The first heavy rains of the 2012 monsoon, which have claimed at least 26 lives in northern Pakistan over the past four days, with torrents sweeping away houses and inundating villages, is raising questions about the effectiveness of preparedness measures.
“This year we had handed over responsibility for disaster management chiefly to the provinces, so that things could be handled quickly and efficiently at the local level. Funds were also released and some 300 persons trained to deal with various situations,” Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told IRIN.
A consultant who helped draw up the disaster management plan for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in Punjab (who preferred anonymity) said an elaborate system had been put in place to manage any crisis, but that implementation was “the task of local administrations and officials”.
The worst affected areas were Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP), Kashmir, and some parts of Punjab Province.
“This is essentially a problem of poor governance, rather than resources,” economic analyst Sikander Lodhi told IRIN. He also said a tendency to “simply hope for the best” rather than make plans affected the manner in which things were handled. “This seems to be a kind of cultural trait, and affects things like fund allocations and their timings. Rather than preparing for the possibility of disaster, government departments prefer to hang on to money until disaster actually strikes,” he said.
Local people interviewed by IRIN tended to agree. Nawaz Khan, whose house was damaged by the latest floods, told IRIN from his village near Mansehra town: “Such disasters happen again and again. We receive no warnings, and generally very little help. It has been the same story in previous years, and there has been no difference at all this year. It just shows how little the government cares about us.”
NDMA acknowledges there is room for improvement. “We do need coordination and cooperation between departments to be improved,” said NDMA spokesman Kamal, noting however that NDMA needed more funds.
“We are meant to respond to emergency situations and are prepared to do so. The officials of the Provincial Emergency Operation Centre have been asked to visit affected areas, and we will definitely respond if the situation worsens,” said the PDMA spokesman in KP, Adnan Khan. He said nine people had died in the province, six of them in Mansehra District, but disagreed that there had been a lack of readiness.
While concerns about preparations for the monsoon have been expressed before, mainly due to resource constraints, Khan said “all required work” had been done.
Questions about Pakistan’s ability to deal with disasters have also been raised in previous years, with aid agencies saying better readiness could save lives and prevent property losses.
Seventeen of the deaths were reportedly recorded in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Met Office has forecast more rains in northern parts of the country.
The Flood Warning Cell Peshawar, in the capital of KP, says moderate to heavy rainfall is expected in Kohat, Bannu, Peshawar, Mardan and Hazara divisions over the coming days and that there could be flash floods of medium to high intensity in the Kabul, Kurram, Gambela and Swat rivers. In Punjab Province, floods are expected in the catchment areas of the Ravi and Chenab rivers, according to a spokesman for the Flood Forecasting Division. Both rivers flow across the north of the province.