Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Floods forecasts and Emergency preparedness

In Yesterdays "Dawn" daily,a statement of Mr. Zarrar Aslam,Chairman Flood Commission, was carried and I quote a part of it here:Pakistan Meteorological Department had issued an advisory as early as June 21 about the emerging flood situation and three separate meetings were held at the Armed Forces General Headquarter(GHQ),National Disaster Management Association(NDMA) and the Ministry of Water and Power between June 28 and July 28 had governments and relevant agencies into confidence about possible dangers and preparedness.The PMD had very clearly forecast" very very heavy rainfall" well in time.

Following deductions are obvious from this statement:
Unless the language used by the Flood Commissioner was deliberately kept non-technical for the public," very very heavy rainfall" is too vague and "taking into confidence" too informal.There are two possibilities either the forecast was not taken seriously as it might have been taken as other forecasts such as of our intelligence agencies which routinely forecast trouble in order to save their skin.The other is and which appears to be the most probable is that Disaster Management protocols have yet not been formalized under which clear statements have to be issued in formal and technical language and made public and under which certain management measures on the part of various bodies become mandatory.Where the room for government discretion and vague procedures such as "taking into confidence" is not there.

Public came to know about the floods almost when these finally occurred .Had people been informed they could have taken some measures to protect their life and property.Administrative and social networks and NGOs could have had a premonition and they would have mobilized themselves and thus the loss to life and property could have been minimized and lesser human misery would have been endured.In other countries government and its departments would be sued by the public,corporations and insurance agencies.

Information Minister Mr.Qamaruzzaman Kaira had earlier in a press briefing had also announced that government would undertake a review of what happened and where the problems were.The focal agency in this respect is NDMA which should accept responsibility.It is the job of this agency to suggest and get lacunae removed and developed SOPs not only for its own internal working which it might already have done ,but for over all and administrative machinery .Even an act of Parliament may be required to bring such mandatory SOPs under the ambit of law, minimizing discretion and preventing inaction.

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