The perpetual lack of disaster preparedness aggravates the vulnerability of marginalised communities
akistan is no stranger to devastating impacts of natural disasters, especially climate change-induced floods. Climate change has exacerbated these events, leading to increased frequency and intensity of floods, which disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. These low socio-economic achievement communities, already struggling with poverty and a lack of basic facilities during regular times, bear the brunt of the disasters. Inadequate disaster preparedness in the country, particularly the neglect of long-term mitigation efforts and the overemphasis on immediate relief, just adds to the problem.
The convergence of poverty, climate change and inadequate disaster preparedness has created a vicious cycle of vulnerability. Low socio-economic achievement communities, lacking access to basic facilities such as clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education, are the hardest hit even when there are no catastrophic disasters. These communities are predominantly located where climate change-induced floods wreak havoc on their lives and livelihoods. The lack of suitable infrastructure, including sturdy housing and protective embankments, amplifies their vulnerability, exposing them to the full force of disasters. These communities also lack the resources to recover and rebuild, leaving them in a perpetual state of distress.
The state’s response to flood disasters has been predominantly focused on short-term relief, including emergency response, rescue operations and provision of immediate necessities. While these interventions are critical in the immediate aftermath, they do not address the root causes of the problems or provide long-term solutions. Consequently, the same vulnerable communities find themselves facing similar disasters time and again, without any significant progress towards mitigating the risks.
Despite a history of recurrent floods, Pakistan has shown a significant lack of learning from past disasters. Lessons identified from previous events, such as the devastating floods in 2010, have not been adequately incorporated into disaster preparedness plans. The lack of effective implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies, such as early warning systems, infrastructure improvements, and community training, leaves communities ill-prepared to face future floods.
The 2010 floods and the ones that we faced the next year and the destruction they caused should have served to send everyone into action mode. Sadly, they didn’t. These floods were my first experience visiting some of the most impacted areas of south Punjab with my mother and her non-profit’s team. The doctors had set up a small medical camp. The mere announcement of their presence brought in patients from neighbouring villages, walking long distances. In many instances, the ailments could have been treated quickly with timely consultation and over-the-counter medicines.
In addition to the healthcare crisis, we witnessed people who had lost their homes, were forced to camp out with their livestock, and were refusing to leave without the cattle – as that amounted to abandoning their only source of livelihood. Similar incidents were reported during last year’s floods, showing that nothing has been done during these years to make long-term improvements for these communities.
Another critical aspect of disaster preparedness is the availability of accurate data and effective monitoring systems. However, Pakistan faces challenges in this regard. The country lacks comprehensive data on flood-prone areas, vulnerability assessments and risk mapping. Without organised reliable data, it becomes difficult to plan and allocate resources effectively, leaving communities more exposed to the impacts of climate change-induced floods.
Climate change has become a multiplier of poverty in Pakistan, particularly in disaster-prone areas. The adverse effects of climate change, including floods, droughts and extreme temperatures, disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. These events disrupt agricultural productivity, leading to food insecurity, loss of income and increased poverty levels. The lack of adaptive capacity and limited access to resources further exacerbate the plight of these communities, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.
Addressing the challenges of disaster preparedness and climate change in Pakistan requires a collaborative approach involving various stakeholders. Government institutions, civil society organisations and international partners must work together to allocate adequate resources; develop effective policies; and implement comprehensive disaster risk reduction strategies. International support can provide technical expertise, financial assistance, and capacity building, bolstering Pakistan’s efforts to enhance disaster preparedness and response mechanisms.
Pakistan’s vulnerable communities continue to face the devastating consequences of climate change-induced floods, aggravated by their limited access to basic facilities. The neglect of long-term mitigation efforts perpetuates their vulnerability, trapping them in a cycle of suffering. Urgent action is needed to shift the focus from short-term relief to comprehensive disaster preparedness, addressing the root causes of vulnerability and ensuring the protection of these marginalised communities. Only through collaboration, learning from past disasters and prioritising long-term mitigation can Pakistan begin to break the cycle of neglect and build resilience for a safer future.
Investing in disaster risk reduction measures, such as building resilient infrastructure, establishing early warning systems and implementing community-based disaster management initiatives, is crucial. By focusing on preparedness and resilience, the country can reduce the impacts of future floods and protect the most vulnerable communities. The time to act is now.
The writer is a communications, public relations and sustainability professional. She tweets @FatimaArif