By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal

The Initial Response to flood relief

Devastating flood water is lost in to Arabian Sea, leaving behind ugly scars of socio-economic disruptions which would take years to heal. Now is the time for rehabilitation and reconstruction, which is a painfully long process. Affectees need a healing touch to reconcile with the losses which can not be made up.

However, at the same time, there is a need to reevaluate our initial response to the catastrophic floods. Apart from the quick and timely action by the armed forces, most of our national agencies and institutions were almost in a state of paralysis in the context of initial response. Adequate preparations could have reduced the losses to a great extent.

Failures were many. Starting from the forecasting or strategic warning perspective, complacency resulted in sloppy preparation to generate requisite effort to mobilize appropriate flood fighting mechanism. Advances in metrological forecasting make it possible to make fairly accurate predictions about such impending disasters. Ample data is available from open sources; hence there is no plausible reason for such a lapse. Understandably, all alerting actions are dependent on accurate assessment of the meteorological data. We need to review our forecasting system and procedures; and plug in knowledge and technical gaps so that our assessments are accurate.

Unlike earthquakes, floods come with ample warning to enable preparatory damage reduction and damage prevention actions. Moreover, as flood water moves North to South, the preparatory actions in the southern part of the country should be much better than the Northern areas, for which there is minimum warning. Nevertheless, during the recent spate of floods, flood fighting was equally sloppy in the southern parts of the country.

At policy level, we need to strengthen institutional monitoring and direction. It would be appropriate to set up a Cabinet level Committee to oversee national flood fighting effort. This committee could carryout its first review of the year say in March each year to evaluate meteorological forecasts. Subsequent reviews could be scheduled keeping in view the gravity of the matter.

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There is need to review the mandate of all existing agencies responsible for flood fighting. National Flood Commission, National Disaster Management Authority, Indus River System Authority, Water Department, Irrigation Departments are just few of these organizations. Their mission statements, and assigned roles and tasks need a re-look, in unison, for enhancing coherence and interoperability in a synergic way, while minimizing duplication of effort. Similarly, panic could have been reduced to a great extent if the breaching policy was well tabulated and articulated.

Handling an emergency like massive floods needs organizational reorientation of departments and agencies. Therefore,

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it is necessary that a ‘Flood Fighting Order’ may be proclaimed at such occasions, which should lay down various organizational changes needed to achieve optimum efficiency to combat floods.  This order should specify an elaborate operating procedure giving guidelines for each department and agency. This order should be available with all action entities. Proclamation of this order by the federal government should trigger applicable actions by all departments.

NGOs and Charities are known for playing important part is rescue and relief operations. Therefore, it would be appropriate to integrate their effort into overall national plan. This would help in reducing duplication of effort and even distribution of relief services and aid.

Our experience in disaster management indicates that International search rescue and relief operations take about a week to get into a concrete shape. Therefore, it would be appropriate to harness all available national resources to bear the full brunt for about a week till international aid starts flowing in. This period is critical in terms of ability to reach out to the effectees. Immediate requirement is of food and medicines as well as the ability to reach out to the stranded people.

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Therefore, it is essential that on first indication of floods, logistic chain be activated for arranging adequate stocks of ‘ready to eat’ food packed in floatable packages alongside preventive medicines for water borne diseases. These stocks should be held at decentralized locations to reduce the time consumed in transporting the goods to affectees. Similarly adequate tentage and prefabricated shelters need to be arranged in advance.

As rail road infrastructure is generally damaged by the floods, aircraft becomes the only way of distributing essential commodities; hence there is a need to enhance our airlift capability especially in terms of rotary aircraft. These helicopters should be a part of our national civil aviation outfits for routine commercial usage, which could be acquired for rescue and relief operations, on as required basis. Moreover, there is a need to be self sufficient in speedily setting up temporary bridges and availability of appropriate boats to execute effective initial response.

Principle of centralized control and decentralized execution is best suited for these operations. As the flood water moves from north to south so should the rescue and relief assets.

Implementation of rescue and relief operations is overseen by the provinces; therefore, it is appropriate to review the procedures and practices at provinces’ levels as well, to make the initial response quick and matching to the situation. Some of the actions needing attention are:-

  • Preparation of elaborate plan of action down to locality level, involving comprehensive community participation.
  • Dissemination of flood warning to the public, and mentally preparing them for a timely and orderly evacuation.
  • Arranging preventive medication against waterborne diseases.
  • Earmarking of camp locations and medical facilities for each locality likely to be evacuated. Timely setting up of camps with basic facilities would reduce the panic and bring soothing effect to the affectees.
  • Stocking of ready to eat food, drinking water and medicines.
  • Implementing security measures to safeguard the personal safety and security of property.
  • Requisition of suitable transports for facilitating expeditious evacuation and implementation of relief operations. Arranging alternative means of reaching out to affectees in case of disruption of access by land. 
  • Orderly return of affectees to their places once the flood recedes.
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With political prudence, societal pressure and community participation, adequate measures can be instituted to handle the floods in an orderly manner, with minimum loss of life and property. Ability to put up an efficient initial response would enhance our credibility and prompt early and adequate response from international community. Climate pundits predict frequent recurrence of this type of floods in our region. It’s time to prepare well to combat the floods in future; Monsoon 2011 may not be far away.

Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air War Course, Fellow of Air War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visitng faculty at:

  • PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
  • School of Army Air Defence.
  • Naval War College, Lahore.

Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department).

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