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Chairman National Disaster Management Authority, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadri, is quoted in these pages on Thursday describing the floods that might take place again this year because of the calamitous monsoons are expected in the coming few months. The word that was highlighted in association with the disaster Terrible - as if Pakistan did not have a share of errible disasters in the last 6-7 years.
Does it have to take a hat-trick of floods for the citizens and government to realise that lightning can and does strike at the same place more than twice in Pakistan? While the realisation may be hitting in, theres still a lot that needs to be done. In particular, disaster management has to imply a required policy choice on a regular basis, a proactive rather than reactive approach.
Its not as if the NDMA and other disaster management authorities in the country have turned a deaf ear to the warnings and recommendations of international donor organisations and the media. The fact that the authorities are wary of an impending catastrophic monsoon season shows that they are quite concerned about yet another one this year.
The NDMA was created in 2006 to coordinate, implement and monitor disaster management strategies on a national level. Provincial Disaster Management Authorities were also promulgated for more localised efforts.
The bodies have been working towards training, education and awareness, developing early warning systems and building community-level disaster risk management programmes. The vital role of the NDMA in policy-making circles is now being recognised in Pakistan and suggestions of budgetary allocations for disaster risk mitigation are doing the rounds of the local media.
However, the recurrence of the floods in Sindh last year, affecting over 5 million people, made many wonder how much more needed to be done. Private and institutional donors, military personnel, government officials and aid workers were quick to come to the rescue, but quandaries and after-effects of the floods still persist.
Loss of livelihood and shelter, malnutrition, lack of adequate food, sanitation and clean water, continue to deepen disease and poverty even if those affected have been able to return to their villages. "Today, and for many months to come, an estimated one-in-four flood-affected farmers can neither grow their own food nor earn the money to buy what they need," said an Oxfam report on floods in Pakistan in February this year.
Making matters was the slow trickle of donor funding, with the negative media coverage not helping much in eliciting a more enthusiastic donor response. "The Floods 2011 Rapid Response Plan launched by the UN on 18th September, 2011 had received only 47 percent of the requested $357 million by February 10 2012," said the Oxfam report.
Having combated two floods as much as could be possible; there are lessons to be taken home to face the challenges in a better way in case the unfortunate happens again. A better estimate of the financial and human resources required must be made after two consecutive calamities, and policymakers ought to be better prepared to make the necessary allocations as and when needed.
Need-based assistance should be adopted rather than the social and political discrimination that was observed in aid distribution during the previous floods, moreover, greater coordination with local and international agencies and military and government personnel should be established.
But, most important are efforts towards better disaster risk management to prepare communities and disaster management institutions to tackle and prepare for a crisis even before it happens. Flood resistant housing, better training and awareness and a dedicated task force for disaster management, relocation of communities from flood-prone areas, pre-positioning emergency supplies and immunising children beforehand are some of the steps that can be taken this year.
Looking at the tumultuous climatic changes taking place not just in Pakistan but all across the globe today, it is high time it should be recognised and prepared thoroughly to deal with climatic catastrophes in future, and on an ongoing basis.

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