Saturday April 20, 2024

Flood lessons

By Editorial Board
September 01, 2022

With Federal Minister for Planning Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal asking the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to prepare comprehensive SOPs in collaboration with provincial disaster management authorities to minimize human losses, one is reminded of how little we have learnt from the 2010 floods that had wreaked similar – if slightly less dire – havoc. It has been 12 years since the previous disaster struck the country; in over a decade there appears to have been no learning of lessons from the experiences the country went through at the time. Rather, the lessons that the NDMA drew did not entirely reflect a full and realistic understanding of the situation on the ground. The NDMA developed a report after the 2010 floods that presented findings about how the country did or did not tackle the tragedy. Recommendations about how to respond to any future disaster were also in the report but it appears that hardly anybody paid much attention to them.

What we have seen with the floods this year – and during so many previous calamities and disasters – is that no ‘robust system of response’ is in place. The mega disaster of 2022 and the initial slow response by various national and provincial ‘authorities’ prove the point. Had there been a quicker and swifter system, so many of the over 1,000 lives lost could have been saved. In the NDMA’s ‘Pakistan 2010 Flood Relief - Learning from Experiences, Observations and Opportunities and the Lessons Learned’ report, one of the foremost observations was that the disaster management capacity of the state needed immediate focus. Unfortunately, successive governments did not heed to this suggestion, and the result is in front of us now. If such capacity is limited at multiple levels of government, the response time and its efficiency comes under strain. Interestingly, whenever a lack of swift response is cited, most authorities lament the paucity of resources. Of course there is some truth in it, but even with limited resources the blame game starts and everyone accuses others of lack of responsibility.

In 2010, there were many national and international humanitarian organizations working in Pakistan. But multiple government agencies, authorities, and departments wanted to control them. Complicated requirements for no-objection certificates and registration were imposed and many such entities either just left the country or found themselves in such a tight corner that they preferred to close down their operations rather than going through the rigmarole of civil and military bureaucracy. Rather than control, it was a question of coordination and implementation that was missing. There was a need for more cooperation instead of more control. The report also pointed out that there was a distinct lack of capacity for provision of relief at the provincial level. This called for capacity development that did not take place. National and international humanitarian organizations and NGOs had that capacity but they were shut down. Now we have a severe shortage of relief and rescue workers who can get the job done. All this produces systemic flaws when a disaster strikes. In the absence of local capacity, short-term deployment of workers from UN agencies takes place. Most of these short-term workers lack any local understanding of ground realities, which further complicates the challenges at hand. Will there be a reckoning once the current flood wreckage has been taken care of? Hope and history point in different directions.