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The cost of neglect
By: Akseeb Jawed

The level of government preparedness and response greatly determines the extent of suffering of affected populations

Floods in Pakistan have assumed a cyclic pattern since 2010, thus
turning it into an annual catastrophe. Monsoon is a recurring phenomenon
in Pakistan yet the devastating effects of ongoing 2014 flood show that
nothing substantial has been done so far to control this massive
destruction in first place.

The flood continued engulfing thousands of acres of productive lands,
habitats, livestock, and infrastructure of Punjab. More than 200 people
have lost their lives in Northern Punjab as a result of flashfloods and
there is no let up in the number of people getting injured.

This chaos seems like a never-ending storm of unfortunate events as
the flood water has entered Sindh causing more damage to crops and
assets. These episodes are usually followed by aid appeal to
international community and humanitarian organisations. How long will it
go?

Incentives such as international aid greatly help prevention,
mitigation, and damage of natural disasters, even if they can’t affect
the likelihood of rainfall in a specific area or seismic activity along a
particular fault line. There is no controversy in it as there are
political dimension of disaster prevention and this is evident from the
current scenario of Pakistan.

Our government and flood management departments have always been more
focused in the rectification of the after-effects of flood disaster
rather than drafting rationale and effective medium and long-term
strategies to at least mitigate its effects — even though the
meteorological department has forecast heavy monsoon rains with the
warning that high levels of flooding may be expected this year.

As predicted, devastating floods hit Punjab leaving many stranded and
without food. Further downstream, more than 214,000 people have been
evacuated from the affected areas so far, according to National Disaster
Management Authority.

 The severity of damage raises many basic questions about the
country’s resource and flood management strategies. Either the
government is trying its best to rationally deal with the problem or
prolonging the matter for bringing in international aid.

The severity of damage raises many basic questions about the
country’s resource and flood management strategies — if there exist any.
This explains two things; either the elected government is trying its
very best to rationally deal with the problem or merely prolonging the
matter for bringing in international aid and free relief in the country.

This brings attention to the fact that natural disaster, whether it
is flood or earthquake, occurs in a political space. These calamities
are not driven by politics yet they are not totally immune from the
political sphere, particularly in developing countries like Pakistan.
Although events beyond our control trigger a disaster but the level of
government preparedness and response greatly determines the extent of
suffering incurred by affected population.

Around the world, there are some governments like United States of
America, European Industrialised countries and Asian Industrialised
countries prepare well to cope with flood disaster while others like
Pakistan and India doesn’t. The presence of international aid increases
the chances that the government will under-invest to attract foreign
aid.

This opens another Pandora’s box that by bringing free relief to
countries afflicted by natural disasters, international relief
organisations, in a way, effectively reward bad behaviour on the part of
the poor countries’ governments.

Our government care about the social welfare of its citizens but they
also want to maximise government’s influence. Therefore, every year our
elected government may use floods to redistribute power through the
political effect, favouring disaster spending in regions that are
politically aligned with the party in power.

The addition of humanitarian aid in this situation produces a bailout
effect for our government as they may under-invest in disaster
prevention when they are sure they will be bailed out in the event of
disaster.

International organisations are sometimes accused of tolerating
higher levels of misappropriations to deliver urgently needed aid.

These have policy implications for reducing the severity of natural
disasters. First, the international humanitarian community must be
involved in disaster prevention if it is to offer free relief. Second,
whenever possible, flood relief should be provided locally so as to
reduce the significance of the racket and political effects on the
central government.

Third, political development, in the form of more responsive
governments, will reduce the severity of disasters. Fourth, in
particularly problematic areas, governments can be given extra payments
for proper disaster preparation, including establishing and enforcing
efficient regulations.

The presence of international humanitarian organisations dedicated to
the alleviations of sufferings has a dramatic effect on the character,
form, and amount of disaster spending in developing countries. In
Pakistan, disasters particularly floods, have been used as a blunt
policy instrument to target or reward populations and to help a
government so that the calamity can be mitigated with outside effort.

Instead of just focusing on international relief, our governments
should invest in prevention and decentralise flood relief mechanism.

Source : http://tns.thenews.com.pk/the-cost-of-neglect-in-pakistan-floods/#.VB-9JRZFiZR

This article was originally published at:

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.