Except for few countries, all over the world local authorities have been acknowledged as a key stakeholder to reducing disaster risks and to manage disaster. Pakistan is one of them. As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is committed to empowering local governments to manage the local affairs and to strengthen institutions, it ought to show the political will to end this exception. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) being champion of the provincial devolution is expected to show the same will for grassroots empowerment too.
As a first step there is an urgent need to remove contradictions in public policy on DRR and DRM. But this can’t be done unless legal lacunas are removed between the National Disaster Management Act 2010 and the provincial Local Government Acts. While the former heavily rely on local councils, the later lacks DRR and DRM functions. Moreover, though section 16(i) of the National Disaster Management Act mandates Provincial Disaster Management Authorities to carry out disaster risk management, response and recovery activities, provinces lack their own legislation on DRR and DRM.
Consider the Punjab LG Act. Its chapters VII, VIII, IX and X covers functions of Union Councils, Municipal Committees, District Councils and Metropolitan Corporations, respectively. They contain everything under the sun, including regulating of sign boards and “prevention and removal of encroachments on public ways, streets and places;” but don’t mention a word about the DRR. However, the National Disaster Management Act envisages in Chapter IV establishment of District Disaster Management Authorities in each district headed by chairpersons of district councils/Municipal Corporations. Since, the LG Act was enacted three years after in 2013, it is fair to expect from the architects of the local government bill to study the National Disaster Management Act 2010. Bygone is bygone. The centre and provinces should now start the process to calibrate both the Acts.
Besides amendments to the LG Acts, there is a need to review the National Disaster Management Act 2010 comprehensively. For instance, para 4 of the Act states, “The Commission shall meet as and when necessary and at such time and place as the chairperson may think fit.” This provides huge discretion to the chairperson, that is Prime Minister. Along with many other heads of institutions, all chief ministers, PM of AJK, leader of the opposition in the Senate and the National Assembly are the members of the Commission. A periodic review is essential in order to reducing impact of disasters. No wonder since the formation of the commission reportedly only three meetings have taken place. Provincial Commissions though have been constituted most of them hardly convened any meeting since 2011. I would like to propose at least one meeting in a year of the national commission, two of provincial commissions and four meetings of district commissions. There is a need to create DRR and DRM structures at the lowest tier of local government (union council and village council) as they are the first defenders.
Definition of terminologies in laws carries huge importance. The disaster definition given in the NDM Act seems to be incomplete. Experts hardly agree on definitions. But they seem to show unanimity while defining disaster: “Calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceeds the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources.” Our law defines it as this: “A catastrophe or a calamity in an affected area, arising from natural or man-made or by accident which results in a substantial loss of life or human suffering or damages to, and destruction of property.” Strangely, our law excludes the most crucial aspect of disaster’s definition — is being underlined above. This callous omission could cause serious implications. First, in disasters the affected populations’ ability to cope with the situation diminishes to an extent that they need external assistance. Second, consequently it denies role of the state institutions, including NDMA and PDMAs, to provide help to the survivors. Third, it also refutes civil society organisations’ and international humanitarian actors’ role. Therefore, there is a need to redefine the definition in the NDM Act. Moreover, a section on disaster risk reduction (DRR) need to be included in the Act too as disaster risk reduction is essential to reduce impacts of disasters for both the cash-starved state and the poor disaster-prone people of the country.
Consider. Reportedly Pakistan is ranked among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate changed-caused disaster and it suffered 133 between 1996 and 2015. Since independence, major natural disasters inflicted economic losses worth $29 billion and killed nearly 113,000 people. And according to some estimates, the country needs about $40 billion to cope with the climate change adaptation. Therefore, DRR must be taken seriously.
Since the international community has shown determination by agreeing on the SDGs, the Sendai Framework for DRR, the Paris Agreement and the Grand Bargain, and Pakistan has agreed to these policy instruments it is easier to build consensus amongst stakeholders to building disaster risk reduction structure in Pakistan.
Moreover, the state of Pakistan is obliged to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities to its citizens. Suffice to refer to Articles 3, 25(a) and (b), 37 and 38 of Pakistan’s constitution. Pakistan is also bound to achieve targets of Sendai Framework for DRR (SFDRR) and Sustainable Development Goals. The concept of localisation is pivotal to achieving these goals. And our constitution guarantees localisation too through locally elected representatives. The constitution categorically states devolution of administrative, political and fiscal powers to the elected representatives. Sadly, current LG Acts lack devolution.
Therefore, it is fair to argue that localisation will not take place unless local councils are fully empowered. The good news is that Punjab Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan has said repeatedly that the new LG law would make local councils powerful. This will make the “localisation” possible, and will also make possible to achieve targets of SDGs and SFDRR.
This is not an exhaustive analysis of Pakistan’s laws and public policy on disasters. It is just a small attempt to divert attention of the stakeholders toward the serious gaps and lacunas that undermines our efforts to combat disaster risks and their huge impact on national economy and the people of the country. Adopting the DRR notion equal to the concept of vaccination and immunisation is essential. And this could only happen when the incumbent ruling parties show their political will to reforming the public policy and laws on disasters.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2018.