Disaster compounded

Published September 13, 2014
This photograph taken from a Pakistan army helicopter shows residents affected by flooding with their belongings in Chiniot district in southern Punjab Province on September 12, 2014.— Photo by AFP
This photograph taken from a Pakistan army helicopter shows residents affected by flooding with their belongings in Chiniot district in southern Punjab Province on September 12, 2014.— Photo by AFP

Yet again, large parts of the country stand inundated. And yet again, Pakistan’s disaster management authorities have been caught napping.

Now that the scale of the disaster has become evident, officials from all quarters, including the prime minister, can be heard expressing regret and giving out assurances that not only is the government doing the best it can, but that it had also prepared as well as was possible before the deluge and that mitigating the effect of natural calamities remains a priority.

How far from the truth this is — indeed, what outright falsification this is — can be easily gauged by one hard fact: the National Disaster Management Commission, which is headed by the prime minister and is the forum at which the highest-level decisions can be taken about disaster management, has not met since 2012.

Also Read: Disaster management ‘not a priority’

A 10-year plan to improve the country’s capacity to cope with future disasters in the wake of the 2010-2011 floods that was formulated at the last NDMC meeting in February 2012 has yet to be ratified because the commission has not bothered to meet since then.

Among the officials who have utterly failed to make this issue a priority are, other than the prime minister himself at whose call the NDMC meets, the four provincial chief ministers and governors, opposition leaders from the Senate and National Assembly, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee and representatives of key government departments such as the railways and the motorway authority.

All of them are supposed to attend when an NDMC meeting is called, and should presumably be aware that drawing attention to disaster management is part of their duties.

But having the state and government wake up to its responsibilities in Pakistan has historically been a daunting task, and those who have sworn to act for the benefit of the citizenry often prove to be enduringly hard of hearing when it is time to make an effort.

Also Read: Rains, floods claim 231 lives, says NDMA

If this is the level of interest shown by top government functionaries regarding an issue fundamental to the citizens’ welfare and safety, and national economic prospects, there can be little wonder that matters have reached this pass — yet again.

And little hope can be harboured for any positive change in the foreseeable future. The country has now seen floods in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014. How much havoc will the next one be allowed to wreak?

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2014

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