In its 2013 manifesto, the Pakistan People’s Party had promised to develop better systems and procedures for disaster management.
Until 2005—spanning almost 50 years—the country was satisfied with the ‘readiness’ capacity of its disaster management system to deal with natural calamities and man-made disaster of any magnitude. In 2005, when 7.6 magnitudes earthquake hit the Northern areas of Pakistan, the state realized how ill-prepared it was to deal with emergencies and disasters of such a high magnitude. The administration revisited its disaster management policies and found it silent on issues such as communicating risk, assessing social vulnerabilities and capacities, disaster risk reduction and management. The thrust of the policy was found on providing the technical solution to disasters. Resultantly, the disaster management system was overhauled, and a federal body, the National Disaster Management Authority, was established along with the provincial and district disaster management authorities.
Pakistan has been experiencing the effects of extreme weather, flash floods and drought for several years. After 2005, the worst calamity to hit the country came in 2010 and 2011. The floods of 2010 hit a large part of Sindh and Balochistan. Again the ineffectiveness of the state’s disaster management was exposed, as according to the recorded data, Sindh suffered 94 per cent of the total damage, causing losses of Rs 325 billion.
The Global Climate Risk Index 1993-2012 ranked Pakistan 12th on the list of the states most affected by extreme weather conditions in South Asia.
Disaster management is a complex system of processes that require effective coordination and collaboration of different actors and institutions to prevent hazards, save lives, rehabilitate livelihood, protect assets and infrastructure in the wake of a calamity. The government, civil society organizations, communities, and community-based local institutions such as mosques must learn to act fast. Unfortunately, the government has been unable to mobilize both its resources and those lying outside its sphere, to prevent or control damages caused by the disaster. The Sehwan shrine bombing exposed the Sindh government’s poor ability in handling emergencies. In spite of intelligence reports, only one police officer, and a partially functioning walk-through gate were provided as protective measures.
It is alarming that only Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a state response body; rescue 1122. Neither Sindh nor Balochistan government has established any such facility. At Sehwan, according to the officials of the private rescue organization, Edhi Foundation, the injured were taken to the hospitals in private cars, auto rickshaws, on carts and on foot. The nearest main hospital in Sehwan was almost 130 kilometres away.
Truth Tracker contacted PPP officials in Sindh government and talked to Jam Mehtab Dahar, Minster for Education and former Minister for Health. He did not confirm nor deny the fact that the PPP government had been unable to fulfill its promise of making a functioning disaster management system in the province. However, Dahar lays the blame of PPP’s ineffectiveness on the politics of expediency and reconciliation. He said, “The PPP government had been leveraging MQM in the provincial matters.” “The provincial institutions,” Dahar says, “were allowed to function the way they had been performing, with excessive staff.” According to Dahar, the previous PPP government would pay Rs 60 billion monthly in salaries to them. As far as the Sehwan incident is concerned, Dahar points fingers at the federal government, saying it will always be the responsibility of the centre to stop terrorism; provincial government cannot do anything in this regard.
However, talking to Commander (R) Syed Salman Shah, Director General Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), Sindh has been revealing. “How can you run a disaster management department with only 59 people and insufficient resources. The PDMA does not have any rescue system embedded in its law. This makes it difficult for us to respond to a crisis in time. It is impossible for us to reach every place or perform optimally.” About the reason behind the inefficiency of his department, Shah said, “If every department such as the police, the building, the health and so on and so forth, started performing honestly and professionally there would be no need for my department.” “It is,” he said, “a collective effort. Unless the efficiency of other departments matches the efficiency of PDMA or vice versa things will not improve. He further added that the Sindh government is developing the rescue department 1122. The project will be operational only in Karachi at least for one year. According to Shah, Rs 250 million has been allocated for the project.
- Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi, says that the Sindh government has never been prepared to disasters. “If prepared, it should have been visible, when 2010 flood struck, the authorities had to remove the embankments that deluged the entire interior Sindh.” Recalling the heat weave of Karachi that killed almost 5,000 people Rehman says hospitals lacked basic facilities and capacity to manage such a large number of affected people. “The hospitals almost collapsed, neither were there enough medial staff nor beds or equipment. No hospital was equipped with an alternative system such as generator to provide electricity during load shedding.” Rehman says compared to the state, an NGO or a philanthropic organization can only provide limited service in the time of crisis. He says it is the responsibility of the state and the government to address disaster and rehabilitate people and the infrastructure when calamities strike. Taking about funds, allocated for disaster management and health sector, Rehman says, it becomes a fodder for corruption.
Member of Sindh Assembly from Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf, Khurrum Sherzaman, holds identical views. He quotes an incident to give a precise picture of the situation. “Some two months back at midnight a building collapsed at the Shah Rasool colony in Clifton Karachi. When I went there almost six people were buried under the debris. When the staff of the provincial disaster management authority arrived they had no equipment or any thing to evacuate the people. People from the neighbourhood removed the debris using their own shovels. Two people died eventually,” said Sherzaman. About the provincial disaster department, Sherzaman says that like any other department in Sindh, the employees of this department are also getting salary sitting at home.
MQM lawmaker and leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly, Khawaja Izharul Hassan, in his conversation with Truth Tracker over telephone from Karachi says that in the PDMA Sindh only 45 people of clerical standard have been employed. “For the Financial Year 2016-17, Rs 2 billion has been allocated for PDMA. Not a single meeting of the PDMA has taken place since its inception. The situation of the Sindh Rehabilitation Department is equally deplorable. We even do not know who is heading this department. Another department, called the Civil Defence Department (CDD), is in a pathetic condition. Located in a worn out ramshackle building, the telephone connections of CDD had been disconnected. From this, one can assess the ability, capacity and agility of all these departments to respond in time emergency,” said Izhar.
Responding to the budget allocation mystery, Salman Shah, says that RS 2 billion is spent on different projects within disaster management system.
He gave the following breakdown of Rs 2 billion:
Funds (Rs/millions) Areas of spending
700 Emergency budget (parked at Finance Department).
650 Annual Development Budget.
250 For the establishment of Rescue operation system.
150 For administration of PDMA office.
250 Consultancy/WB/ Regional offices
Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Director, Public Policy and Governance FC College Lahore, classifies disaster management system into three areas:
One, are natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes. For such disasters Shafqat says greater preparedness is required but we find little or no preparation at all. He identifies two areas that need to be looked at when talking about natural disaster one is mitigation and other adaptation.
Two, are man made disasters, which are directly related to urbanization. We have allowed, says Shafqat, to spread our cities haphazardly without planning. In this scenario we encounter issues of traffic congestion, irregular control over the movement of people, informal settlements and other social issues such as overflowing sewerage etc. Shafqat says that planning for urbanization does not only mean building bridges and roads, the pertinent part of this planning, he says, involves improving infrastructure in term of social sector which means building hospitals, houses, schools etc. “The Sehwan bombing has laid bare the claims of the Sindh government about risk or disaster management,” says Shafqat. He adds that one could clearly see lack of coordination among disaster management departments. “Who was responsible to respond when the attack occurred; the police, the PDMA or the district disaster department. “Disaster management has to be dealt with in a coordinated manner. It cannot be left on one department.” Lack of planning and thought our policies are at the root of the ineffectiveness of the disaster management departments in Sindh, says Shafqat.
The third area related to disaster management, which is left unattended is migration, says Shafqat. The government has no plan as to how to stem the flow of migration of the people from the rural to the urban areas. Neither does the government knows, how to settle the migrating people. “Eventually what happens is that these people settle on the bank of the river and in the time of floods it becomes difficult to relocate them.”
The flow of people from the rural to the urban areas is putting stress on the urban infrastructure, developed originally to accommodate a certain number of people. When this number exceeds we find clogged drains, overflowing sewerage and accumulated rainwater on streets. In the nutshell, says Shafqat, the Sindh and the rest of the governments are short of policy and planning to address the issue of disaster management.
The PPP government has failed to make any headway in improving the process of disaster management system. The promise hence stands broken.