By Irshad Ali Sodhar (FSP)
A R Khan Chachar CSS_2016
2. Disaster; definition and types
3. Disaster management
4. Phases of disaster management;
5. History of disasters in Pakistan
6. Disaster in the wake of recent floods
7. Structure of disaster management in Pakistan
8. Role of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
9. Abysmal state of disaster preparedness and management in Pakistan
10. Impacts of weak disaster management
i) Food crisis
ii) Health hazards
iii) Ravaged infrastructure
iv) Unemployment and economic loss
v) Militancy and crime
vi) Political upset
11. An organised disaster management is the need of the hour.
12. Measures to improve disaster management in Pakistan
Pakistan is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Generally divided into
natural and man-made, all disasters are managed by a systematic process of disaster
management that aims at minimising the damage and restoration of people to their normal
state. Pakistan is well familiar with disasters which have caused a heavy toll in terms of men
However, due to its inadequate preparedness to manage disasters, it has failed to effectively
cope with them. Though, after earthquake-2005, a systematic effort was geared up to
develop a viable structure of disaster management evolving into establishment of NDMA, it
has yet to achieve the required standards. The heavy floods of 2010 exposed its
unpreparedness and frail management resulting in unprecedented proportion of losses and
damages. Since, the magnitude of implications is too heavy to bear; the efficient disaster
management comes, on the priority, second to none of other needs. Therefore, it is
necessary to formulate an organised disaster management system to cope with disasters
that may break out in future.
Disaster is defined as “a catastrophic event that brings about great damage, destruction and
devastation to life and property.” The damage caused by disasters varies depending upon
geographical location, climate severity and above all, the types of disasters. Disasters have
been classified into two categories – natural disasters and man-made disasters. Cyclones,
tsunami, floods, droughts, earthquakes and volcanoes are a few examples of natural
disasters; and wars and nuclear accidents fall in the category of the man-made disasters. All
these calamities and catastrophes incur heavy toll on man and his habitat. However, the
disasters can be mitigated and losses can be minimised with efficient preparedness and
Disaster management is the mechanism of coordinating and utilising available resources to
deal emergencies effectively, thereby saving lives, avoiding injuries and minimising losses.
This also deals with strategic and organisational management processes used to protect
vital assets from hazard risks in such emergencies.
As mentioned earlier, disaster management is a systematic process, consisting ostensibly of
four main phases: response, recovery, relief and rehabilitation. However, it remains
incomplete without mitigation and preparedness, which are basically pre-disaster
management phases. All these phases are crucially important in managing disasters.
Mitigation, the very first phase of disaster management, is a sustained action that reduces
both short-term and long-term risks to people and property from the hazards and their
effects. It involves activities like scientific hazard analysis, vulnerability analysis, risk
assessment, avoiding construction in high risk zones, launching awareness campaigns,
training and capacity building of responders and managers, etc. Mitigation, therefore, is a
persistence effort to lessen the impact that disasters may incur.
Preparedness, the second phase of disaster management, is defined by Global Development
Research Center as “a set of steps that enhance the ability of communities and government
to respond to a disaster.” The steps included in this phase are the maintenance of resource
inventory, stockpiling, logistic planning, evacuation planning, communication planning, and
needs assessment. The key to effective disaster management is readiness to provide a rapid
emergency response. It entails everyone to be prepared to respond to extreme situations.
Response, the next phase of disaster management, includes the action of responding to an
emergency. It aims to provide immediate emergency support to a community to maintain
health, safety and morale until a permanent solution can be put in place. The steps involved
in response phase are situation analysis, crisis maps, information communication,
evacuation and shelters, dispatching of resources and early damage assessment. Besides,
trained and equipped personnel are required to deal with an emerging crisis.
Recovery, finally, is the process of returning to normal. Recovery phase may be short-term
as well as long-term, and it begins after the disaster commences. Reco-very phase is
overlapped by reconstruction, rehabilitation; spatial planning, infrastructure building,
housing, livelihood, social security, transport, clean drinking water, communication and
Previously, Pakistan has fallen victim to disasters many a time. The earthquake-2005,
Hunza landslides and Floods 2010 are some of the incidents. The available data suggests
that Pakistan suffered heavily at the hands of these disasters owing to the lack of efficient
Recently, the spate of floods that began late in July of 2010 dealt a serious blow to Pakistan.
The floods with such a magnitude had never been witnessed in the history of Pakistan.
Torrential monsoon rains in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab were
primarily responsible for the floods. The heavy rains also affected Indus river basin. Almost
one/fifth of Pakistan submerged in water. Moreover, almost 20 million people were directly
affected by the destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure. And the death toll rose
to about 2,000 people. Had there been no institute to deal with this natural calamity, the
damage caused by floods would have been much more.
However, despite establishment of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) the
response was too slow to meet the magnitude of challenge. The purpose behind its
establishment was to change national response to emergency situations from reactionary
model to an active mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery model. NDMA is the
executive arm of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) headed by Prime
Minister. Also, NDMA supervises Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) and
District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA).
The National Disaster Management Authority has been assigned the task of coordinating the
disaster risk management at the national level, implementing disaster risk management
strategies, mapping the hazards, developing guidelines, ensuring the establishment of
disaster management authorities and Emergency Operation Centres (EOCs) at provincial,
district and municipal levels, providing technical assistance to concerned departments,
organising training to personnel, serving as a lead agency for NGOs and international
cooperation, coordinating with the federal government through National Emergency
Operation Centre (NEOC) and requiring any government department or agency to make
available needed resources and personnel.
Despite establishment of this organisation assigned with apparently multifarious tasks,
disasters in Pakistan are hardly managed effectively. Its preparedness and response during
recent floods were found inadequate. “For 10 days, the flooding was only in this province.
But we didn’t hear from the NDMA and nor did we see any NDMA official. No one even
contacted us,” said Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain.
Disaster management, particularly preparedness in Pakistan has largely remained
unsatisfactory. The underlying factors responsible for its inefficiency, besides insufficient
resources, are lack of proactive approach and transparency. Moreover, this agency has yet
to prove its credibility, strategy and efficiency of infrastructure which lie at the very heart of
these critical situations. Another factor that hampers the smooth functioning of disaster
management process is duplication of efforts which arise due to the lack of integration
between various agencies and organisations involved in the process. Consequently, these
multiple factors render management process weak and, therefore, people bear the brunt on
Weaker disaster management, nevertheless, accounts for the damages caused by floods
uptill now; as International Monetary Fund (IMF) puts it, “Floods which have devastated
Pakistan will present a massive economic and political challenge to its government and
people.” Apart from economic and social losses, looming food crisis, ravaged infrastructure,
multiple health related problems and increased chances of proliferation of extremism are
but a few adverse impacts of weak disaster management.
Speaking of the food crisis, almost 17 million acres of agricultural land submerged under
water. According to Daily Finance, “A major concern was that the farmers would be unable
to meet the fall deadline for planting new seeds in 2010 which implied a loss of food
production in 2011 and potential long-term food shortages.” Additionally, seven lac acres
cotton crops, two lac acres sugarcane, two lac acres rice, five lac tonnes of stocked wheat,
three lac acres of animal fodder and stores of grain were lost besides two lac livestock.
In addition to food crisis, outbreak of various diseases further aggravates the situations.
Scores of people have been affected by the fatal diseases like gastroenteritis and diarrhea
due to the non-availability of clean drinking water and proper sanitation facilities. Also, the
eruption of cholera and multiple skin diseases along with malaria has added to their
suffering. Apart from these diseases, there is a sheer dearth of maternity care for thousands
of pregnant women. Thus, these victims need medical attention on war footings to save
invaluable human lives. The authorities were not prepared to deal with such situation. Even
though, the floods were moving gradually ahead, they could not take precautionary
measures in the prone areas.
There has been a huge loss to infrastructure. According to Ball State University Center
estimate, around 3916 km highway and about 5646 km railway track has been damaged.
Their repair costs are expected to be at least $158 million and $131 million, respectively. On
the other hand, public damage accounting to almost $1 billion resulted in response to
floods. The sorry state of affairs was revealed when authorities were unable to rather
incapable of restoring the cut off routes and breaches in river banks.
Resultantly, country received a serious economic jolt. In this regard, International Labour
Organisation (ILO) said that almost 5.3 million people became jobless. Therefore,
“productive and labour intensive job creation programmes are urgently needed to lift
millions of people out of poverty that has been aggravated by flood damage.” Furthermore
GDP would decline from overall 4 per cent to -2 to -5 per cent. Crop losses have stubborn
impact on textile industry: the largest manufacturing industry of Pakistan.
Besides, the implications include growth in militancy and crime. ‘As soon as Pakistan Army
diverted from fighting militant insurgents in the north-west to help in relief efforts, Taliban
militants were given a reprieve to regroup’, observed the Associated Press. Over and above,
the jobless, desperate and dejected youngsters from the affected areas are an easy prey to
militant recruitment and criminal activities. It may aggravate the security situation given the
inefficiency of the government to address the problems of the victims.
If observed politically, public may perceive the government inefficient thus giving rise to an
episode of political unrest. Not only people, the outside donors have also become skeptic.
More than that, migration of internally displaced people (IDP) to urban areas incited urban
sectarian discord which further hindered the process of management of disaster.
In the light of above facts, it is evident that Pakistan is in dire need of an organised disaster
management programme to face the emergency situations and their implications. So far,
disorganised and ad hoc methods had been in practice in disaster management system. It is
because of this that the country suffered more. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the
Government of Pakistan to strengthen its policies of disaster management.
In other words, disaster management should be amongst the top priorities of government.
NDMA can be strengthened by proper allocation of funds, research, equipment, training and
maintenance of transparency. In this regard, effective communication between concerned
agencies and with people is a must. Embankment of rivers, disaster proof housing and
infrastructure, early warnings, rapid evacuation, nomination of danger zones prior to
disaster, establishment of rescue centres and creating public awareness about disasters and
safety techniques with their inclusion in curriculum will surely pay dividends.
Disasters often come without early warnings, recent floods in Pakistan, however, took a
gradual course. But lack of sound disaster management and unpreparedness policies and
their implementation has resulted in grave damages to Pakistan in all the previous disasters.
Therefore, the onus lies upon the Government of Pakistan to revisit its policies and
strengthen institutions to not only tackle such situations but making them to our best use.
It is high time that the government as well as every citizen of Pakistan plays its own
respective role to bring about a positive change.
By Irshad Ali Sodhar (FSP)