs of high-risk groups during disasters, the NDMA has an excellent set of National Policy Guidelines developed by its Gender and Child Cell (GCC). The framework formulated in 2014 suggests the need to:
- Mainstream gender in disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation.
- Develop disaster preparedness plans in consultation with key stakeholders with special attention to vulnerable groups, including women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly.
- The framework acknowledges that women and children are prone to experience physical and sexual violence due to their vulnerable position in our societies and the need for integrated referral systems as well as psycho-social support to address this.
- The framework specifies the need to develop interventions that meet the needs of vulnerable groups and safeguard equitable access, benefits, and relief responses of these groups. Local examples of successful interventions include spaces friendly to women and children.
- The framework also suggests working with existing social protection programmes like BISP (now EHSAS).
- Developing information systems that are mindful of gender, sex, and type of disability; and capture key information for evidence-based decision making.
- Strengthening institutions and capacity building
The NDMA also developed a Policy Guidelines Implementation Matrix to assist in the translation of the policy framework at the provincial level, clearly defining the involvement of key stakeholders, including the Department of Social Welfare, the Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (previously Special Education), the Department of Women Development, the departments of health, education, rehabilitation, planning and development, the Commission on Human Rights, the Home department, UN Agencies, and NGOs among others.
A number of international best practices have demonstrated that well-coordinated development and humanitarian assistance efforts may help to establish early warning systems in a pre-crisis phase, leading to a minimized risk and a more effective response during a crisis.
The challenge is in the implementation of these policy frameworks and standard operating procedures, but this is where interdepartmental coordination and ownership at the provincial and district level becomes essential.
The federal and provincial governments need to take serious note of the above-mentioned policy framework and encourage and support disaster management authorities in developing an integrated coordination mechanism in consultation with departments that have already expressed their willingness to partake in the process as well as bring on board others as need be. Furthermore, the provincial disaster risk management plan and the district risk management plans need to be upgraded. This must be done in view of national policy guidelines for vulnerable groups with adequate resources and services allocated in consultation with the DDMAs to address the needs of marginalised populations in order to build preparedness and resilience. Finally, the private sector can help in bringing innovative and environment-friendly solutions to the community, by mobilising them and facilitating interventions for addressing protection issues in the field, helping communities to organise and highlight the importance of the involvement of all members of communities, including women.
Over the last several years, the performance of national, provincial and district institutions responsible for disaster management has been less than satisfactory when it comes to extending relief to affected communities and helping in their rehabilitation. Several factors such as shortage of financial resources to acquire machinery and equipment needed for rescue work, as well as lack of trained manpower, are said to be responsible for their poor performance whenever disaster strikes. The situation demands that the government formulate an integrated strategy for mitigating and managing disasters like floods instead of confining its response to just providing relief to the affected people, which can never be adequate. It is time the federal and provincial governments moved beyond piecemeal, isolated flood-management measures, which have until now been limited mostly to annual repairs of flood-protection embankments. The long-term strategy should focus on strengthening the flood forecast system based on the extensive use of technology — such as the telemetry system — for more accurate weather and flood predictions to protect vulnerable communities. That should be followed by developing the disaster management authorities’ capacity so that they can provide timely relief to those affected and rehabilitate them as quickly as possible.
On 8th October 2005, an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude hit Pakistan and Kashmir. It perished nearly 90,000 lives and uprooted 3 million people. In order to sensitise people to learn from disasters and play their role as socially responsible citizens of Pakistan, the government declared this day as “National Disaster Awareness Day.” Upon request from the NDMA this day was renamed as National Resilience Day and was celebrated with this name from 2018 and onwards.