This article originally appeared on Business Recorder on August 23, 2011.
At the risk of starting this commentary with a clichéd adage, prevention is better than cure. At least thats what one is strongly reminded of as the latest episodes of flooding in Sindh are unraveling in the country. The Pakistani government seems to be more concerned with the cure part of the statement than with prevention.
Though the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) were quick in providing emergency relief – as much as could be facilitated – to those affected, the sequel to that – recovery strategies and better disaster risk reduction measures – are yet to be seen. And before the concerned authorities had time to get their hands dirty and develop some sustainable plans to prevent future disaster outbreaks, hundreds of villages were submerged by another deluge in Sindh.
Its not like the government had not been urged to take relevant steps in the aftermath of the flood to prevent such a crisis in the future. The World Banks Damage and Needs Assessment (DNA) report contained detailed policy recommendations for various sectors as well as disaster risk management strategy in detail. These included multi-faceted measures from enhanced community awareness and institutional development, especially of NDMA and PDMA; to catastrophe risk financing and early warning systems.
A report by Oxfam entitled Six months into the floods, published earlier this year points this out, “Successful models for community involvement in improving disaster resilience do exist…If such activities were appropriately scaled-up and applied nationally, Pakistan would be better equipped to cope with disasters.” So prototypes for the authorities to follow were always there. But were the recommendations actually paid heed to? Oxfam goes on to lament on the plight of the recovery process in Pakistan: “A lack of political will and investment, especially at the critical but under resourced district and provincial levels, has meant that local authorities have struggled to co-ordinate and manage responses. There is often a complete disconnect between national and provincial level decision making.” Such conditions stoke widespread discontentment among people who feel that developmental work is accorded very low priority while government representatives squander time and resources on political games and gimmicks.
Given that theres a window of time within which sustainable reconstruction has to be finished before the next monsoon strikes, and given the uncertain nature of calamities, disaster risk reduction is not one of those developmental projects that could be shelved aside to create fiscal space, as the cascading impacts could limit fiscal space much more in the years to come. The implications of this attitude of near indifference to such pressing issues can be far-reaching. From the dwindling trust of private and institutional donors leading to patchy foreign and domestic assistance, to a rapidly expanding mountain of inter-related developmental problems, the impact will be far from pretty.
Pakistan has been affected by five major floods since 1947, and over 60 years is too long a time to learn to be proactive. And looking at the rapidity of climate changes, the time span between such disasters is only getting shorter. Swiftness, priority, and development of sustainable strategies, therefore, should be the governments best friends in bracing up for future such calamities.