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FEATURE: Preparing for disasters to come

Zafar Iqbal Qadir is the Chairman of the Government of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority. Pakistan was listed by Germanwatch as the No 1 most affected country in the world in 2010 when it comes to climate related disasters

I took over the office of Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) ten months ago and have overseen a paradigm shift in the NDMA’s overall policy. I think we have now moved away from being reactive to being proactive. In the past, we were merely reacting to different disasters and trying our best to manage them. Now we are focusing on preparedness and anticipation. We are putting our house in order so that we are better prepared when disaster strikes, with a view to minimizing human and property losses.

We have come up with a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policy. This is essentially a disaster preparedness policy supplemented by disaster management plans across the country. For the implementation of DRR we have put legal structures in place. The NDMA works at the national level, while the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) and the District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs) work at their own levels. Since the recent passing of the 18th Amendment in parliament, which constitutes one of the most dramatic deconcentrations of power in Pakistan’s history, disaster management has been devolved to the provinces. It is now the provincial authorities that are supposed to implement disaster management activities in the field.

Since the PDMAs and DDMAs are barely a year old, they are still not geared up to deal with disasters, so therefore the NDMA is reaching out to help them in planning and implementing various activities. These include capacity building, fund raising and stockpiling different supplies. For fund raising, we have already approached the provincial assemblies and been able to secure for the upcoming June budget around USD 55 million for the Sindh PDMA, USD 55 million for the Punjab PDMA, USD 22 million for the Khyber Putkhunkwa PDMA, USD 33 million for the Balochistan PDMA and USD 11 million each for the Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir territories.

We are expecting floods again this year – the warning is for July-August-September, when the monsoon season arrives. Climate scientists have warned us that the extreme weather conditions that have hit us for the last two years running will hit us again this rainy season. We will again have to face a difficult situation, especially in the lower parts of Sindh and South Punjab, which are expected to be the worst hit.

For assessing preparedness needs, the DDMAs are having extensive consultations with all the key stakeholders in the field, including local bodies, government departments, community members  and NGOs (both local and international), and with the PDMAs at the regional level. These consultations will help prepare contingency plans for any coming disaster. We are also helping them to build linkages with the armed forces, civil authorities and the United Nations system in Pakistan. Each district government is making district specific contingency plans. These will then be tied to the provincial contingency plans, which ought to be ready by April this year.

The provincial plans will help us to prepare a national level contingency plan by May. This will be presented to the federal cabinet for its approval. Other new initiatives that I am pursuing at the moment are the raising up of a disaster response force at the disposal of the DDMAs and PDMAs and networking youth and volunteers into disaster support activities. The new force will be modeled on the successful 1122 Rescue force that has been set up by the Punjab government. As for the youth initiative, we plan to organize a national seminar to raise awareness and mobilize young volunteers. Once these two new structures are in place, we will have a database of individuals and we can start training them to meet district specific disaster needs.

For assessing these needs, we are doing a parallel exercise in mapping district hazard profiles. We are mapping the entire disaster history of each district and plan to share it in a document. This will indicate the vulnerabilities of each district to threats like floods, earthquakes, cyclones etc. The NDMA will then impart needs based training to each district through the UN system. This will be called Community Based Disaster Risk Management.

Another initiative we are currently pursuing is very new in the world. It involves setting up a disaster safety net that provides risk insurance against disasters to communities living in disaster prone areas. We are still developing the concept and working on the business plan since it is a very new idea. Our target is to have the most vulnerable communities insured before the monsoons arrive this year.

Picture Courtesy nydailynews.

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