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Flood fighting measures

August 17, 2012

THIS is apropos of the report ‘Flood fighting measures’ (Aug 7). Federal Minister for Water and Power Choudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, at a meeting of the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) on Aug 6, discussed measures to ensure that the monsoon passes off without causing any damage to life and property.

However, neither the minister nor the National Disaster Management Authority chairman, present at the FFC meeting, discussed the need for security measures at flood-relief camps. In 2010 and 2011 the government machinery and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) failed to ensure timely distribution of relief goods in camps where hungry and angry people were forced to steal and loot relief goods.

Similarly, homeless and hungry people also attacked aid convoys, forcing the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to suspend their work. Attacks by flood victims were also reported on vehicles of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) and IOM.

Many flood relief camps today are places of insecurity and outright danger, both for refugees and relief workers and, thus, for those living around the camps.

In the initial emergency phase, physical assistance (‘biological needs’) is generally given priority over protection and security concerns. But security requirements during such a crisis should also be addressed during contingency planning and emergency phase to stress security and physical protection needs before assistance: that is, adopt a ‘security-first’ approach.

Such an approach would be the basis of an overall strategy to ensure security and protection in a flood relief hosting area.

Inside many camps refugees are subject to intimidation, violence, and harassment by a variety of groups and individuals. These include other refugees, who use violence for reasons of ethnic conflict, or political pressure; and camp guards or other host administration authorities, who use physical intimidation to extort money, resources or sex from refugees.

Refugee populations in camps consist of uprooted, often traumatised or destabilised people. Many refugees are rural people with little education, who have lost their ties to families and villages, and who find themselves cast adrift in an alien, unstructured shantytown-like culture. The result is often increased crime and violence, or increased likelihood of recruitment into militias or organised crime.

Threats which are generally posed in such refugee camps include thefts, pilferage both by insiders and outsiders.

The relief -- food items, clothes, medicines, etc. -- pouring in becomes a source of great attraction for everyone living in the camps. Similarly, criminals of all sorts, especially human traffickers, child lifters and rapists, try to take full advantage if security arrangements are weak or lacking in such camps.

Hence, the need to secure flood refugee camps by ensuring physical protection through law-enforcers under the overall control of the NDMA.

Moreover, during meetings of flood-fighting measures representative of the ministry of interior and provincial home ministers should also be present to discuss steps to protect flood victims.