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). 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.

In addition to the ordinary issues affecting the nation, we face the risk of natural disasters. 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- vulnerable countries. Large scale natural disasters happen frequently and manmade disasters are not rare either, though they usually are not on a large scale because of Pakistan’s poor 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 live under great risk. Across the western side of Pakistan runs the Chaman Fault, which is of high seismic activity. It begins at the coast of Sindh and turns west and then north through Balochistan and Khyber-Paktunkwha and meets with a very complex system of faults in the north of Pakistan. Across the east side of Pakistan runs the Indus River, which begins in Azad Kashmir and runs through the middle of Punjab, where it connects with a network of large rivers that crisscrosses the province, and Sindh, where it enters the ocean. The Indus River regularly overflows and is prone to seeing massive floods. Thus, most of Pakistan is vulnerable to the 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 the air as well if there is bad weather above the flood zone) 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 remains low.

The coast of Pakistan has all the hazards that 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 causing 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 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 tend to 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 started heading 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 not easy.

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.