Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review
By Mohammad Hussain Khan
ONCE again the disaster management in Sindh has failed to prevent the devastation of farmland and crops in the lower region of the province, triggered by the recent monsoon rains. The failure of the provincial Disaster Management Authority’s (PDMA) contingency plan indicates that either it is still in the formative phase or apparently no lesson has been learnt from the last summer floods when seven districts on the right bank of River Indus in upper Sindh were badly affected. The conventional approach of relief officials and concerned departments during the relief operation in Tando Mohammad Khan, Badin, Mirpurkhas and Thatta played havoc with crops and people in the area. During the recent monsoon, villages were inundated and katcha houses washed away. The marooned people came out of their submerged villages to take refuge on roadsides. Many landed in the so-called relief camps that offered almost nothing. After a couple of days boats were made available in some areas by law enforcing agencies to rescue the stranded people.
The rains in mid-August have submerged standing cotton, paddy and vegetable crops causing colossal losses to farmers.
During last year’s floods, people did get some time to move to safer areas as floodwaters headed gradually towards their lands and houses. The villagers suffered most in those areas where breaches occurred and the gushing water washed away
everything. But the recent rains in the lower Sindh region, which continued for three days unabated, inundated settlements overnight. Three to four feet of accumulated water made mobility of rural people and livestock difficult.
“We are under full control of the situation and are not seeking assistance from the UN, its partner organisation, for succour,” says PDMA Director-General Pir Bux Jamali, but concedes, “the PDMA will have to review its contingency plan as the disaster caused by breaches in the LBOD in Badin and Mirpurkhas is a new phenomenon.” “We work as an advisory body and coordinate between different departments. If we intervene directly there will be overlapping of work. The DCOs are there who respond to disaster first,” he remarks.
“We have submitted a requisition for funds for capital assets to Sindh government to deal with structural and non-structural requirements. We are open to suggestions in our scheme of things after we get a nod from the Sindh chief minister,” says Jamali.
The district administrations have their own axe to grind when it comes to disaster mitigation. According to the DCO of a rain-hit district even tents have not yet been provided by the PDMA that were promised by the prime minister. How are we supposed to manage things when we are ourselves bogged down? The villages are located wide apart. You need to understand the topography and geography of the area as well. There are no water supply schemes. Health facilities are generally not available even in normal times so these disasters make our people more vulnerable. Relief camps are generally not in good shape which multiplies the miseries of the survivors,” he adds.
According to Jamali, DDMA will have to be formed at the UC and taluka levels where information is to be shared first before responding to problem effectively with the availability of resources. “There are no issues of coordination at all, we are working in collaboration with the Rangers, police and other agencies,” he says.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman Zafar Qadir stresses the need to strengthen the PDMA and DDMAs in Sindh. “There are structural issues faced by the PDMA and DDMAs in the province. Sindh makes an annual allocation of Rs140 million for emergency situations, less than allocations made by Balochistan (Rs3 billion) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Rs1 billion) for this purpose,” says Qadir. He says that he requested the Sindh finance minister to raise the allocations but to no avail. Then there is issue of dual intervention by two departments – PDMA and Relief Commissioner – in Sindh which also affects the working because the nature of work is same but approaches are different, Qadir added. “Resources are to be made available to the PDMA which needs volunteers to work in disaster area after professional training,” he says.
The people in relief camps, on the other hand, confront serious health and civic issues. Supply of cooked food remains irregular. Women especially those expecting and the newborns face great risk of infection in absence of health cover.
The rural population, even otherwise, doesn’t have access to quality health facility. Disaster on a such scale makes them more vulnerable as mobile medical teams only offer symptomatic treatment.
Every district has its own disaster and vulnerability profile and dimension like flash floods, riverine floods, breaches, rains and cyclone. Absence of proper drainage system, brackish subsoil water, equipments for dewatering, prolonged power outage are some irritants that affect relief/rescue work. Resource availability is something very important to mobilise machinery and staff to shift the marooned population. The government has also not been able to rehabilitate the destroyed infrastructure and displaced people in last year’s flash floods.
The global warming and abnormal weather conditions, forecast by environment experts, indicate continuation of such cycle of heavy rains for next couple of years. With the threats of flood in future, the PDMA and DDMA need to be strengthened.
Conventional bureaucratic thinking needs to change.