Floods have ravaged the country from Sindh and Balochistan in the south to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan in the north. Unprecedented rainfall has resulted in historical floods that have killed more than 1400 people across the country, and no exact number has been put on houses, bridges, roads, and power stations. The total damage to the infrastructure and property has been valued at $20-$40 billion. The deluge is unprecedented and Sindh continues to fight the overhead water. The story of helplessness and despair is pervasive. The current deluge is not new to Pakistan, but over the years, the intensity has increased. The poor response pushes one to be a cynic and pessimist seeing the suffering. People are without shelter, food, and water. On top of that, there is little help from the concerned authorities. The country does not have adequate resources to rehabilitate and rebuild the infrastructure yet Pakistan continuously ignores history lessons.
Let’s look at the disaster response structure of the country. The disaster response structure of the country is framed under the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) created in 2010. It is an executive arm of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC). The aim was to create one window for disaster management for all stakeholders in the country. The NDMC was tasked to devolve the disaster management responsibility to provinces and then to the district level. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMC) created in all provinces has created its executive branch Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and PDMA works through District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs). In the disaster management structure, the NDMC and NDMA are policy formulators, PDMC and PDMA are enablers in collaborations with different stakeholders and DDMAs are the ones implementing the desired work. The stakeholders include all provincial governments, Armed forces, UN agencies, government departments, international and local non-governmental organisations, media, and people. The National Disaster Management Fund (NDMF) manages the financial aspects. The promising aspect of NDMA is its comprehensiveness. It has taken all major stakeholders onboard to tackle any natural disaster in the country.
NDMA had few sets backs with its one window operations as the authority was rightly blamed for the Murree debacle and also missing out on the recent flood warnings and response. There are cleavages in the structure and functioning of NDMA. The functioning of NDMA must be enhanced to cater to respond to the current devastation by floods and future calamities. Pakistan had been declared one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change over two decades ago. The concerned authorities and departments are now working on purchasing early warning systems to alert communities of natural disasters. This realisation has also come under the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF)-II project and will ensure community awareness if implemented. The authorities have been insensitive to people suffering. It is not wise to open a Pandora’s Box of problems in Pakistan, but the overcrowded government offices breed inefficiency. There is a lack of will and capacity. For instance, the GLOF project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit is one of the largest projects to tackle climate change and lessen its impacts. Previously, the donors wanted their money back because the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government could not implement the project, however, this time the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been tasked to lead the project.
To build a robust disaster management system, the government must work on indigenous knowledge and setups along with international best practices. The UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction is the lighthouse to building a strong disaster response unit. The four priorities of the framework are understanding disaster risk, strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk, investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Climatic disasters would be a mundane affair for Pakistan as climate change gets worse. So the government must shift its focus on disaster prevention and response. Disaster prevention and response require huge financial capital and trained human capital which Pakistan lacks. The current floods should work as a mirror for the country as its global flood appeals have landed on deaf ears. The global donor fatigue has also affected Pakistan’s flood relief campaigns. On the brighter side, the current devastation has re-ignited global debates on climate reparations and debt restructuring for developing countries. Authors like Jason Hickel are arguing that Pakistan must be assisted in these dire times. Other climate and history aficionados are asking the Global North to pay climate reparations to Pakistan as the country hardly contributes towards global emissions, but it is at the front of climate changed induced catastrophes. However, the focus must be on disaster management and response along with climate change adaptation measures as Pakistan would see several different climate disasters in the coming years.