Monday September 25, 2023

Disaster reduction

October 13, 2017

Every year on October 13, the world observes the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction. Pakistan has recently observed the 12th anniversary of the devastating October 8 earthquake and has raised awareness about adopting precautionary measures to minimise losses during such emergencies.

The October 8 earthquake resulted in the loss of hundreds of lives and damaged infrastructure in the affected regions. The earthquake also had a psychological impact on the people as a whole.    

Human civilisations have faced natural disasters since ancient times. However, people still feel helpless when tackling the risks associated with these disasters.

Today, modern science has disclosed that tectonic movements in the earth’s crust result in earthquakes. However, science does not provide details about the timings of these tectonic shifts and fails to predict earthquakes in advance. Natural disasters normally fall into three major groups. First, there are disasters caused by movements of the earth – such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. Second,          there are weather-related disasters, which include hurricanes and tornadoes. Natural hazards, such as floods, mudslides, landslides and famine, are the third form of natural disasters.

Pakistan has also faces the worst floods since Independence. The floods of July 2010, which resulted from heavy monsoon rains, are considered to be the deadliest disasters in national history. It is believed that as many as 20 million people were affected by the calamity and lost their property and means of livelihood. Intense monsoon showers continue to claim dozens of lives every year.

Although their intensities vary, natural disasters pose challenges for both developed and under-developed countries. Even people who live in superpowers like the US are helpless in the face of nature’s wrath. A recent report stated that countries which are most vulnerable to natural hazards include Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Mexico, Sudan, Afghanistan and the US. The report noted that 70 percent of the population in Pakistan is exposed to disasters as compared with 82 percent of India’s populace and 100 percent of Bangladesh’s inhabitants. News reports suggest that Karachi could be submerged by 2060 due to climate change.       

Various reports also claim the many cities – including New York and London – could be underwater by the end of the century. We must understand that natural disasters are a global issue.

These reports indicate that natural disasters are not limited to any specific country or region. There is a dire need for the international community to cooperate with each other regardless of regional politics, provide humanitarian assistance and tackle the challenge of minimising losses to people who find themselves in such crises. We must have a look at policies of our time-honoured friend China to deal such crises.        

Just after it gained independence, China decided to take precautionary measures for the best interest of its people. Within a period of 20 years, hundreds of dams were constructed. According to the World Commission on Dams, more than 22,000 dams have been built while many others are under construction. The canal system of water transport is also playing a vital role in the country’s development. China’s also attract tourists throughout the world. Today, China still receives heavy rain. However, the positive steps taken by the relevant authorities have minimised the damaged caused by flooding.     

Another model that we should follow is that of Japan, which consists of more than 3,000 islands. Strong quakes have rocked Japan since ancient times. The 2004 tsunami is believed to be one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history that led to the death of around 280,000 people who belonged to 14 countries. Today, Japan is considered to be a world leader in constructing earthquake-proof structures. Japanese experts not only seek to minimise damages in their own country but also provide technical assistance to other countries. Japan has also developed robots to successfully assist search and rescue operations.

No country can entirely eliminate natural disasters. But we can adopt solid policies on prevention and protection to reduce the number of people affected by hazards. There is also a pressing need for positive change in our approach towards the affected population. We must ensure that timely assistance and active support is provided those who are vulnerable to natural disaster instead of perpetuating theories that suggest natural disaster are a form of punishment for people’s sins. Instead of seeking donations and grants, Pakistan – in collaboration with the international community –    must prepare short-term and long-term strategies to reduce risks. 

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of thePakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani