Senators question civil departments’ ability to cope with natural disasters

Published November 11, 2015
Senators express dissatisfaction over the working of the NDMA, Erra; call for revival of National Volunteer Movement.—AFP/File
Senators express dissatisfaction over the working of the NDMA, Erra; call for revival of National Volunteer Movement.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Criticising the government for its alleged failure to provide timely help and relief to earthquake-affected people, senators questioned on Tuesday capabilities of civilian departments to cope with natural disasters.

Taking part in the Senate debate on a report of the standing committee on cabinet secretariat on the relief work and subsequent steps taken by the government in the wake of Oct 26 earthquake, members expressed their dissatisfaction over the working of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (Erra).

Take a look: Massive Afghan quake shakes Pakistan, other parts of South Asia

They called for revival of the National Volunteer Movement to deal with emergency situations.

And in the adjacent National Assembly, while speaking on a point of order, Opposition Leader Syed Khurshid Shah demanded of the government to declare emergency in earthquake-hit areas. He said that weather conditions were becoming harsher with the advent of winter season and the people were still awaiting compensation from the government.

He regretted that the prime minister had announced payment of compensation to affected people within two weeks, but several people were still awaiting it.

Taking part in the debate in Senate, Mushahid Hussain of Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) said that there had been no permanent chairman and deputy chairman of Erra which showed the government’s negligence towards this important issue.

“We only react to disasters. The aftermath of Oct 26 earthquake is a man-made disaster,” he said, adding that there was no coordination between the NDMA and Erra and suggested merger of the two organisations.

He called for creating a full-fledged ministry on disaster management on the pattern of Russia, Bangladesh and some other countries.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said that Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif had ordered troops to move to affected areas and carry out rescue work without waiting for the government’s directives. “It was a good move, but its implications should be looked into,” he said.

The PPP senator regretted that information about losses had come from the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) instead of civilian department and it showed “incompetence” of the government.

“Why such information was not with deputy commissioners or local administration,” he asked.

“The army did a good job and we salute them, but it exposed the civil-military disconnect and the civilian government’s failure,” he said.

Mr Babar said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on a foreign visit when the earthquake had hit the country but his entire cabinet was in the country but it remained a mere spectator.

Javed Abbasi of PML-N said that the compensation amount should be paid directly to affected people, instead of through Erra or other departments. “Otherwise, the people will face the same fate as had been by victims of 2005 earthquake,” he said.

Mohsin Aziz of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said that visits of VIPs to disaster-hit areas should be banned as it affected relief and rescue operations.

Shahi Syed of the Awami National Party (ANP) said that as a nation “we have learnt no lessons from the devastating 2005 earthquake”.

PPP’s Taj Haider asked the government to rebuild damaged houses in affected areas, instead of giving money to the people. He was of the view that the people did not use that money on rebuilding their houses and started living in the damaged houses with minor repairs. “It is the state’s responsibility to build the damaged houses,” he said.

Later, the house adopted the report of the standing committee containing 18 recommendations.

In one of the recommendations, the committee has recommended that the scope of Erra should be enhanced and renamed as Disaster Risk Reduction Authority. The committee, headed by Talha Mehmood of the JUI-F, also called for increasing compensation for victims of the earthquake.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2015

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