In-depth: When disaster strikes: the response to the South Asian earthquake
PAKISTAN: Andrew MacLeod, the relief to recovery transition adviser for the UN in Pakistan
NAIROBI, 2 June 2006 (IRIN) - Andrew MacLeod is the relief to recovery transition adviser for the United Nations in Pakistan. He was also the former officer-in-charge of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs during the first three months of emergency relief in Pakistan, having arrived within 24 hours of the earthquake and led the coordination of the UN-led response operation. The following excerpts are from an interview with IRIN in Islamabad in March 2006.
QUESTION: Will the transitions to recovery be swift for the thousands of quake-displaced families in Pakistan?
ANSWER: The last person to leave transitional accommodation after the Kobe earthquake  left in August last year. That’s over nine years after the event in the world’s second most powerful economy. What on earth makes people think people are going to get it done here in the next three years? What a lot of people are saying optimistically is going to happen is just not going to happen. What we should do is lower expectations and then try to exceed them, not raise expectations and miss them. We are going to have people in tents next winter. And landslides will also be an issue: There will be some from the spring melt, and then a lot are expected with the monsoon season[June- August].
Q: How serious is the continuing environmental-risk factor in relation to the earthquake zone?
A: The big question is to what extent are we going to have landslides and mountain slide in the future. We have been having them every single day since the earthquake. To some extent, these ecological events are a natural part of the erosion of mountains in this kind of terrain. But there’s never been anything on this scale before, and there is also a question of resources. This is not a first-world country, so resources are definitely a problem. There have been seismic experts from Switzerland and Japan - with Pakistan experts as well - conducting seismic analysis. We, too, are starting to map where the vulnerabilities are in relation to earth-slides. We are asking ourselves what are we going to do with the series of mini-emergencies that are going to happen. But, largely, we hope they will be of the size and scope for the provincial government to deal with and not in the federal domain.
Q: What are the main challenges facing Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA)?
A: ERRA actually have to manage two transitions: They have to handle relief-to-recovery, and then they have to manage the transition from recovery and reconstruction to development. Because whether the donors pay or not, we all know that the amount of money that goes into the earthquake-affected regions to build hospitals and medical facilities will detract from the money available for the development of health facilities in Punjab, Baluchistan, Karachi and wherever. And one day, the provincial governments are going to wake up to that, and then ERRA is going to have to bring what they are planning under a wider national-development programme.
The idea is not to develop in the affected areas to such a level that goes beyond what was there already - if we want to improve on what was there already, then that has to be part of an overall development programme. Just because an earthquake has hit an area does not that mean that the people of that area have a higher priority than urban slum dwellers in Karachi. Asking the government to deal with these sorts of questions now is too early. They have to focus on getting ERRA to work first. This is a question for two or three years’ time.
Q: Do you trust the Pakistan authorities to handle the recovery well? How do you see your role in the process?
A: Pakistan will do it in Pakistan’s way. I am confident of that. This is a country that can do the recovery quickly. Whether they will do it perfectly - well, of course not. Will they do it as well as another country could? Maybe yes, maybe no. Will there be critics? Yes. Will the human rights groups get upset? Yes. All that we know 100 percent for sure, but the solution that they come up with, I feel, will work within the Pakistani environment. When I say that, I mean currently - under the military-led government. I am not going to use this opportunity, as the International Crisis Group suggests, for the broader political reform. That’s not my job, nor my concern - nor do I think it is my role. Donors and human rights agencies may want to push that agenda. However, I am confident that this earthquake will lead to some degree of political reform in the Pakistani government. It has led - intentionally or not - to some greater degree of decentralisation. Even the fact that they are opening up Kashmir to tourism is a remarkable step forward.
Q: How would you characterise the working relationship between the Pakistani authorities and the international community concerning the earthquake response?
A: What I saw in the relief operation is that we would go to the Pakistani authorities with an idea. They would look at it, they would analyse it, and they would improve it and send the model back to us. We would look at it, improve it a little more and send it back, and they would improve it a bit more. But they drove it, and they drove it better than we could. They couldn’t have driven it as well without our input, and many of the solutions were genuine partnerships of ideas, even if not partnership of implementation. And I think that’s how the reconstruction will have to go. The challenge for many of the NGOs will be to know when to go, to know when their added value comes to an end and let the Pakistanis take the rest on in their own way.