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Developing Approaches to Disaster Risk Management in Pakistan

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Shahida Arif, Regional Learning Advisor for Pakistan and Bangladesh, Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP), on the recent DEPP conference in Islamabad.

On July 25 2016, a National Conference on Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness was held in Islamabad, Pakistan. The conference was organised by the DEPP Pakistan Learning Hub under the DEPP MEL project, and was attended by a senior delegation from the government of Pakistan, the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, the Secretary General of the Pakistan Red Crescent, and the Head of Office for ECHO (European Humanitarian Aid Operations) and for UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Members of the Start Network, the DEPP projects, academics and local partners also participated.

The conference brought these stakeholders together to share their knowledge and expertise around collaborative approaches to humanitarian capacity building and to learn from each other’s experiences on disaster preparedness, risk reduction and response.

The conference tackled five learning objectives, including improving knowledge and understanding, developing and improving preparedness systems, increasing capacity by nourishing networks, partnerships and coalitions, improving national systems for effective delivery of assistance, and evidence collection all across national, regional and local levels.

Disaster management in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) leads on Disaster Risk Management (DRM) policy for emergency responses. It reports to the National Disaster Management Commission, the apex body responsible for providing political oversight and direction. The Commission is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes representatives from the federal and provincial governments, as well as civil society and the military.

As part of a move to delegate fiscal and policy powers to the provinces, Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) have been established to deliver disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency response at the provincial level. At one level below, District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) aim to act as an interface between PDMAs and local communities.

Provinces have chosen to operate within the framework set by the NDMA, which provides scope for an inclusive DRR process, but the decentralised architecture remains complex and unwieldy.  The focus of the local authorities on emergency response is partly because it is more visible than prevention and generates greater political dividends, whilst ex-post responses are more likely to sustain patronage networks.

However, the environment in Pakistan for increased support for DRR is positive. A National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy was approved in 2013 and is informed by lessons learned from the 2010 and 2011 floods.  According to that policy, three key challenges faced by the government in achieving its DRM objectives are:

  • Poor understanding of natural hazard risks - few and limited risk assessments have been conducted, and no standard assessment methodology exists. 
  • Disaster Risk Reduction is not integrated into development planning – this applies to all levels of planning.
  • Insufficient capacity at all levels of government – although Pakistan has legally decentralised DRM responsibilities to provincial and district levels, the lack of institutional capacity (including at the national level) hinders the effectiveness of implementation plans, policies and strategies. Community level DRM is largely disconnected, and driven by and dependent on external funding.

Another area highlighted is the availability of evidence for what works to help build humanitarian capacity at scale. A strong collaboration among humanitarian actors with the Disaster Management Authorities at national, provincial, district and local levels and the Pakistan Learning Hub could be a starting point.

Recommendations from the National Conference

One of the major areas for improvement highlighted by different speakers at the conference was capacity development. Numerous partners are working in this area; however, a comprehensive and coordinated approach is missing. There is a need for an effective coordination mechanism among humanitarian actors to make sure that humanitarian programming is working at the local and national levels.

The need to invest in humanitarian programming was highlighted by the government, donors, the UN and INGOs.  It was discussed that there is a gap between theory and practice. One of the speakers shared that some responses have relied too heavily on rebuilding infrastructure and not enough on adaptation and preparedness –  such as water and flood management, cropping pattern adjustment, improving early warning systems and enhancing capacities of communities and local NGOs (non governmental organisations).

As a result, a recommendation emerged for the Learning Hub to act as a preparatory forum for better and more focused engagement with the DEPP projects, Start Network and other humanitarian actors. This should involve structuring new ideas into coherent and consistent methods for action, recognising the inherent strengths of each stakeholder at national and local levels and documenting any learning to strengthen the evidence base for humanitarian capacity building in Pakistan.

The conference participants were already aware that collaboration between different actors can increase the impact of their work. Humanitarian actors in Pakistan are seeing evidence of this in the form of avoiding duplication, more efficient use of scarce resources and improved information sharing.

Finally, a positive development from the Conference is the spotlight onthe critical tier of local government, where capacity-building has great potential to enhance the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian preparedness and response, while working together will greatly increase the acceptance and promotion of humanitarian standards and principles.

For more information about the Conference or the DEPP Pakistan Learning Hub please contact Shahida Arif, DEPP Regional Learning Advisor for Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Follow the DEPP Monitoing, Evaluation and Learning Team on Twitter @DEPPMELTeam

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