Why is flood assistance not reaching Pakistan’s destitute? 

Why is flood assistance not reaching Pakistan’s destitute? 

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Flash floods in Pakistan have given rise to numerous health and food security challenges. As relief efforts continue, development partners and private philanthropists are struggling to understand the delays in completing loss and damage assessments. While help is standing by, no single entity is coming forward to provide numbers and approach to delivery of rehabilitation and reconstruction services. The governance structure on-ground is such that a whole-of-the-government approach is not visible. 

For existing and incoming assistance, it is imperative that the stumbling blocks which are not allowing aid to reach its beneficiaries be addressed on a war footing. 

To start with, there is no assessment and no one held accountable for relief goods lost during recurrent rounds of rain and flooding. The digital dashboards to supply information regarding the needs of the people and to track if assistance has reached them in fact went online with much delay. A natural question that arises here is: Why the wait for such a disaster to happen to establish a dashboard? In fact, provinces are now setting up their own dashboards. This points towards another important challenge – resistance across federating units to share data. 

Locals in Swat have said that the conventional early warning systems moved into action after a delay of almost 28 hours. The absence of effective local administration resulted in inexperienced officials moving into the region who had never mitigated unanticipated disasters in challenging terrain. One of the weakest offices at local government levels is that of Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Relief. There is no notified qualification or training mandatory to hold this office. This implies that most of the officials who are working on this position do not have a background in disaster risk management (or what to do when damage of this scale is incurred). Staying on the same point, officials at the local level aren’t empowered to use their own budgets. At the time when floods hit, the head of Upper Swat Development Authority lacked the official powers to approve and modify the budget of his organization. 

Going forward, disaster management requires timely application of responsible risk reduction policies and strategies. 

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

The lack of food supplies and challenges to move necessary edible items in a smooth manner is indicative of how at the local level, there is an absence of buffer stock management. The existence of strong local governments is not in sight, and we will pay for a weak third tier of the government during the next floods too. Previously, some of these administrative gaps were filled by local civil society organizations (CSOs). Many such organizations had developed capacities to bridge the gap between food supply and demand and that too in a very short period once a crisis occurred. However, the current legal and administrative regime in place to regulate CSOs has stifled volunteerism and philanthropic activities. Most CSOs in Pakistan do not have permission to serve in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This also implies that those non-profit organizations (including UN bodies) who are selectively allowed, are not from the local area and lack the expertise to respond fast. They lack social capital and are unable to mobilize communities. 

Geopolitics also came in the way when a destitute population was faced with shortages of medicine and price hikes. After the loss of supplies to floods, it was proposed from several quarters to source food and pharmaceutical items from India and other neighboring countries-- whosoever was in a position to supply them fast and at a reasonable price. This measure was also suggested to keep prices stable for the rest of the country’s population (tomatoes and onions were not available in urban centers for a good two weeks). As expected, geo-politics came in the way and essential supplies including wheat was ordered from far way countries at a higher cost and time duration. Provinces neighboring Afghanistan and Iran could not import food due to the central banks’ overly protective measures which created a shortage of dollars in the open market in both provinces. 

As the health crisis is unfolding and cases of dengue and malaria are on the rise, it brings a severe shortage of doctors, nurses and related staff. This month saw Islamabad’s largest PIMS hospital refusing dengue patients from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on account of a lack of HR and beds. This may not have happened if at a sub-province level capacity of health services, institutions were adequate to meet needs. At PIMS, 796 vacant positions could not be filled during the past two years. The sense of urgency also seems absent in the case of provincial governments and health facilities managed by district administrations. 

Going forward, disaster management requires timely application of responsible risk reduction policies and strategies. This is important to prevent existing and new disaster risk, manage unanticipated pressures on HR and budgets. This aspect can’t be left to the NDMA alone and all federating units will have to come forward with a more structured response to this year’s gaps and challenges. This also includes a more coherent response to climate change. 

- Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). He has served as an adviser to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and has undertaken assignments with the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Finance, Planning, and Commerce Ministries in Pakistan.
Twitter: @vaqarahmed​

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