Disaster Prevention and Mitigation

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Dr. Abdus Sattar Abbasi

It was astonishing to notice a thirty-eight years old story in English daily on Monday, August 13, 1984 stating, “Well-to-do families had to go without meals in the posh Defence Society.

The whole area resembles an island, with six to eighteen inches of standing water around each house as well as on the approach roads. Children have not gone to school since Tuesday last.”Another surprise was listening to the CM Sindh during a press conference on July 14, 2022, “We all were on the roads including me, ministers, administrator and other officials to resolve the situation. Day before yesterday when there was a little break in the rain I was out on the roads risking my car to sink just behind the High Court.

However, yesterday entire four to five feet of water was completely drained. In the same manner every part of the city except old city area was clean.” It is this misconception which exposes us to such disastrous situations every year that during the disaster I was there on the ground, I was visible, I was present. It is good that leaders are at the forefront at the time of disaster and crisis but once disaster has unfolded then there is little left to prevent the consequences.

With such a predictable history of urban flooding in Karachi, it is unconceivable that every year our government officials appear on media with lame excuses and blame games. In the same press conference CM Sindh mentioned about heavy rains of 2020 which were more than 400 millimetres, in 2003, 2006, 2009 & 2011 Karachi witnessed almost 300 millimetres of rain in the monsoon, in 2007 & 2010 it was around 400 millimetres. I remember in 1992 I was in Karachi to attend a training program when one day almost everyone in the office was in panic after lunch and wanted to leave the office to reach home safely. We also left office but the driver couldn’t arrive to pick us due to heavy waters on the roads, we decided to walk to the hotel but it was a terrible decision, we made to the hotel with lots of difficulties. Rain-induced flooding killed 21 in Baluchistan last year and 135 died this year so far with hundreds homeless. In the same manner there is a consistent pattern of flooding in Punjab and KPK. According to a report Pakistan has witnessed 20 major floods; in 1950, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2010, 2011, and 2012; we can also include 2016 in the list and 2020 with historic urban flooding of in Karachi.

If a nation is subject to a disaster with such a consistency, then it is indeed the responsibility of government officials to ensure concrete disaster prevention and mitigation mechanism which remains in place to meet any unexpected situation. In case of floods there are always warnings which we notice prior to any incidence. I was in Almaty, Kazakhstan when 2005 earthquake hit Pakistan. Almaty witnessed a major earthquake probably in 1970s. After the earthquake our defence attaché, in a meeting of the community, informed the Pakistani diaspora about the preparation of Kazakhstan for any unexpected earthquake to accommodate the need of entire city and appreciated the government of Kazakhstan for donating to Pakistan state of the art mobile hospital and tents with complete facilities including transportable toilets, which were picked by a special flight of Pakistan International Airline (PIA).

The disaster prevention and mitigation has emerged as a science, it includes preparedness and capacity of response & recovery. Projections about the scale of the disaster keeping in view the historic trends, analysing exposure to the calamity e.g. in case of flooding vulnerable residential areas, underpasses, roads, health facilities, poorly maintained levee system and deferred infrastructure maintenance of more than 50 storm water drains (nalas) of Karachiand Nala Laiin Rawalpindi etc. can help relevant departments to ensure effective and efficient disaster prevention and mitigation mechanism.

According to a report published by the Tulane University Louisiana, New Orleans, “Mitigation and prevention efforts aim to reduce the potential damage and suffering that disaster can cause.Mitigation specifically refers to actions taken that can lessen the severity of a disaster’s impact. Investing in measures that limit hazards which can greatly reduce the burden of disasters. Strategies to protect vulnerable communities and limit hazards include: raising awareness about potential hazards and how to address them, educating the public about how to properly prepare for different types of disaster, installing and strengthening prediction and warning systems and building partnerships between sectors and agencies at the federal, provincial, and local levels to collaborate on mitigation projects.”

We notice same trends over the years specifically in the case of monsoon flooding. We can mark those areas, we can ensure appropriate maintenance for flow of water to the level it has been recorded historically, we can budget required amounts to purchase relevant equipment for road drainage system etc. According to Rodex Network, “The primary purpose of a road drainage system is to remove the water from the road and its surroundings. The road drainage system consists of two parts: dewatering and drainage. Dewatering means the removal of rainwater from the surface of the road. Drainage on the other hand covers all the different infrastructural elements to keep the road structure dry. In Sweden dewatering is further divided into two parts: runoff and dewatering. Runoff covers the water flowing from the surface of the pavement via road shoulders and inner slopes to the ditches. Dewatering covers the collection and transport of water from the surface and structure of the road so that there will be no ponds on the road or in the ditches.”

Tulane University report further suggests, “Disaster readiness calls for contingency planning, advance decisions about managing human and monetary resources, coordinating procedures between different agencies, and organizing logistics.Contingency plans answer three basic questions: What will happen?What will the response be?What will be done ahead of time to prepare?”

I think decision makers can abundantly benefit from global experiences to reduce human sufferings and minimize losses due to persistent natural calamities we notice almost every year in Pakistan.  

The writer is the Associate Professor Management Sciences

Head, Center of Islamic Finance

COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus

drabdussattar@cuilahore.edu.pk