Disaster, thy name is chaos


How to handle disaster management


“What separates us from the lower animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met”. David Levithan’s statement fits so well to the current acts of terrorism and natural disasters which the world and Pakistan face today. The statement hints at a mindset change, having empathy and from being victim to becoming a participant in a situation. In other words, having flexibility to feel and adapt, reform and unite, and take responsibility in situations of crisis, emergencies or disaster is the key to managing disasters effectively.

Whether it’s a natural disaster or an incident of terrorism like the one in France, chaos follows. RT reported chaos among public as they didn’t know where to go in a world vulnerable to terrorism and though terrorism remains a separate field, yet one cannot ignore the fact that natural disasters now are also non-traditional security threats with terrorism spilling across the borders. The news regarding terrorists in the garb of refugees says it all about how a humanitarian crisis is being perceived as a potential cause of human carnage. This highlights the need to view disasters beyond the traditional terms and cycles of reconstruction, analysing the phenomenon from a human security angle, knitted with preparedness to respond with multi-pronged approaches.

In Pakistan, the brewing crisis of water level falling in Balochistan, over 4,000 dengue patients in twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, collapse of a factory in Lahore due to non compliance of building codes, and military pounding the terrorists, disaster management of 26th October earthquake becomes a complex emergency situation. Though, as usual, military remained a vital partner in relief and rescue operation, a cohesive and an inclusive approach to disaster management becomes a national security imperative for Pakistan. Understanding the current scenario demands a clear identification of roles and mandate of not only the government departments but also of civil society organisations which should adhere to their defined mandates, which is to fill the gap and not demand a replacement of government departments which of course raises eyebrows.

Disasters lead to chaos when a long term disaster management strategy remains at the back burner and new phenomenon emerge to fill the gap. It’s a hard and cruel fact that while disasters destroy lives of some, it opens avenues for others. In absence of a well defined strategy, one would witness parachute disaster experts with proposals to invent the wheel in a chaotic scenario, undermining the already set organisations with new proposals having no correlation to what happened in the past. An indication of lack of knowledge management, a term for effective disaster risk reduction, such attempts not only make the scene muggier but also changes media’s focus from being a partner to running after breaking news, as confused as the masses focusing on governance, corruption and what happened in the past, which dilutes the efforts to rehabilitate and educate the affectees along with bringing a political touch to a humanitarian situation. That is the aftereffect of not taking disaster planning seriously.

The fact remains that none of the civil departments have either the capacity or resources to cope with relief and rescue operations. Keeping in view the security scenario, access of NGOs to northern areas is ruled out which raises the vital question if the army should be made a part of disaster management system in a country marked with complex situation till capacity is built at local level. And if it is a yes, what’s the timeframe then?

The post-26 October scenario highlighted the need for a cohesive disaster management system with inclusion of stakeholders and a need for attitude change at the mass level with vigorous media and educational campaigns. Another important issue to be handled is the inclusion of women and children as major vulnerable groups both in the situation of terrorism and natural disasters. This calls for a women-inclusive policy-level change not only at planning and implementation level, but also at monitoring and evaluation level.

Though the situation demands an overhauling of priorities linking disaster management to human security, it also calls for having a long term clear model to have a cohesive participatory approach or ‘disaster thy name is chaos’ will remain true for years to come. No one refutes the need for capacity building at the local and community level; however, who should transfer knowledge and expertise to local level remains a question, for which an unbiased human resource management and not taking experts as “too heavy for the basket” is required for the sake of those who suffer.