The relief and development of coastal areas should be the first priority of the government
By Javaid Iqbal
Cyclone Phet, which emerged in the Arabian Sea in the beginning of June, ended near Shahbander and Gharo creek leaving its devastating effects on the shores of Oman and Pakistan. There are a number of lessons for those working in disaster preparedness in Pakistan and South Asia. Disaster preparedness of disaster management agencies for cyclones must be looked into.
Each disaster is somewhat different from the previous one. The cyclone of the 1999 was disastrous for Thatta and Badin. It caused havoc for the local people and it is still alive not just in the memories; its effects are still visible in the lives of the people. Indeed, there was no recovery phase for affected people of that cyclone. The people of Tehsil Jaati, the main affected area, did not receive enough fresh water from the Indus River even in 2005 and their lands were not irrigated properly. Their people and livestock could not get drinking water and was dependent on the saline water. Sindh and Balochistan were hit in July 2007 by Cyclone Yemyin, which killed at least 250 people.
This time the cyclone remained under the watchful eye of the media from the very first day. The government agencies also prepared at their respective levels. But there are evidences that had it not slowed down near Shahbander and had it struck at some other place, as it was a probability, the level of preparedness of our disaster management agencies would have been exposed.
In Badin and Thatta, where the cyclone hit directly, 8,000 houses were damaged. In Gawadar, 3,000 houses have been damaged; half of those houses are fully damaged. But no assessment exercise has been carried out yet of the losses. The UN and the international agencies could not and did not enter the affected areas.
Gwadar city, having a population of 95,000 people is severely affected as the result of the cyclone which hit the Makran coast on the 5th of June, 2010. Some 370mm rain was recorded from June 3 to June 5 in Gawadar while Jewani received 208mm of rain. According to the people of Gwadar, there is no precedence of what they experienced in the recent past. It is a disaster which has affected almost all the districts, particularly five union councils - at least 50 villages and the same number of small hamlets scattered in the area.
People are not receiving compensation for the reconstruction of their houses. About 5,000 houses were destroyed partially and fully. It is a huge number and it will be very difficult to ignore them. But there is a history of the provincial and federal governments, denying people compensation and help, particularly those living in the far-flung areas. This time, the people of Gwadar are once again in need of assistance.
People in Thatta were evacuated from Keti Bander, Kharo Chan, and Jaati. People in district Badin refused to be evacuated by the government agencies. NGOs and urban business communities came out to help in evacuation. Even then very few people were shifted to the camps. Why? Because of the mistrust between the people and government agencies, which has grown over time, and the past experiences of the mismanagement in camps. This time, Left Bank Outfall Drain was full of the sea water and the main drain of the project was already badly damaged. So it was unable to resist the cyclone water. It was an alarming situation.
This is due to non-participatory planning of disaster preparedness at the district level. One can easily blame prevalence of illiteracy and insensitive behaviour of local populations, but this cannot be acceptable to a student of participatory development who has mobilised people.
It is here the 'urge' of participatory planning and disaster preparedness is exposed. It is here we all got miserably knocked out. We could not effectively ensure participation of the local communities in the district disaster management plans.
What else is the disaster preparedness plan? If people do not cooperate at the last moment, what options do we have? It proved to be a bad episode of evacuation in Badin. It should be taken as an eye-opener for the people in the government who have developed district plans and want to start development work in the area.
Thatta and Badin are prone to a number of disasters like cyclones, brackish ground water, sea intrusion and drought conditions as they are the tail enders. The myth of disaster preparedness and operational capabilities of the disaster management high-ups can be easily checked and challenged in these districts at any point in time throughout the year.
Though coordination was apparently good among various government and non-government agencies as NGOs were given a free hand to work with local communities, very few of the agencies could actually move on the ground to reach out to the affected communities. Very few people could reach out to the people of Gwadar.
The Coastal Highway was cut off and the few vehicles sent for the relief goods got stuck in the way. When the C130 landed at the Gwadar airport, it was the second day of rains.
Why we could not prove ourselves as effective disaster managers even at this point in time when the DMAs are operational? The second question is why the disaster management ordinance has not yet been passed from the Assembly and why it has not been adopted by the concerned quarters in the provinces? The country has suffered enough from natural disasters since the establishment of the disaster management authorities. There is need to be more efficient and effective. There is a lot more to be done in Gwadar and Thatta for recovery and development.
Badin and Thatta are still cut off from mainstream development. They need basic amenities of life like water. Lakes of Badin also need fresh water intake for the people to earn their livelihoods. Those affected in Thatta are in a very bad condition. Some 100 villages have been affected.
Similarly, the fishermen of Gwadar also await development. They have lost their boats (though very few own any boat) and need to be treated at par with the other beneficiary groups of Gwadar development.
The question is, if the authorities could not mobilise people for evacuation in case of cyclone which was away by 72 hours, how would they be able to evacuate them in 18-30 minutes? Lack of trust needs to be removed and worked out properly. Otherwise, the NDMA will cease to exist over a period of time.
There is need to minutely assess the damage to life and property in Gwadar, Badin, and Thatta. People are in dire need to receive assistance for recovery and reconstruction. Those who lost a fishing season in the aftermath of the cyclone should receive financial assistance. An institution or a group of institutions is required to maintain funds for the recovery and development of the coastal areas of Pakistan.
The performance of DMAs (NDMA, PDMAs and DDMAs) should be evaluated and action taken accordingly so that there is no such failure in future.
Cyclone contingency plans should be separately developed for coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Three cyclones in a decade in the same area means we need to develop specialised structures (institutions) for the study of cyclones and develop mechanisms and strategies to deal with them. The relief and development of coastal areas should be the first priority of the government.