The presence of several disaster management authorities at the federal level has resulted in overlapping of services and confusion as to who is responsible for what.
Currently, there are three bodies working on disaster preparedness and management issues: National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Network (NHEPRN) and the Emergency Relief Cell (ERC). NHEPRN works under the health ministry, ERC is overseen by the Cabinet Division, while the NDMA reports to prime minister.
This duplication has led not only to financial resources being allocated to different organisations for the same purpose but has also adversely affected the government’s preparedness and response to emergencies.
These organisations themselves do not know, or have never been told, where one’s mandate ends and the other’s starts.
For example, NDMA was assigned to send aid including medical assistance to Nepal after the recent devastating earthquake there. According to its mandate, however, the authority is neither well-equipped nor responsible for providing medical aid during an emergency.
On the other hand, NHEPRN, established as a policymaking body on health emergencies, fell short of resources when asked by the government to arrange medical aid for the Nepal earthquake victims. It had to turn to non-governmental donors and partners like the World Health Organisation for aid.
NHEPRN Director-General Dr Munir Ahmed Mangrio agrees that three organisations are doing the same thing, and called for their merger. He said instead of each organisation working independently of the other, they should be departments within one organisation.
Mangrio said NHEPRN did not even have a facility to store medical equipment. He said the organisation was responsible to provide 50 per cent of medical aid during a health emergency, but it did not have enough funds to ensure that.
NDMA member Ahmed Kamal too said NHEPRN should be working under the NDMA.
NHEPRN Operations Deputy-Director Dr Sabina Durrani said the network had to follow extensive official procedures and had limited resources at its disposal. “While ERC and NDMA are directly answerable to the prime minister, NHEPRN has to follow long procedures through the health ministry to get its job done, even in case of an emergency,” Durrani said.
She said that NHEPRN had limited funds reserved for providing medical assistance during a health emergency. “More than 78 per cent of our total funds are spent on operational costs of the organisation,” she said.
The total employees at NHEPRN are 47. Documents, however, show that employment-related expenses have increased manifold over the years, leaving the organisation cash-starved in case of a disaster.
Officials at ERC refused to comment when asked about duplication of their responsibilities with those of NDMA or NHEPRN.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.