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Op-Ed: Managing the Disaster Managers

One often wonders how a country run by a bunch of total lunatics can be expected to perform a reasonable job when confronted with a natural disaster. It may be a harsh generalisation, but Pakistan suffers far more seriously at the hands of bureaucratic pencil-pushers during natural disasters, while millions of Good Samaritans chip in to provide relief in a far more organised and generous way than the very people they have voted into power.

In recent times, we have had our fair share of natural and man-made disasters and each has left a lasting scar. By the grace of God we have somehow managed to pull through, but I often wonder if we had been better prepared would we have been able to save even one more life from the hundreds that lay at our feet?

In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was formed by a constitutional amendment. The initiative, setting up a federal body deputed to coordinate all stakeholders in an attempt to implement a national and provincial strategy on better ways to manage, fund, organise, stockpile and train first-responders, was a step in the right direction.

In an ideal set-up, the first-responders would have been a well-rehearsed team micromanaging any eventuality at the district level. Slowly, the provinces would step in to manage the calamity at a macro level, leaving the national body to attend to larger issues. The disaster management team should have been well-oiled administratively and trained strategically towards effectively saving lives in the times of disaster.

Ever since its inception, the NDMA may have at best had a brief dream of coming up with a national policy for calamities. But, in turn, it was greeted with a Pandora’s box of bureaucratic red-tape across the board. A retired lieutenant-general headed the organisation and was viewed suspiciously by the provinces as part of the Musharraf lobby. For this reason, the provinces did not support and accept the NDMA and instead chose to fend for themselves. Punjab, for example, insisted on implementing their own Emergencies Act of 1952 and proceeded to form the 1122 emergency service unit which, while a brilliantly run service, does not come under the jurisdiction of the national body. Herein starts the cobweb of nightmares that prevent the effective operation of a national disaster response unit.

The lack of interest in coordinating with the national body lead to the provinces managing calamities on their own, creating ad-hoc crisis management cells entrusted to save lives. These cells were unprepared and adopted a do-the-best-you-can approach.

It’s interesting that the vigilant public has more or less seen through this disorganisation and has taken proactive measures to do their own part trying to overcome the shortfall, though these efforts, despite being well-intentioned, lacked coordination on a macro level. This left some areas well looked after, but far flung regions were ignored and left at the mercy of lacklustre government response.

With such an incoherent disaster management framework, there needs to be a serious effort to fix the problems from the core. If such bureaucratic red-tape is impossible to dissolve then, for the sake of the millions of Pakistanis, it might be best to create an independent consortium of various important stakeholders, including key figures from civil society, and entrust them with the management of future disasters. Disaster management is a science that enables you to be better prepared and the more rehearsed your team is, the better its chances that it will save lives. In the chaos that ensues after a calamity, a well-rehearsed team can be the difference saving or losing a live.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.


14 Comments

  • achohan |

    Dr. Awab,

    You were very vocal when Pak-Army Dictator Musharraf, imposed ban on GEO and other media outlets but you seem to ignore it when *democratic* goons impose a ban on GEO and other media outlets??? WHY? Where is the Citizens committee??

    PPP goons are busy demonstrating in favor of pakistani-GAAD-father instead of helping the victims of floods..

  • Too late the hero |

    I am serioulsy scared here.

    I have a really really bad feeling that Zardari & Co are bringing the wrath of God upon us.

    I posted this about 10 days before the floods on this blog..

    http://teeth.com.pk/blog/2010/07/18/the-coalition

    When the azaab comes it does not distinguish between the good and the bad.

    Need tons of introspection and asking Allah for forgiveness and weakness.

    Its not the rain, its not the flood, its the one controlling the rain and the flood. He could be testing us or he could be pusnishing us. I fear this is no longer a test but a reckoning.

  • farrahshah |

    It is extremely sad what is happening to Pakistan.

    I have never felt this low in my life.

    In the beginning of the month people were just questioning what Zardari is doing here (UK) when your country is hit by worst disaster?

    As if I am his personal assistant?

    Now I am so shocked to see people hesitant to contribute to the flood relief.

    Every one does feel sorry for Pakistanis but they find it impossible to reach to their pockets and donate even one pound or old clothing’s and food packages.

    The reason is they (Europeans not connected to Pakistan) think it will end up in the hands of Terrorists or Corrupt politicians.

    The way the International press has printed the stories since 9/11 with regards to links with Terrorism links to Pakistan (true or not no body wants to know) the repeated sentences for past ten years are Terrorist links Pakistan in every bulletin, it is no wonder Pakistan is isolated, abandoned and deserted by International community.

    —–

    Only two and a half years of this government and Pakistan is an orphan country no representation at any level?

    All down to bad management and incompetent leadership.

    WHERE IS SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI?

    • Aamir Mughal |

      Dear Ms. Farrah,

      Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the so-called Critique of Zardari i.e. Ex-Senator Enver Beg were both enjoying the Fashion Show when Souther Punjab was ruined by "Calamity of Flood" [Ref: Dawn News – I hope the footage is there]

  • farrahshah |

    People must reach out help and support each other:please declutter your homes and lives give away your old clothes shoes and a days meal.

    Please help other people that is the only quality which qualifies us as a human:

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  • Mensur |

    Guys take a far sighted view of things instead of demoralising each other, there is no quick fix to the disaster we are currently witnessing with all our disgust.

    Your country is under the occupation of Zionist Isreal. Free masons are calling the shots and carrying out mass killing of Muslims.

    Haarp technology is deployed to cause man made disasters, causing hunger, they are manipulating with the climate to create more hunger and damage.

    These free mason criminals have no sympathy. They are in power, from US to UK to Europe. Many current leaders are zionists such as Sarkozy of France, Cameroon of UK, Obama of USA. They are all illuminatis, worship devil. The followers of DAJJAL.

    They are controlling our resources, creating debt through IMF and World Bank, UN is their front cover.

    They have weaken Pakistan to its root. They have ruined us in the name of democracy, and without their financial support we cant make another day.

    Dont blame Zardari, he has no capacity to make the change he too is dependent in getting support from UK & USA, our two biggest enemies.

    Sad thing is that they are initiating these attack on our peaceful soil, we are killing each other.

    Please note that our Media is also controlled by USA, to defame Pakistan and divide us and rule us. Media is their outlet.

    The US Ambassador in Pakistan is a wicked Jewish lady, they have entered our country and running operations against us.

    Our Army is responsible for all this mess. Kiyani is also an American agent who is exactly doing same what Musharraf did. Same policies he is following, he is reporting to his masters in USA. He has no power to go against US, so stop blaming Zardari, we should all support each other.

    Please dont be afraid of speaking out the truth, dont become cowards, live like a lion and die like one. Be a Tipu Sultan. Live respectably.

    Move on build Pakistan and we aware of conspirators like Shahid Masood, Kamran Khan, Hamid Mir, Amir Liaqat. These anchors are creating disharmony and disillusion among the masses 24-7. They should be put on treason.

    They are clever they present themselves as if they are your real friends and have pain for your suffering but actually they are double agents putting forward agenda of Isreal.

    Finally dont be scared of expressing your feelings, dont become double faced, be good muslims.

  • Sincere Pakistani |

    Why "Azaab e ellahi" don't fall on Zardari & his gangsters tola,why not on Moulana Fazal ur rehman,why not on Qazi Hussain, why not on Chaudhry's of Gujrat,why not on Nawaz Shareef,why not on Altaf Hussain,why not on Asfand Wali Khan,why not on Salmaan Taseer,why not on Qamar zaman kaira,why not on Faisal Raza Abdi,why not on corrupt Generals, why not on all filthy corrupt rich.

  • farrah shah |

    @Mansur

    It is not the act of any Zionist or anti Pakistan forces.

    Ruins of Harrapa and Moinjo darro remind us what happened there centuries ago.

    Also the Global warming warnings with regard to water and floods ,famine and draught are every where?

    The simple answer is none of our governments built the DAMS?

    Thanks to British for Mnagla Dam and I think Tarbela as well.

    I hope now the Pakhtoonkhawa and Shindhis and Baluchis and Punjabis will understand by not building the dams we are signing our own death warrants.

    Immediately after rehabilitation of these people we must push for building of Dams.

  • KarimG |

    It is heart breaking to see the misery of the people and all the obvious issues like the feudal system that should have been dismantled decades ago being debated is healthy.

    However in my view there are TWO 800 pound gorillas in the room that are NOT being adequately discussed.

    1-Overpopulation. Time has come to openly talk about it and make people understand that they can not make this many babies and believe that all will be well. I don't care what interpretation mullahs want to shove down our throats, but obviously this "ALLAH KI DAIN" business is not working.

    2-Zardari (and his ilk) Peoples Party has done a great disservice to Pakistan and itself by letting this snake become the party leader and the president. The fact that he might be less or more corrupt than NS is irrelevant, the perception of him being a super-thief and super-corrupt is a huge obstacle in getting donors to give generously. This man being the head of the country is a huge liability and for these dumb asses in PPP not being able to see this is just incomprehensible for me.