Need to Redefine Disaster Management in Pakistan

Pakistan, a country in the west of Asia, is the world’s sixth most populous nation, with 180 million people. It is divided into four provinces, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Paktunkwha (KPK), and Balochistan, and four territories, Islamabad Capital Territory, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The country of Pakistan is typically placed in South Asia but in terms of its divisions, we can say that Punjab, Sindh, Islamabad, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan are in South Asia and Khyber-Paktunkwha, Balochistan, and FATA are in West Asia. Pakistan is a developing country but it has a strong military and a promising economy. The country has recently turned 70 years old on August 14, 2017. It has the honor of being the very first country to gain independence in the wave of decolonization after World War 2 that ended imperialism all across the world.

Along with this freedom, though, comes a vast multitude of problems that afflicts countries across the world, particularly the developing countries. Pakistan has had more than its share of problems throughout its history and still does. A special category of problems is known as disaster, which are essentially situations in which severe problems are concentrated into single events. The word “disaster” has a lot of meanings, but by the definition concerned here, a disaster is any event in which very bad things happen to a large number of people.
In addition to the ordinary issues that the nation has to deal with on a persistent basis, the people of Pakistan face the risk of numerous kinds of disasters and suffer from their occurrence.

The probability that a disaster will happen is known as risk. A situation that can create disaster, the source of a disaster, is known as a hazard. The word can have a broad meaning. It can refer to a hazardous event or it can refer to the probability of such occurring. When we say that a certain hazard exists in a nation, it means that something there can happen that could lead to disaster. That kind of disaster may occur regularly or it may not have ever occurred before but could still happen. We got to distinguish disasters, the calamity itself that befalls people, from the events that cause them. In fact, when it comes to the basic terminology of the subject we are dealing with, the three words we need to understand are risk, crisis, and disaster. A risk is the ever-present danger of a disaster occurring. A crisis is when an event that could turn into a disaster, a hazardous event, occurs and puts people at imminent risk. A disaster is when people are afflicted by what they were in danger from.

The disasters that have been afflicting Pakistan are severe and numerous and the risks Pakistan faces are high. Pakistan is in fact one of the world’s most disaster- prone countries. Large scale natural disasters happen frequently and man-made disasters are not rare either, though they usually are not on a large scale because of Pakistan’s poorly developed infrastructure. The same societal conditions also play a big factor in the severity of natural disasters. Pakistan’s biggest threats are earthquakes, floods, droughts, famines, epidemics, and cyclones. Other significant hazards are tsunamis, wildfires, urban fires, nuclear plant meltdowns, and landslides. Disasters that occasionally occur, or are likely to occur in Pakistan and harm a significant number of people include heat waves, avalanches, blizzards, dust storms, windstorms, and various kinds of industrial accidents.

An overview of the hazard assessment in Pakistan makes it clear how prone to disasters the nation is and how nearly all Pakistanis, which currently number 190 million people living in a relatively small country, most of them densely packed in smaller areas still, live under great risk. Almost the entire risk consists of natural hazards. These are natural events that have the potential to create disaster for human societies. They are indeed the main cause of disaster all over the world but Pakistan is one of the countries most at risk of natural disasters.

Nature is very active in the territory that graces Pakistan, that is home to such a large population. Such a combination is extremely dangerous, as we shall see here. Across the western side of Pakistan lies the Chaman Fault, which is highly seismically active. From its northern end, it meets with a very complex system of faults in the north of Pakistan and runs down through Khyber-Paktunkwha and then Balochistan, where it turns east toward Sindh and enters the Arabian Sea at the coast there. Across the east side of Pakistan runs the Indus River, which begins, flow-wise, in Azad Kashmir and runs through the western side of Punjab. That province is crisscrossed with a network of large rivers that join the Indus from the east. Smaller rivers from the mountains of the west of Pakistan also flow into the Indus. The greatly enlarged Indus proceeds to run down the middle of Sindh until it enters the ocean. The Indus River regularly overflows and is prone to seeing massive floods, mostly during the summer monsoon.

As a result of this arrangement, most of Pakistan is vulnerable to the world’s two largest natural hazards, earthquakes and floods. The tectonic faults of Pakistan run mostly through areas that are sparsely populated but also isolated, so that the people who are affected by earthquakes, however few in number, suffer badly as it is difficult to get help to them. The rivers run through the most densely inhabited areas of Pakistan so that large proportions of the population of Pakistan tend to be affected by flooding. Flooding tends to make movement over the ground (and often the air as bad weather that causes flooding can also be present with the flooding) impossible, so it is also difficult to get help to flood victims.

Another dichotomy in Pakistan is that the nation is vulnerable to either flooding or drought. Pakistan’s hydrological situation is unusual. The entire country is very arid. Sufficient rainfall to sustain human life comes only during the three months of the summer monsoon (July to September) and also in lesser extent during Winter Disturbances. Only the mountainous areas of Pakistan are kept moist all the time as their altitude allows them to absorb the maximum amount of moisture from the sky. The only other source of water for the nation is the rivers that flow through Pakistan’s territory, an uneven water supply that has only been partially mitigated through millennia of irrigation construction. So Pakistan receives a lot of water at some times and little water at other times and some parts of it have a lot of water and other parts little water. This makes both flooding and drought huge and ever-present hazards. Among other things, this makes famine a major hazard as both drought and flooding tend to cause famine. Due to the precarious base of Pakistan’s agriculture, the food security of the nation is persistently low.

The coast of Pakistan, home to millions of people who almost all are in the bustling megacity of Karachi, has all the hazards that can come with living near the ocean. There is a major subduction fault, the Makran Trench, which is adjacent to the coast. It is in constant danger of rupturing, which could cause a major tsunami, which would severely affect the immediate coastal areas, and an earthquake, which could cause damage further inland. The tsunami danger is compounded by the fact that the seabed off the coast of Pakistan is covered in great depths of loose sediment which could easily slide. They are capable of generating huge tsunamis. Moving from the terrain under the ocean to the sky above, the Arabian Sea has a moderate propensity for cyclone formation. Though cyclones there tend not to be large, the Sea’s funnel shape makes storm surges bigger when they reach Pakistan. The Indus Delta, which is sparsely populated, is highly vulnerable to storm surges and tsunamis because of its low elevation and its network of rivers.

The vast mountainous regions across Pakistan, especially the northern part of the country covered by the massive Hindu Kush-Karakorum-Himalayan mountain ranges, are a world-class disaster hotspot. The mountains, formed by the high-force collision of two tectonic plates, are underlain by a vast system of seismically extremely active fault lines. The monsoon weather systems that come from the east and the disturbances that come from the west often collide with the mountains. When they do so, most of their moisture falls down as rain all at once, creating severe risk for floods which have increased in recent years as the monsoon fronts have shifted their paths towards the mountains more. The floods which occur in mountainous areas are extremely destructive as water moves at great speeds. Along with this comes various gravity related hazards common to mountains. Landslides, rockslides, mudslides, and avalanches happen frequently. Another danger is flooding caused by a slide damming a river. The biggest hazard may be outburst floods caused by the collapse of natural dams, especially glaciers. All these hazards are greatly enabled by the high seismic and hydrological activity. Getting aid to people affected by disasters in the mountainous areas is often a massive difficulty, especially when the disasters in question destroy or block transportation routes.

All these dangers are major problems confronting Pakistan. It is vitally important the nation deals with them. However, coping is something Pakistan is not very good at doing yet. Protecting people from disasters is a broad field known as disaster risk management. The capacity for disaster management in Pakistan is poorly developed, both in lessening the vulnerability of people to hazards and in dealing with disasters that occur. Because of this, the people of Pakistan have suffered badly from disasters. We are not dealing with our risk factor correctly. This could be due to absence of expertise, corruption and ill management of resources.

Pakistan must consider hazards and disasters as among its biggest issues and disaster risk management should be among the nation’s top priorities. In fact, it should be the top priority. Once Pakistan and its people have gained the capability of protecting themselves from and mitigating disasters, there will be a huge improvement in the wellbeing of Pakistanis. The pathway to sustainable empowerment of the nation-state lies here.