Disaster management and local governments

Late last month, a mini cyclone hit Peshawar and killed at least 45 people. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif instructed the National Disaster Management Authority to expedite its response to minimise the losses. But response canbt be improved merely by giving instructions. It very often remains proportionate to the pre-emergency preparations. In this regard, the scenes emerging from the affected areas reveal a lot. The authorities canbt hide their omissions by giving the excuse of the suddenness of the calamity or the fact that it was unprecedented. This is a favourite excuse of successive governments. Letbs examine why this keeps on happening and what is to be done about this state of affairs.
Two recent UN-sponsored instruments will largely determine the direction and priorities of public policy globally for the next 15 years b the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Framework. The DRR has been reiterated as an integral part of development as disasters have hugely ruined development work not only worldwide but also at the national level repeatedly. Pakistanbs DRR policy acknowledges the relationship between sustainable development and DRR: bDamages and losses have been massive (2010 floods caused losses amounting to 5.8 per cent of the Pakistani 2009-10 GDP) but could have been largely reduced if disaster risk reduction measures had been incorporated into physical, social and economic development.b
Pakistan has failed miserably in translating its DRR policy into practice, as it has not achieved most targets of the Hyogo Framework for DRR 2005-15 and the Millennium Development Goals. There is no sign of a public debate on DRR or the SDGs because risk reduction has failed to capture the imagination of our political leadership. It is missing from the manifestos of most political parties. Everything under the sun is being mentioned as functions of local governments, including holding of cattle fairs, but not DRR. This is scandalous as local government bills were passed by ruling parties in the provinces whose leaders as prime minister, chief ministers and leaders of opposition of various legislative bodies head or are members of the national/provincial disaster management commissions. How could they pass local government laws that were not in line with the DRR and national public policy?
The reading of local government laws of all provinces and the Disaster Management Act 2010 clearly shows functional discrepancies. While at the national level the disaster management policy framework has shifted to risk reduction, there is hardly anything on DRR in local government laws, which are still relief and response-oriented. Also structurally, there exists a huge gap between the two. The Disaster Management Act 2010, Section 18 demands from beach provincial government to establish a District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) for every districtb. None was established. Interestingly, the provincial local government laws of Sindh and Punjab have no such provision. Moreover, Section 18-2(a) of the Disaster Management Act states that the bhead of the local council at the district level shall be the chairman of the DDMAb. Interestingly, under the Punjab and Sindh Local Government Acts, there will be two elected bodies at the district level b the district council consisting of rural union councils and the district municipal corporations based on the urban union councils of the district. There is no clarity regarding the head of which of these two bodies will be chairing the DDMA.
By the end of 2015, local councils will be functional in all provinces. The ruling parties in all provinces must harmonise local government laws with the Disaster Management Act in light of the National Disaster Management Policy, the Sendai DRR framework and the SDGs. It has been reported that the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) has not met since 2012. The prime minister heads the commission, while all chief ministers, the joint chief of staff, the governors and leaders of opposition in the National Assembly and Senate are its members. As the flood season approaches, the prime minister must convene an overdue meeting of the commission in order to mainstream DRR at the local level and attempt to harmonise local government laws with the Disaster Management Act. Another aspect that needs to be pondered over is the absence of liability clauses in the Act. This is important as culprits behind disasters often go scot-free. The following example explains its necessity. In July 2011, Marvi Memon filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for proceedings to be held against the irrigation secretaries of Punjab and Sindh for committing contempt of court as they had not implemented the flood commissionbs recommendations. At that time, the PPP and the PML-N were in power in the centre and Punjab respectively and Ms Memon was affiliated with neither party. On April 2, she took a somersault and requested that she be allowed to withdraw her petition. The Supreme Court decided to continue hearing the case and directed the federal and provincial governments to submit their reports regarding flood prevention measures. The lesson here is that had liability laws been in place, the culprits would have been punished by now.
The flood season is approaching fast. Since 2010 we have been facing disasters in the form of floods for consecutive years now. This is also the budget-making time. There is a need to build pressure on federal and provincial governments to make DRR a guiding principle of their development policy. The best way forward is to amend local government laws according to the Disaster Management Act and the National Disaster Management Policy. This will not only save our governments from embarrassment but also reduce human and economic losses. This is what wisdom demands.

by Sarwar Bari(CEC Member, Provincial Coordinator NHN Punjab)