View from Pakistan by CEC Regional Vice-Chair

20 September 2010 | News story

“The enormity of the disaster which affects millions of people should be a test even for well-established governance and disaster management systems,” writes Javed Jabbar, IUCN CEC Regional Vice-Chair for West Asia and the Middle East.

Along the banks of the Indus: Charpoys, bundles of clothes and trunks, little girls and boys, women and men, cows and buffaloes, sheep and goats. By the hundreds. And the thousands.

Refugees settle into three kind of camps. First, spontaneous, self-made roadside camps. Second, where existing structures such as schools, colleges and other buildings are converted into camps. Third, tented settlements specifically erected most visibly by the armed forces. The levels of services available in these three categories can vary significantly. Provision of food, water, shelter, electricity (a luxury!), sanitation, (where, how?) medicines and health care examination by doctors and paramedics.

To some extent, praise and appreciation are more due than they are seen in news media. Coping with a scale and intensity never before experienced in our country’s history, both official systems and social support have responded readily. Government authorities have acted swiftly. Departments of Irrigation, Education, Health, Relief and others are monitoring water levels, management of embankments, conversion of buildings and enclosures into relief camps, supply of food and water, arrangements for sanitation, posting of doctors in camps, and coordination with visiting teams. Efforts are being made to keep pace with excessive demand. Clearly far more efficiency and engagement are needed.

Strengthening Participatory Organization

Several national-level, regional and local public interest organizations and citizens have already reached affected areas. This writer is fortunate to be associated with one such national -level forum, Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), a rights-based grassroots development organization established in 1994 that presently works with about 2000 communities in 77 districts in all four provinces and AJK. SPO’s partners are also present in north Sindh. SPO has been selected by the United Nations to help conduct rapid, accurate need-assessment and deliver relief support. SPO’s website at www.spopk.org tries to provide an updated status of its work with local communities in the affected areas.

Next steps

Immediate prescriptive measures are already well-known. There is a paramount need for the National Disaster Management Authority and its Provincial wings / Relief Commissioners to be given all the resources and equally, the powers required to enforce co-ordination and delivery of the diverse official and non-official efforts being mobilized. At the other end of the spectrum, in the relief camps, particularly those in categories 1 and 2, there is an urgent need to form female and male camp management committees. Through them, hopefully, in place of the recurrent scenes of disorder, strife and confusion, such participative committees may enforce discipline and fairness in access for all persons to the supply of relief goods and services.

Coverage by the electronic news media is timely. Yet it tends to be often one-sided and imbalanced. There is a preference to focus on refugees who have not received any help so far. There is inadequate reportage on numerous examples of courageous, generous effort, being made both by the Government and citizens.

This calamity has profound implications for virtually all aspects of our country. This includes the impact on those people and areas not directly affected at this time by the flood waters, e.g. environment, human health, agriculture, livestock, food, agro industries, education, energy, physical infrastructure, housing, transport, rehabilitation, re-construction and the economy.

Despite the formidable challenge of this catastrophe, it is vital for each Pakistani to retain faith, above all, in our own national capacity to generate the spiritual, emotional and physical resources to face this crisis and, in time, to overcome it.

Javed Jabbar is IUCN Regional Councillor and CEC Regional Vice-Chair for West Asia and the Middle East. He resides in Karachi, Pakistan.


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