Is resilience enough to deal with disasters, emergencies, and crisis?
Hurricane Katrina was one of the turning points not only in the lives of people of Louisiana and New Orleans, but also for the American politics. Within days of the hurricane that hit US on 29th August, 2005, criticism started on delayed evacuation, images of hungry masses flooded the electronic media, and televised interviews of shaken and frustrated politicians were on the air who surely presented a case study of faulted crisis communication. It was also highlighted that following the 9/11 incident the Bush Administration had reduced the budget of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as most of the budget was diverted to counter terrorism, and today analysts say failure to deal with a natural disaster was one of the major reasons of Bush losing the elections. A lesson to be learnt by South Asian countries as to how poor disaster management may lead to political instability, something we all can’t afford.
These days the Mina tragedy, where thousands of lives were lost, has not only turned into a hot debate on disaster management but is taking a political turn in the mighty arena of global politics. That’s the power of disasters in today’s vulnerable world where crisis management, disasters and emergencies are tied together with economic, political preferences, human security and overall resilience of a government.
This last 8th October, ten years after the earthquake that shook Pakistan, media had its eyes focused on what was lost and what has not been achieved, though the fact remains that Pakistan was neither prepared nor had the capacity ten years ago to deal with such a humongous disaster. Over the years, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), an Authority that came into existence after the earthquake, has evolved into an expert organisation which should be utilised in broader framework of disaster management. We know there is hardly any Pakistani who has not felt the impact of crisis, emergency or a disaster in one form or another. Pakistan is vulnerable to natural disasters in the form of earthquakes or recurring floods, health crisis like dengue spreading quickly these days and manmade disasters like energy crisis, terrorism and bomb blasts. Though as a nation Pakistan has the resilience to bounce back in the face of worst natural and manmade disasters, yet a lack of continuity in disaster management policy mainly due to a non inclusive approach makes government as the sole problem solver and responsible for a remedial approach, thus making it more difficult for departments to manage perceptions of affectees.
The resilience, meaning an ability to bounce back to normalcy in the face of a disaster, is directly related to the frequency of disasters and vulnerability of population at risk. In other words, the sustained economic growth and daily life activities have a direct hit from any disaster or crisis, especially when unprepared. Similarly, the resilience to respond to a disaster at the government level is measured in the form of strong governance and planning ahead of a disaster, meaning preparedness for any unforeseen disasters. Pakistan at the moment is highly vulnerable to a unique set of security and disaster threats.
Our armed forces are the first respondents to any natural disaster of a large magnitude due to their well coordinated strategy and expertise, but they are also the front line fighters against terrorism. Imagine an area or a situation where the role of military has to change drastically from fighting the enemy to be the saviour in a natural disaster. That’s what is called a complex emergency. The question is: are we putting too much on our defenders? Another question is: are we well prepared to take charge of a natural disaster in a security zone e.g., IDPS in flood affected areas? If not, then this is the time to think of an inclusive approach to disaster management in Pakistan taking stakeholders like media, academia and disaster management authorities on board along with the armed forces for betterment of the masses.
Keeping in view the peculiar situation of human security, conflict and disaster management all intertwined in hazard areas of Pakistan, there is a strong need not only to introduce disaster management at the higher university level where organisations like ERRA can give input on practical aspects of the field, military can train government human resources for effective response mechanism, and media can be a partner in highlighting the needs and awareness about disaster risk reduction at the mass level.
The latest report on future vulnerability of Pakistan to natural and manmade disasters by the Government of Pakistan indicates that Pakistan is likely to face more natural disasters in the coming years, meaning that a direct impact on the economy and human safety is expected. The major challenge is to bring a mindset change where natural or manmade disaster preparedness is seen as a cost effective futuristic approach. What is needed to be realised is that the impact of crisis and disasters is not only directly related to human security but also has its impact on political, economic and social fabric with long term consequences. Until and unless we all join hands in our field of expertise, share knowledge, promote awareness and utilise the already trained human resources effectively, there will always be fingers raised at us.