Neglected disaster plan deepens Pakistan's climate vulnerability

by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio | @saleemzeal | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 30 September 2014 09:03 GMT

A flood victim wades through a flooded field, past a damaged house following heavy rain in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, Sept. 11, 2014. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

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The country is struggling to cope with its fourth major floods in five years

ISLAMABAD, Sept 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pakistan has yet to implement a national plan to deal with natural disasters, experts say, leaving the country struggling to cope with its fourth major floods in five years.

Hammered out at a meeting of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) in 2012, the ambitious 10-year blueprint for tackling disasters has yet to be approved because the commission has not met since.

The commission, chaired by the prime minister and made up of key government officials, was established to come up with a National Disaster Management Plan. The plan the group produced spells out measures to improve the country's ability to weather natural disasters, including floods.

But the plan "has not been ratified because an NDMC meeting has not been called by the prime minister due to his being over-engaged with political affairs, the deepening energy crisis and the terror wave which continues to afflict the country," said Ahmed Kamal, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority.

That does not mean approval of the disaster management plan is not on the prime minister's priority list, he added, though he declined to give a timeframe.

According to the 2010 National Disaster Management Act, the commission is tasked with meeting as needed, when and where the chairperson decides. It has responsibility for creating policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management, according to the law.

Mahmood Alam, former secretary of the Federal Climate Change Division, said the lack of progress on the plan indicated the government was not taking disaster management - or the need to boost Pakistan's resilience to climate change impacts - seriously enough.

"Whatever plans are implemented for achieving socioeconomic development goals will go down the drain," he warned. "Poverty, hunger, malnutrition and economic crises will deepen further if the government fails to prepare the country for climate change-induced natural disasters."


Shakeel Ahmed Ramay, a climate change policy expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank, said it was time both the National Disaster Management Commission and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose officials also sit on the commission, "arose from their slumber and played their due role".

The NDMA and the Federal Flood Commission are the two main government bodies tasked with tackling floods across the country. But their performance is hampered by severe shortages of financial and human resources, experts say.

According to former NDMA chairman, Zafar Iqbal, high-level managers at the authority are usually bureaucrats whose technical know-how is "narrow". "They are unable to hammer out plans and policies, and implement them," he charged.

Nonetheless, the NDMA has drawn up many policy documents and action plans, including a Monsoon Contingency Plan intended to help the country cope with regular flooding caused by monsoon rains.

In September, Pakistan experienced its fourth major floods in the last five years. The latest disaster, which has affected more than 2.5 million people, casts doubt on the effectiveness of the NDMA's monsoon plan, experts said.

According to NDMA data released on Sept. 29, 360 people have been killed and 646 injured. In addition, 4,066 villages and over 2.4 million acres of crop land have been affected, mostly in Punjab province.


The meteorological department did forecast erratic, heavy rains for the country's northeast in late August. But the government, including the flood commission and the NDMA, did not prepare adequately, charged Arif Mahmood, former director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).

Muhammad Riaz, a chief meteorologist at the PMD, said the forecasts were conveyed to the national, provincial and district authorities, the Federal Water and Power Ministry, the Federal Flood Commission and other relevant government departments.

Riaz said urban flooding was also predicted in the event of heavy rains, particularly in Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi in northern Punjab province.

In a monsoon update issued on Aug. 6, PMD Director-General Hazrat Mir wrote that the monsoon rains were "likely to remain by and large normal" but with a few extreme rainfall events between mid-August and mid-September.

"The government authorities' poor response and neglectful attitude towards such timely warnings has cost the country heavily, leaving hundreds of people dead or injured, and standing crops and public infrastructure devastated," said Jawaid Ali, former director-general of the Federal Climate Change Division.

He expressed concern about the present government's slow implementation of Pakistan's National Climate Change Policy, approved in 2011, blaming this on a lack of political will and funding amid the country's worsening political instability and financial problems.

The main thrust of the climate change policy is to minimise risks from an expected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, including cloudbursts, tropical storms and droughts.

"If the policy is implemented in letter and spirit, it can undoubtedly help improve the country's resilience against natural disasters, particularly floods," said Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, a lead author of the policy and former vice president for the World Meteorological Organization in Asia.

(Reporting by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio; Editing by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering)

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