A DRAFT National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy (2012) has been developed which has been awaiting approval of the federal cabinet for a number of weeks now.
One of the stated purposes of the policy is “to advocate an approach to disaster management that focuses on reducing risks”. The policy claims to serve as “a guiding framework both for DRR [disaster risk reduction] and relevant development plans and programmes to focus attention on priority issues”.
While discussing the ‘policy challenges’ the draft policy does not dilate on the “institutional vulnerability” — basic institutional overlaps, jurisdictional conflicts, confusion in definition, policy disconnects and resource gap — hampering effective disaster-risk management in Pakistan.
There seems to be a disconnect between institutional memory and the proposed policy as this draft does not make any reference to the lessons learnt especially with regard to the institutional disarray that was reflected in the floods of 2009 and 2010 and that continues even today.
The draft policy also fails to create institutional synergies to achieve the proposed policy objectives; instead it concludes with a prescription to harmonise “DRR initiatives”, without fixing responsibility of respective tiers of governance and the relevant institutions.
The draft restricts itself to underlining the need for “a clear definition of roles and responsibilities between different layers of governance and actors”. Being generic in nature, the policy appears to be silent on assigning responsibility: who will do what to achieve disaster-risk reduction in Pakistan?
There is another concern: is the federal cabinet the appropriate forum for approval of a policy on a matter which cuts across provincial jurisdictions? It is argued that disaster management being both a provincial and an inter-provincial subject needs a more representative forum like the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to formulate such a policy.
The competence of the federal cabinet is more related to policies on international coordination and minimum standards on disaster-risk management instead of subjects and functions that have been devolved to the provinces and districts.
Without addressing the fundamental questions of disaster-risk management, the draft policy in fact compounds the confusion caused by overlapping institutional roles. It intends to erect a building on faulty foundations.
The draft policy seems to have encroached upon the provinces’ domain by giving a national policy on essentially a provincial subject. The DRR draft policy appears to be an extension of the National Disaster Risk Management Framework (2007-2012), and fails to incorporate the changes brought about by the 18th Amendment to the constitution.
The draft policy is assumed to undertake the strengthening of the “local level risk-reduction capacity focusing on communities, and supportive linkages with union councils, tehsils and districts”.
In the light of the democratic devolution ushered in by the 18th Amendment, the federal outreach in policy, planning, project implementation and monitoring has been restricted leaving the lowest tiers of governance (union council, tehsil and district) to be managed by the provincial governments.
It is apprehended that such a policy prescription would lead to recentralising subjects and functions that had been decentralised such as disaster management in Pakistan.
However, one of the objectives of the draft policy to “create multi-hazard early warning capacity while building upon existing systems and emphasising the information and warning needs of vulnerable end-users” seems to be the concern of the federal government as it involves cross-border and inter-provincial mechanisms of information-sharing and dissemination — subjects included in Federal Legislative List Part I.
It has been established that disaster-risk management can effectively be achieved through a perspective of “polycentric governance”; however, the sectoral roles and responsibilities need to be clearly demarcated to ensure the intersection of institutional directions.
This entails an interplay between policy and institutions for effective and efficient delivery. The element of this interplay is missing in the draft policy making it structurally incompatible with the existing governance systems and structures in Pakistan.
The Draft National Policy on Disaster Risk Reduction (2012) appears to have been formulated in isolation with a vertical, or top-down, approach in a governance environment that has been horizontally devolved.
The writer is an Islamabad-based policy analyst studying the politics of governance and media. email@example.com