DISASTERS have predominantly been projected as natural and promoted as destined occurrences. This view has been invalidated long ago by experts by distinguishing between hazard and disaster. Duryog Nivaran — a South Asian network on disaster risk reduction — argued about two decades ago that hazard is natural, disaster is not. It maintained that disasters are the pending issues of governance and hence cannot be looked at in isolation of mainstream development approaches and systems.
A wide range of research has now established that non-compliance with appropriate and risk-sensitive development frameworks intensifies the frequency of and multiplies the devastation by disasters.
Let’s have a look at the risk-governance framework in Pakistan. The West Pakistan National Calamities Act 1958-59 covers only post-disaster relief measures; there are no provisions for early warning systems, capacity building of the communities and related departments towards disaster prevention.
Disasters cannot be viewed in isolation of development approaches.
The act, apart from being inconclusive on the definition of disaster, also remains silent on the issues of rehabilitation. It enlists flood, famine, locust or any other pest, hailstorm, fire, epidemic or any other calamity which, in the opinion of government, warrants action under this act. The ‘opinion of government’ in this act runs a strong risk of arbitrariness.
According to the National Disaster Management Ordinance 2006 (adopted as an act in 2010) disaster means, “a catastrophe or a calamity in an affected area arising from natural or man-made causes or by accident which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property.” The term ‘substantial’ remains unsubstantiated in this act too. It remains vague on declaration and definition of ‘affected area’.
Currently four federal and five provincial laws on disaster management are in place. There is one national and four provincial commissions that are supposed to act as governing bodies of the national and provincial disaster management authorities. Additionally, district disaster management authorities are required to be established — some districts have notified these on paper without giving any substantial role to regulate disaster risk reduction at the local level.
At the federal level, both the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) are attached with PM Secretariat; however, they have different governing bodies. NDMA is governed by the 16-member National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) headed by the PM, while Erra is governed by a seven-member council also headed by the PM. There is another federal body, the Emergency Relief Cell, attached with the Cabinet Division, which was sidestepped after the 2005 earthquake and a temporary Federal Relief Commission was established and later merged with Erra.
Initially, Erra was established as a project covering nine districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir, but through an act in 2011 it has become a permanent body extending its scope to the whole of Pakistan.
During the 2010 floods, NDMC became irrelevant as the Council of Common Interests took key decisions on compensation and reconstruction strategy. Additionally, another body, the National Oversight Disaster Management Council, was established in August 2010 in a bid to ensure transparency in aid distribution. Damage assessment of the 2010 floods was steered by the provincial governments, while NDMA was sidestepped by the Planning Commission in flood reconstruction and rehabilitation planning and execution.
After the 2008 earthquake in Balochistan the provincial Social Welfare Department took the lead in relief coordination. Awaran was taken over by security forces after the 2013 earthquake. During the IDP crisis in KP in 2010, the role of the PDMA was replaced with the temporary Provincial Emergency Response Unit and the NDMA was bypassed by the federal-level Special Support Group, led by the law-enforcement agencies.
The institutional conflicts between the NDMA and PDMAs have increased in view of contested interpretation of the 18th Amendment.
There exists a long list of disaster-response agencies (in the public and private sectors) which tend to work in silos, sometimes reducing disaster response to a public-relations enterprise. The absence of a coordinated responsibility mechanism of these agencies and organisations adds to the crisis of crisis management.
Existing arrangements lead to a culture of institutional overlaps, accountability deficit, lack of enforcement and administrative inconsistencies in disaster management systems and structures in the country. Unless reformed and corrected, this accumulated institutional crisis of risk governance will continue unleashing multiple disasters in the country.
Byline: Amjad Bhatti
July 29, 2015