“It all begins with awareness”

September 11, 2022

Disaster management, sustainable development, policy loopholes, TNS discusses the recent flash flood catastrophe with Aamir Ahmed Rafiq, head of the Project Management Office at UNOPS

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The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is a UN organisation dedicated to helping people build better lives and helping countries achieve sustainable development. It supports its partners by building infrastructure, managing projects, procuring and providing human resources and extending financial management support. In Pakistan, it aims to build resilient communities and empower the people of Pakistan through sustainable development and help in channelling private sector investments for social and environmental impact while addressing the immense need for sustainable development.

The UNOPS also aims to play a role in sustainable infrastructural development during and after the challenging rehabilitation as a result of flash floods caused by the monsoon in the country. The floods due to heavy rains and hill torrents have caused more than 1,300 deaths and affected nearly a third of the country in recent weeks. United Nations and Pakistan jointly launched an appeal as the 2022 Pakistan Floods Response Plan (FRP) in August asking for at least $160 million in relief funds for over 33 million affected people in various parts of Pakistan.

The News on Sunday (TNS) spoke to Aamir Ahmed Rafiq, head of Project Management Office at UNOPS-Pakistan, on the challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction after this huge devastation and the lessons learnt from the past catastrophes. He called for preventive measures, awareness and introduction and implementation of green building codes as a strategy to meet such disasters in future.

Excerpts follow:


The News On Sunday: How do you view the impact of recent flash floods due to torrential monsoon? How do you compare this challenge with the earlier floods?

Aamir Ahmed Rafiq: Earlier, the 2010 floods were considered a big catastrophe in Pakistan but the volume and scale of the disaster due to recent floods and unprecedented rains in Pakistan has made this a much bigger catastrophe.

This is an impact of climate change. Some people believe that Pakistan has not taken the steps it should have after the 2010 floods to deal with such disasters. After the 2005 earthquake, we saw Pakistan make Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA); after the 2010 floods, Pakistan created the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). After this disaster, the country has announced a National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC) to provide an institutional response to the flood calamity.

I think the main steps to be taken after such disasters are still missing. They include awareness, imparting knowledge about the causes of such disasters and setting up proper building codes and safety rules. Also, strict implementation. The Billion Tree Project was good but not a complete solution. Urbanisation is also a major issue that stands unattended.

Urbanisation has a deep impact on climate change. Deforestation was stopped to an extent only. Musharraf’s regime began water conservation and paved some water courses. However, a nationwide picture of sustainability is missing. Appropriate building codes are missing. Rather than focusing on small dams the focus has been on big dams for which Pakistan needs funding. We are still unable to understand climate change. Before the floods, a drought was predicted. But we saw rains that were unprecedented and extraordinary.

It all begins with awareness, changing rules/ regulations, and ensuring their implementation. We have to link this all to sustainable development. On entering the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase our main focus should be green sustainable development.

TNS: How do you see the challenge of reconstruction and rehabilitation this time?

AAR: As far as reconstruction and rehabilitation are concerned, the United Nations’ flash appeal will help Pakistan a bit. However, there is a lot that Pakistan needs to do. After the 2005 earthquake, The new Balakot city construction planned after the 2005 earthquake has yet to be completed. Many people call the ERRA a white elephant.

Pakistan will be getting funds for rehabilitation, but the challenge will be to make policies to stop such disasters from recurring in the future, implement policies and rules and revise them accordingly. Sometimes there is a lack of political will; sometimes, required budgets for these institutions are not available. The process of structuration of institutions is not robust. It is personality oriented. That is why Pakistan Army is singled out as the most vital and delivering institution in such catastrophes.

TNS: What have leant from the past to deal with such destruction? What is the way forward toward sustainable development to save the country from such disasters in the future?

AAR: If we had learnt from the past, I think we would not have faced this situation today. At least 50 per cent of the loss and damage should have been avoided. For example, the building code in Swat should have been implemented.

We should start telling the general public about the impact of global warming, cloud bursts and unprecedented rains. We have to follow building codes in the areas strictly. We should urge people to change their lifestyles and living patterns. There is a need to create awareness for plantation on the sides of the rivers. There is a need to revise and bring new rules and codes for buildings and structures. We should focus on water conservation. There should be empowerment at the local government level. But we do not see political priority towards such issues. We have become habitual of firefighting as a nation. This is one of the grey areas in health and safety issues.

There is a need to bring behavioural changes and change mindsets. We have to stop blaming fate/ nature. A mindset of planning preventive measures is missing here; so are institutions and leadership.

Behavioural changes are direly required along with awareness. We have seen the impact of awareness in the handling of the dengue virus epidemic.

It all begins with awareness, changing rules/ regulations and ensuring their enforcement. We have to link this all to sustainable development. On entering the rehabilitation phase our main focus should be green sustainable development. Otherwise, we will be facing the same struggles in the future.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com

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