OCHA Situation Report No.2 2001/07/27
Damage Situation and Response
A Report by Mr. Amjad Bhatti, Journalists Resource Centre
The pace of relief work is not in foot with the urgency faced by the flood-hit areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The Government and relevant donors has yet to ascertain the exact nature and magnitude of damages caused by the rain flood. The rain has proved more fatal and disastrous for the poor and marginalized communities of low lying areas and mud slums of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Various donor agencies and local organizations are working to get permission to acquire some safer location for setting up the temporary relief camps, told a representative of international agency.
Though the stormy water has receded back to Nulla Leh by now, yet the hazards still remained unapprised which can further worsen the conditions of the marooned, displaced and disentitled victims and survivors of twin cities. Post disaster phase in this case has become much more complex which is critically missing an effective coordination among relief and rescue organizations.
Victim communities were found complaining the apathy of civic bodies and were more agitated on sluggish response by the responsible departments. Mr. Haji Zafarullah a general councilor from union council No.1,Rawalpindi complained about the governments inefficient response to meet the immediate needs of the victims of his own area. "There is no potable water available for the displaced and marooned and no body from civic institutions visited his area to provide even any interim relief to the calamity hit people", he confided. Zafarullah told that almost 20 to 25 houses were completely damaged in his ward and people are still waiting for essential food. Other councilors from ward No.5 and 6 respectively raised the same concerns and demanded from government to activate related agencies on war footing bases.
A female representative from an international organization came up with a women-specific issue explaining that women are suffering more because of having no approach to toilets and litreine. Their houses have been completely damaged. She pointed out that sanitation problem in post disaster situation can trigger health hazards to women and children rather more severely.
The most of the damage because of heavy rainfall on Monday occurred in the low-lying but thickly populated areas of Rawaplindi. Residential areas, slums and trading centers of the ancient town were badly effected and life in general came to a complete halt in busy trading outfits. "The stockiest and wholesale dealers dealing in rice, wheat, medicine and tea etc were almost ruined owing to the unprecedented rainfall in upland areas which speedily swept into their godans and basements", told Sohail Mehdi a social activist from Gawalmandi. For traders, he explained, it is double loss since they store various consumable goods on credit to sell it further in the market and now they are deprived of these goods but amount has to be paid back to creditors, anyway.
Responding to a question an official from Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA) admitted the fact that the prime reason of this disaster was the incapacity of sewerage and drainage system, which could not sustain the heavy downpour. On the condition of anonymity he told that town was not planned in accordance with the parameters of town planning particularly in the context of rapidly growing population and business in the interior parts of the city. " Though Nulla Leh is the source of perennial flooding in adjoining areas, yet a strategy can be devised to re-route this water channel and at-risk comminutes can be saved", he added. "Rawalpindi is hilly area but the drainage system was not devised in its geographical context" commented another resident.
Local residents told that Government announced the imminent disaster only in selective areas like Nadeem Colony and Arya Mohalla but other areas were not informed before time. The only gauging point to measure the water level is installed in Gawalmandi, which does not give the true picture for other areas owning to the difference in land location, local residents indicated. When asked about the immediate relief activities they told that boats available for rescue operations were not functional and victims were found chanting slogan against the government, civic institutions and others. Civil Defense workers and scout groups, however, rose to help people surrounded in furious waters, they added. Most of the people removed debris from their shops and houses on their own.
"Cost and quickness of the response is the question", explained a relief worker indicating the possible spread of water born diseases and sanitation-related health hazards for the victims. It is feared that garbage, carcasses of cattle head will become the cause of fatal diseases and people who somehow survived the water assault will be further snared by the water born diseases, if cleanliness and extra medical care is not ensured.
According to some random estimation 29 vehicles are missing, over 60 killed, 500 houses swept away on both sides of Nulla Leh, 1000 houses were damaged, 90 carcasses of cattle removed, 2000 cattle were found missing, All Punjab Chemist Association said that in medicine over Rs 50 crore damage was caused in the Bohar Bazar.
As a matter of fact no reliable damage sheet is available with any department and organization so far, which is the pre-requisite in convening the relief operations. The nature and degrees of damage has to be ascertained and a priority list has to be prepared on the basis of vulnerability matrix, since disaster does not effect all communities equally. It leaves different effects on different groups of people on the basis of given resilience in terms of entitlements, economic opportunities, livelihood option and gender demarcation. It was also observed during a discussion that relief goods are not reaching to the real deserving individuals and communities.
The immediate need thus to look at recent disaster is not as mere an event but as a process which involves various cross linkages ranging from town planning, sewerage and drainage system to the capacity of communities to withstand climatic fluctuation. Experts say that natural hazards only become disasters when people at-risk are socially and economically vulnerable, not being able to cope with such calamities. Recent studies on disaster mitigation suggest that the best strategy to reduce the risk of such disasters and to avoid the losses of life, land, and livelihood is to invest more in preparedness rather in emergency relief itself.
A group working on consumer rights maintained that the immediate response to such a chronic disaster area should not be limited to emergency relief. Rather it must expand to rehabilitation of the disaster-hit people in a manner that they get a fair deal. He further stressed that the disaster work needs to be linked with the issues of civil rights for this is the only way to avoid such situations in future. He said that if people are aware and trained in engaging concerned civic agencies and relevant line departments such disasters can be pre-empted to a greater extent. Orientation of at-risk communities to watch and guard their interests in a rights-based mode can prove a major break through to deal with such chronic disaster-prone areas like Nullah Leh, which becomes hazardous largely due to the inefficacy or corruption of the relevant government agencies.
OCHA Situation Report No.1 2001/07/25
Situation and Damage
Record rains and flash floods kill 103 in Pakistan