Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pakistan's natural disasters - ''Disaster''

We are well accustomed to deaths due to natural disasters such as floods, heatwaves and earthquakes in our country. The latest deaths, with 15 killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have resulted from avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall over the past few days. Neighbouring Afghanistan has suffered even more severely with a hundred people killed after their homes were buried under snow and rescue workers failed to reach remote areas due to poor road conditions. 

In Chitral, a region which like Gilgit-Baltistan has experienced record snowfall, the Shershall village has been worse affected with 10 persons including women and children killed as snow swept away their homes. Nine other people have been injured. In other parts of KP five deaths were reported due to snow or heavy rainfall while in the Noshki region of Balochistan 108 people were left stranded for hours on a marshland area after rain. 

The stories from Afghanistan are very similar with 50 of the deaths occurring in the remote Nooristan province and others across central and northern Afghanistan.
There is a common feature to the deaths that occurred on both sides of the Durand Line. Poor rescue services and warning systems have been a factor with the local nazim for the Shershall village reporting that the only warnings came from an NGO working in the environment sector. Local officials say no relief supplies have reached people still located in the doomed village; the snow covering road routes is a major factor in this. 

Both the provincial and national disaster management authorities say they have activated their teams. In Afghanistan too the lack of services to assist people in peril as a result of climatic conditions has clearly contributed to the high death toll. There is also something else to consider here. Those killed all ranked among the poorest members of society in both countries, many of them lacking adequate shelter to save them from the wrath brought by weather conditions. 

It is also obvious that governments have failed to provide people the safety net that could protect lives by setting up better warning services and arranging for rescue even in what are admittedly difficult conditions. After all snow is not an unusual feature in the north of our own country or in other parts of the world. Better planning and the provision of safer housing could avert the death toll we are seeing at present or the misery of people who remain cut-off in their villages with help unable to reach them even many hours after the disaster occurred.

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