EDITORIAL: Every monsoon brings the same spectacle of national and provincial disaster management authorities getting completely overwhelmed by emergencies they predict well ahead of time, and for which they are duly trained, equipped and funded. Yet each year they struggle and fail, and every time the army has to be called in; which is able to remove blockages and take care of the situation without too much apparent trouble.

This is of course just one of many areas where the competence and ability of the civil service is called into question time and again, yet nothing changes.

This time, too, the head of the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) has warned that heavy rains in the upcoming monsoon season might create an “emergency situation”, particularly in Sindh and Punjab. Nobody can forget how as recently as 2022 large parts of the country were submerged when the rainy season coincided with climate change problems like melting glaciers and disrupted life, damaged crops, extracted billions from the economy, and killed as many as two thousand people.

That’s why everybody is expecting the disaster management apparatus to be prepared for all contingencies. Interestingly, this time the NDMA chairman, Lt Gen Inam Haider Malik, has admitted that “our traditional response is reactive, which is often insufficient when a disaster unfolds,” but added that “we aim to enhance this through hybrid reactive and proactive measures for a more comprehensive approach”.

This is encouraging. It shows that mistakes and oversights, and indeed incompetence, have been accepted and solutions have, quite naturally, been found. So far we’ve been told that “NDMA has taken several actions recently… including providing early warnings, conducting trainings, fostering collaborations, and coordinating with provincial authorities”.

The last part is particularly important because surely they would have found that the lack of effective communication/coordination between central and provincial disaster management authorities has been a very big part of the problem. It is shocking that such a vacuum has been allowed to fester for so long, even as the damage and the death toll rise every few years.

The monsoon season is now upon us, so we will see the improved management system in operation soon enough. At stake is not just the operational efficiency of government departments, but people’s lives, livelihoods, homes, and the economy’s basic growth and production pattern.

If there is a way to minimise damage from annual rains and climate change, then we must find it. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy’s basic working model is one that thrives on lethargy and inefficiency, which – not very surprisingly – fails in the face of emergency situations.

Hopefully, this realisation has set in, at least as far as disaster management authorities are concerned. Otherwise, after almost two decades of sub-optimal results, the government will have no option but to revamp the entire structure and install something that finally works.

It’s already clear that Pakistan is among the top countries suffering from climate change and erratic weather patterns. But it’s equally painfully clear that it’s also among those that are least prepared and equipped to deal with these things.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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