Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mitigating disaster in Pakistan

Mohammad Hussain Khan in (Pakistan): Last year, districts of Sindh located on the right bank of the River Indus were badly hit by the floods. This year’s disaster has struck the lower Sindh region in particular. Standing crops in these areas have been washed away and some districts in upper Sindh have been engulfed by nature’s fury. The lower Sindh region is a significant contributor to Pakistan’s economy, producing high-quality cotton, rice, sugarcane and fresh produce. While the losses are still in the process of being assessed, there can be little doubt that the rural economy has been dealt a severe blow.

The losses to the country in general are also likely to run into billions of rupees given that this year the province was set to reap bumper cotton and sugarcane crops. As far as disaster mitigation is concerned, the government apparatus has learnt nothing from last year’s floods. All structural issues remain unresolved, particularly at the district level, even though the comprehensive National Disaster Management Act 2010 has been enacted.

The government has managed to put in place Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) but the next tier of disaster management, the District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs), has not yet been established in all of Sindh’s districts. Even in urban centres such as Karachi and Hyderabad, DDMAs can be held as existing in name alone. In districts that have been badly affected by the rains, including Tando Mohammad Khan, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Sanghar, Benazirabad, Umerkot and Tharparkar, they have not even been formed. A November 2008 district risk management plan for every province can be found on the website of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which details the various aspects of disaster management such as preparedness, coordination and even simulation drills. But these guidelines, which could have helped mitigate the scale of the disaster, were not followed.

Last year, the Sindh PDMA was conspicuous by its absence and this year matters were no different. The parent organisation, the NDMA, exonerates the PDMA on account of its being a new organisation trying to learn from its mistakes. But when it does so at the cost of the poor, is that defensible? The Sindh PDMA, which works under the provincial rehabilitation ministry, claimed early this year that a disaster risk management plan had been prepared after consultation with stakeholders. Yet when the rain started, no plan came into effect and no effective service delivery system on the part of the PDMA was in evidence....

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