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Once again a national disaster in the shape of massive flooding has wreaked havoc across much of Pakistan and once again the role of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and that of Provincial and federal governments in their readiness and mitigating the sufferings of the affected people is being widely questioned.

Heavy rains since mid-June have triggered flash floods, killing more than 903 and rendering 50,000 people homeless. Thousands whose homes were swept away now live in tents, miles away from their inundated villages and towns. Families struggled to bury their loved ones as local graveyards were also inundated by floodwaters.

Sherry Rehman, the federal minister of climate change, tweeted that local authorities are unable to cope with the challenge on their own and appealed to the world community for help. “In recent decades, we never witnessed such an unusually heavy downpour in Pakistan,” said scientist Shahla Gondal, adding that authorities are ill-equipped and “do not know how to tackle flooding disasters “.

Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif, too, issued an appeal urging philanthropists and international donors to come to Pakistan and witness for themselves the suffering of people and help flood-affected areas. The PM announced distribution of Rs 5 billion as relief for the affected people.

The government’s response to national calamities has now developed into a routine pattern; according to which, Chief Ministers (CMs) and high government functionaries take aerial views of the affected areas, announce grant of relief packages, plead to the world nations for help and call upon philanthropist and global donors for donations. Much of this is cosmetics and of little help to the affectees. It only severely undermines the nation’s respect and competence in the eyes of the world.

The relief of Rs 5 billion is a meager sum in view of the fact that people have lost their homes, livestock, standing crops ready for harvest and above all over 900 near and dear ones. This is no small number and no small loss.

Moreover, as to how much of the relief package and donor funding shall filter down to the real affectees is always questionable. Time and again pledges are made to make good the flaws in the system to prevent future loss of lives and property but time and again it is the same story narrated to pacify the nation.

The country’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was formed in 2007 to formulate and implement the policies related to the crisis management and relief work carried out in disaster-stricken areas. The chairman of NDMA directly reports to the Prime Minister of the country. The core operational scope and duties of NDMA include:

implement, coordinate and monitor all institutions at the national level that are volunteering for the management and provision of resources amid emergency situations; prepare plans and policies for disaster management both at federal and provincial levels in line with the NDMA guidelines; collaborate with international organisations in humanitarian and research works, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Engineering Council (WEC) and multiple welfare programmes run by the United Nations carry out research and identify regions around the country prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and cyclones; send out alerts in the form of SMS notifications and brief the media about an approaching disaster and rescue operations that usually follow; and provide technical assistance to the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs).

To what extent the NDMA has honoured its mandate can be best testified by those who have suffered. The wide coverage provided by the media throws some light on the effectiveness of NDMA and the governments in mitigating people’s sufferings. All is definitely not well and much is left to be desired out of NDMA and the governments.

People are seen marooned in batches in the midst of flood water all around, pleading since days for food, water and shelter. They complain that they were taken by surprise with no warning and were left with no time to save their livestock and belongings. For them all has been lost. No doubt the armed forces have done a good job in rescuing the people to safety.

Floods will have severe consequences on the already fragile economy of the country and inflation. There will be shortages of farm produce and their prices will sky-rocket. The cultivation of next crop is doubtful and the rice export target of $ 2 billion does not look achievable.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Farhat Ali

The writer is a former President, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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