- What is a disaster?
- Different types of disasters
- A glimpse over the major disasters in Pakistan
- What is disaster management?
- Process of disaster management
- Recovery and rehabilitation
- Legislative structure for disaster management in Pakistan
- Institutional structure for disaster management in Pakistan
- Contribution of disaster management institutions of Pakistan
- Recommendations for further improvement
Perhaps the punishment is not over yet. Adam and Eve committed the mistake and their generations seem to be undergoing the punishment for it. At least the way natural disasters are wreaking havoc on the surface of the earth appears to be conveying the same message. How much helpless and miserable a man is, can be imagined only by those who have experienced and suffered some natural disaster. Man, the super creature, the conqueror of the universe; in the face of disaster is reduced to a mere weightless straw.
Pakistan, unfortunately, is among those countries where disasters are now a regular feature. Since 2005, when a horrible earthquake filled countless eyes with tears and numberless houses with darkness, we have lost thousands of precious lives and billions of rupees at the hands of disasters. With reference to the fateful day of 8th Oct 2005 — the day when the whole Pakistani nation realized that how much empty-handed and poorly-equipped it was in the face of disasters — another fact deserves to be acknowledged: the horrific earthquake that day led to the establishment of disaster management structure in Pakistan. Today, the incidents of disaster still happen, and that too quite frequently, but, thankfully, a complete legal and administrative system is now available to handle them. Nearly 9 National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities are now there to protect the lives and properties of the citizens in the times of disasters. There might be deficiencies and shortcomings in this infrastructure, yet it is encouraging that at least some such thing is available the strings of hope can be tied to.
What is Disaster?
The United Nations defines disaster as: “A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.”
According to Section 2 of the National Disaster Management Act, 2010, “Disaster means a catastrophe, or a calamity in an affected area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident which results in a substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of property.”
Different Types of Disasters
There are four main types of disasters: Natural disasters include floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcano eruptions that have immediate impacts on human health; environmental emergencies which include technological or industrial accidents, usually involving the production, use or transportation of hazardous material; complex emergencies which involve a breakdown of authority, loot of and attacks on strategic installations, including conflict situations and war, and pandemic emergencies which include a sudden onset of contagious diseases that affect health, disrupt services and businesses, and bring economic and social costs as well.
Disasters and Their Impacts on Pakistan Since 2005
As regards the damage caused by disasters in Pakistan, the data maintained by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reveals that since 2005 earthquake, floods and draughts have resulted in more than 79077 deaths and have inflicted injuries to over 198000 citizens while damaged nearly 4303150 houses. The 2005 earthquake alone caused 73338 casualties and 128309 injury cases. With reference to floods, 2010 was the deadliest and the most unpropitious year when crops, spread over 5171026 kanals, were submerged generating a direct loss of US$ 10056 million. Similarly droughts between 1998 and 2014 collectively affected a population of 4.5 million and killed more than 500000 cattle.
What is Disaster Management?
“Disaster management” means managing the complete disaster including preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation. It is the mechanism of coordinating and utilising available resources to deal emergencies effectively and thereby saving lives, avoiding injuries and minimising losses. This also deals with strategic and organizational management processes used to protect vital assets from hazard risks in such emergencies. The concept that requires to be understood is that disaster management is not confined to the activities that are carried out only in the wake of the disaster, but includes everything that is done even to reduce the risks associated with the disaster.
Process of Disaster Management
The process of disaster management starts from mitigation. These are the activities which actually eliminate or reduce the probability of disaster occurrence, or reduce the effects of unavoidable disasters. Mitigation measures include building codes, vulnerability analyses updates, zoning and land-use management, building-use regulations and safety codes, preventive healthcare and public education. Mitigation depends on the incorporation of appropriate measures in national and regional development planning. The mitigation phase particularly includes the shaping of public policies and plans that either modify the causes of disasters or mitigate their effects.
Preparedness is aimed at achieving a satisfactory level of readiness to respond to any emergency through such programmes which strengthen the technical and managerial capacity of governments, organizations and communities. These measures can be described as logistical readiness to deal with disasters and can be enhanced by having response mechanisms and procedures, developing long- and short-term strategies, ensuring public education and awareness, and building an affective early warning system. Preparedness also ensures that strategic reserves of food, equipment, water, medicine and other essentials are maintained at suitable points to respond to the catastrophes effectively.
The aim of emergency response, the third step of the disaster management process, is to provide immediate assistance to maintain life, improve health and support the morale of the affected population. Such assistance may range from providing specific but limited aid; such as assisting refugees with transport, temporary shelter and food, to establishing semi-permanent settlement in camps and other locations. It may also involve initial repairs to damaged infrastructure. The focus in the response phase is on meeting the basic needs of the people until more permanent and sustainable solutions can be found.
As the emergency is brought under control, the process of recovery begins. Activities to rehabilitate the people and to restore the infrastructure that supports them are undertaken in this phase. There is no distinct point at which immediate relief changes into recovery and then into long-term sustainable development. Ideally, there should be a smooth transition from recovery to development. Recovery activities include providing the affected populace with temporary housing, education and health facilities and these continue until everything returns to normality.
Reconstruction involves repairing the damages to private properties and public infrastructure and undoing all the disaster effects. Although, it is the last phase of the disaster management process, it can be taken as the first step as well, as this is the reconstruction phase in which necessary preparatory measures are adopted to provide safety against future disasters.
Legislative Structure of Disaster Management in Pakistan
Calamity Act 1958 was the first piece of legislation aimed at providing immediate relief against the disasters and calamities. In the wake of 2005 earthquake, National Disaster Management Ordinance (NDMO) was promulgated in 2007 which, in 2010, became the National Disaster Management Act 2010 after the approval of the Parliament. As disaster management is a provincial subject, all the provincial assemblies have adopted the national law instead of making one on their own.
Emergency Relief Cells were established in 1971 and Federal Relief Commission in 2005. After the promulgation of NDMO 2007, a complete structure of disaster-fighting mechanism was established in the country. Now disaster management institutes are present at three levels in Pakistan: at national level, these are National Disaster Management Commission and National Disaster Management Authority; at provincial level, these are Provincial Disaster Management Commissions and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities; and at district level, these are District Disaster Management Authorities.
At all levels, the commission is the apex body on disaster management as it lays down policies, approves plans of the concerned governments and departments related; issues guidelines to the concerned governments and departments; arranges for, and oversees, the provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation measures, preparedness and response.
Contribution of DMAs in Disaster Management in Pakistan
When massive earthquake jolted the length and breadth of Pakistan in 2005, although, no specialized institution was present for disaster handling, yet the whole Pakistani nation and international community joined hands to help the affected populace. Since their establishment through NDMO 2007, the disaster management authorities in Pakistan have been leading the relief and rehabilitation activities across the country after any disaster struck the nation. They have undertaken indubitably commendable activities in alleviating the pains and sufferings of the disaster-struck people.
In addition to providing relief items, the DMAs perform many other functions for bringing ease in the life of those affected. Shifting of the injured to hospitals, evacuation of people from the vulnerable areas, repair of infrastructure damages, etc. are some of the functions which DMAs continuously perform in the wake of disasters.
Recommendations for Improvement
First of all, statutory structure of disaster management in Pakistan needs to be improved. As disaster management is a provincial subject, all the provincial assemblies should enact laws keeping in view the peculiarities of their respective territories. These laws should be followed by subordinate legislation in the form of rules and regulations, as no law can serve its purpose fully unless it is supported by a sound framework of rules and regulations. We need to realize that merely the establishment of legal framework cannot ensure the acquisition of targeted objectives and goals, and special attention will have to be given to the implementation of the disaster management laws in letter and spirit.
The procedure of devising disaster management plans should be upgraded at all levels. Involvement of technical experts, standardization of the plans, coordination with all stakeholders and utilization of hazards maps are the measures which can certainly enhance the impact of disaster management plans. Special attention should be directed to in-time formulation and wide circulation of these plans so that all the vulnerable could get sufficient time to take precautionary measures and all government functionaries could get clear idea of their responsibilities.
For better provision of disaster-related services, coordination at all levels must be improved. At national, provincial and district levels, disaster management forums should be established under the umbrella of concerned DMAs. These forums should provide a joint platform to all the national and international NGOs, government functionaries, media persons and the civil society to share their ideas regarding a collective and well-organized response to the disasters. The forum should also be used for the distribution of responsibilities among the organization in order to ensure more dexterous handling of the disasters.
The DMAs should ensure the availability of advanced rescue machineries and equipment and at such places from where they could be shifted to the disaster-hit points without any delay. Wheel dozers, trolley blades, excavators, rock drills, hydraulic cranes, air compressors and all such paraphernalia indispensable to successfully carrying out rescue operations, should be procured on immediate basis and a meticulous plan for ensuring their proper maintenance should also be devised. Prior to the procurement, the DMAs should thoroughly study the hazard maps in order to ensure that the machinery being procured would be sufficient to cater for rescue needs.
Similarly hazard mapping of all the vulnerable areas should also be conducted. Services of technical persons should be hired for the purpose. All development activities in the districts should be carried out keeping in view their vulnerabilities to different sort of disasters as highlighted in the hazard maps.
Advanced early warning systems are also required to be set up in Pakistan, particularly for the flood and earthquake forecast. The systems, presently in place, do not provide a forecast that is early enough to adopt requisite precautionary measures. For this sake, Pakistan Meteorological Department needs to be invigorated. The staff of PMD should be given special trainings to enable them to perform their responsibilities more skilfully.
Special focus should be on Disaster Risk Reduction instead of mere Disaster Management as minimizing the adverse effects of disasters can be more productive than responding to the miseries caused by it. For the purpose, special emphasis should be laid on devising and implementing building codes, land-use regulations and city development plans. No new building construction or city development should be allowed unless it adheres to all the statutory requirements provided for creating resilience against the disasters.
Community sensitization can also be helpful in minimizing the disaster-related damages. Hectic campaigns should be launched through media and in educational institutes and people should be educated regarding the best-suited immediate response at the time of disaster.
Climate change is casting its evil eye on the whole world and Pakistan is one of the worst-hit countries. Disasters have become a recurring feature here. Presence of a specialized institution for fighting the disasters was immensely imperative to the safety of people of Pakistan and thanks to Allah Almighty that a complete framework is now available in the country for the said purpose. Every year, all tiers of disaster management authorities play a leading role in the mitigation of the effects of disaster and distribution of relief items in the disaster-hit areas. However, quite understandably, there is still enough room for improvement in the overall disaster-combating mechanism of the country. Some deficiencies will definitely come to an end with the passage of time, while for the rest some sincere and serious measures will have to be adopted.