Disasters and local government

October 2, 2022

Absence of local governments in various areas of the country is hampering flood relief and rebuilding efforts

Disasters and local government


t is only by learning from the devastation caused by accidents and natural disasters that we can learn to plan for a better futures. The devastation caused by the floods in recent days has once again highlighted the question: why are we not ready to adopt modern methods to deal with disasters like floods? We create new institutions to deal with catastrophes but do not prioritize effective monitoring of those institutions, allocation of adequate resource for them and ensuring accountability. Many strategies have been developed in the modern world to deal with floods and large-scale disasters. Developing a strong and autonomous local government system in the country is a prerequisite for most.

Dealing with a calamity invariably requires capitalising on the strengths of a local government.

Following a flood, there are a large number of affected people. They need relief on an emergency basis. The federal and provincial institutions must provide the resources for relief but in the absence of effective political, administrative, financial and legal institutions at the local level, the benefits of the relief work do not reach every intended beneficiary. There are three types of governments in Pakistan: federal, provincial and local. Currently, there are no elected local governments in most of Pakistan. The country and its people are suffering on account of the absence of local governments.

There is no local government system in place in the Punjab since the elections were postponed. The second phase of local elections has not been held in Sindh. The third phase elections in Balochistan are yet to be held. The electoral process has only been completed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Following major disasters like earthquakes and floods in Pakistan the largest number of victims are those already among the deprived sections of the society. Women, children, farmers, labourers, minorities and transgender are always among the more vulnerable.

When the federal and provincial governments try to deal with these victims, the biggest noticeable gap is the absence of local government systems. While there is an administrative structure at the local level, the absence of elected representatives of the people blunts its effectiveness. Local priorities are therefore not reflected in the planning. According to the constitution, provincial governments are obliged to ensure that there is a system of local governments. They are also responsible for ensuring the formation and succession of these elected governments. The 18th Amendment envisions transfer of certain power from the federation to the provinces and other powers from the provinces to the local governments. Provincial autonomy is also not meaningful until the provinces allow autonomy to district governments.

After the flood disaster, most problems arise in the form of epidemics. Dealing with those is the responsibility of the local governments. A functional local government system prepares a roadmap to help the victims during these trying times.

Counting the victims during the flood, collecting accurate data, identifying the problems they face immediately or after some emergency, estimating the losses and requirements for food, medicine and shelters, making delivery systems for emergency supplies transparent, evacuating people from danger and taking them to safe places, reaching the victims during floods and identifying the victims before the floods, ensuring pre-disaster preparation and planning are related to local government systems. Elimination of environmental pollution at the local level and planting of trees and ensuring transparency in construction also falls in the ambit of local governments.

After the flood disaster, many problems arise on account of various epidemics. Dealing with those is also a responsibility of the local governments. It is the local governments that prepare roadmaps to help the victims during these disasters with help from all willing welfare workers and institutions. A good local government makes monitoring and supervision transparent and accountable. All financial aid coming from various sources is utilized transparently and put to good use. Elected local governments work with local government agencies to plan for the future in order to prevent or better deal with the future disasters.

At the local level, the joint efforts of the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA0, the local administration and the local government and institutions at the local level help formulate a comprehensive and integrated policy. Such a policy identifies local issues and highlights areas where disaster risks are high. It sets out a comprehensive plan to deal with the disasters so that some of the risks can be avoided or mitigated. The way flood victims were helped or fed in recent times was inefficient. This is the reason why so many victims complained that tey had received no aid and that some influential people were controlling the resources and making decisions. Political divisions overriding humanitarian concerns create an environment of great mistrust among people.

It should be kept in mind that a system of governance based on autonomous local governments creates an environment of trust. The painful scenes we see in the media indicate major flaws in our local government system.

The only lesson from the disasters is that we should reform our governance system. In these reforms, a major focus should be on the integrated and decentralised system of local governments.

The writer is a political analyst and executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education and Advocacy

Disasters and local government