Nilofer’s Corner: Chitral Floods Show How ill-prepared We are for Disasters

By Nilofer Qazi

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Once again the rainy season is upon us & once again government of Pakistan is not prepared. No one ever is. It happens every year, disasters of various magnitudes happen, people get hurt, displaced and even lose their lives but no is ever prepared. Not since 2005, 2010 government does not consider disaster management an important enough ‘activity’. Yes we do have a federal national disaster management authority and provincial disaster management authorities and as I recall UNDP has spent several packets multiple times in training district level disaster management ‘authorities’ as well.
It is not as if we haven’t had practice of disasters across the country of the natural kind the man made variety and everything in between; but for some unexplainable reason government of Pakistan ALWAYS requires the army to step in for relief activities, donors to provide some sort of early recovery and civil society to chip in for relief through rehabilitation. No investment in mitigation or preparedness. None. Life is cheap.
Lets look at Chitral from what little I understand Bridges at Osiak, Kosht, Shogore have been washed away; in Upper Chitral, in the Kalash valleys and Garam Chashma valley have been totally cut off with the main roads washed away. The Drinking water supply to Chitral town has been disrupted. The Electricity on the main systems has been totally disrupted. Flood waters are flowing through central Boomboret; hundreds of irrigation channel heads have been destroyed which has resulted in thousands of people will have to work for days to restore them through self help. Where is government in all this? When it comes to obstruction, NOC, documentation etc. government is all over us. But when it comes to basic civic management their raison d’etre they are unprepared. Chitral is a mountainous area with weak road communication systems, these are permanent features and administration should be prepared for disaster management responses.
A bloated bureaucracy unable and incompetent to manage basic disaster management is an under statement. Preparing for such reoccurring known vulnerabilities is a rational policy decision. Why isn’t it done? The responsibility is with our elected members. They have not allocated sufficient ‘hardware or software’ towards disaster risk reduction at district and tehsil levels. The bureaucrats aren’t prepared enough with funds, equipment, manpower or systems.
Looking at the donor investments in DRM one would imagine Pakistani bureaucrats and systems should be adequately prepared, but they are not. Why is that the case? This is something monitoring and evaluation experts and oversight agencies should explore further.
When & if Local government becomes fully functional, empowered and trained will they be better prepared? One hope so. Will the members of parliament and the bureaucracies prioritize mitigation measures and adequately prepare for the annual disasters so that people do not suffer? I wonder if the candidates for the various local government elections have disaster management as a campaign issue? Perhaps constituents should ask them about their plans for disaster management for their neighborhood.
The cycle will continue unless citizens do not pressurize their elected members to invest adequately. The media also needs to raise the matter to demand what has GOP done since 2005 to better manage our annual natural disasters?