Children and Disasters – new report


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National Commission on Children and Disasters, 2010 Report to the President and Congress; 192 pp., Oct. 2010. An Exec. Summary is available.

Recommendation #1.2. The President should accelerate the development and implementation of the National Disaster Recovery Framework with an explicit emphasis on addressing the immediate and long-term physical and mental health, education, housing and human services recovery needs of children.

More disaster updates

(1) Behind Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill, Acrimony and Stress. NY Times , Aug. 27. Interesting account of the behind the scenes struggles between BP and the federal government and among the many engineers involved.

(2) Regarding Pakistan, the dimensions of the damage and losses are hard to comprehend.  Two key points about recovery stand out in stark relief: the need to do more than replace infrastructure but in fact to rebuild in a better way.  The need to create and maintain a vision for betterment of society and the nation will be very hard to attain there;  the temptation for a “snap back” to past ways is always strong.  US foreign policy and foreign aid objectives also are in play here.

Pakistan Flood Sets Back Years of Gains on Infrastructure. NY Times.

You have to highlight that the infrastructure all the way from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh is ruined … referring to Pakistan’s northernmost and southernmost provinces. “It will take years to rebuild.”

Nearly 20 million people have been significantly affected, about the population of New York State… The number in urgent need is now about eight million and expected to rise. More than half of them are without shelter. The government’s estimates of the damage are equally grim. More than 5,000 miles of roads and railways have been washed away, along with some 7,000 schools and more than 400 health facilities. Just to build about 500 miles of road in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United States spent $500 million and several years, according to USAID.

And the agency has spent $200 million to rebuild just 56 schools, 19 health facilities and other services since the momentous earthquake in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir in 2005. One estimate …put the total cost of the flood damage at $7.1 billion. That is nearly a fifth of Pakistan’s budget, and it exceeds the total cost of last year’s five-year aid package to Pakistan passed by Congress.

Water and energy were a prime focus of the five-year $7.5 billion American aid package for Pakistan passed by Congress last year. The Obama administration had hoped to use the legislation as the centerpiece of a lasting strategic partnership with Pakistan and to help buttress the economy and Pakistan’s weak government institutions. Now, American officials fear that money will end up being spent just to get Pakistan back to where it was before the “super flood.” The US has already redirected $50 million of the aid package to help with the flood recovery, and the disaster will force a review of all projects that had been planned, Dr. Shah said.

“Priorities will necessarily have to shift and shift so that there is more of a recovery and reconstruction approach than people were thinking just a few months ago….He and other American officials are insisting that the disaster be treated as an opportunity for Pakistan to “leapfrog” ahead and help it build water and energy systems better than what was destroyed. They point to successes that grew out of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, namely the creation of the National Disaster Management Administration, which is now spearheading the government response to the floods. But diplomats said government accountability and reforms in the rule of law would have to accompany the effort and the aid money.“This is going to be very, very difficult, this is a huge scale disaster,” Dr. Shah said. “But we have to continue to be optimistic and look for those opportunities to help Pakistan to use this to build back better.”

Pakistan – concerns about violence and militancy

This past week, several significant reports were issued that deal with the enormous importance of an effective and efficient recovery process in Pakistan.  Three of the best ones I found are:

Floods expose civilian-military divide in Pakistan

Massive flooding in Pakistan appears to be draining support for the already-weak civilian government while boosting the powerful military, a blow to U.S. and domestic hopes for a strong Pakistani democracy capable of undercutting the allure of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Flooding Challenges Pakistan’s Government and the International Community, US Institute of Peace, August 17

Natural disasters are social as well as environmental events. The poor and marginalized members of society suffer the most. Marginalization is one of the root causes of violence and militancy in Pakistan. • As the government of Pakistan responds to the suffering of its people and the damage to the environment and infrastructure, it should seek to provide relief and recovery assistance in ways that contribute to ameliorating marginalization.

Natural Disasters and Insecurity in Pakistan; Introduction and links, via the Homeland Security Digital Library, August 19. Direct link to Congressional Service Report, Security and The Environment in Pakistan. August 3, 2010. Note that this report was published shortly before the massive flooding, yet it warns about numerous natural hazards and other threats that Pakistan faced.  The implications for long-term recovery are highly significant.

More on the flooding in Pakistan

From the Christian Science Monitor, August 19 – Pakistan floods: Why aid is so slow compared to Haiti earthquake.

Pakistan floods have displaced 4 million people, but aid to the country has been at a trickle compared to other catastrophes, such as the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake.

Why America needs to ramp up aid to Pakistan. August 17. Foreign

More people have been affected by Pakistan’s catastrophic floods than any other natural disaster on record — over 20 million and counting. That’s more than were affected by the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and this year’s earthquake in Haiti combined.  As millions of dislocated Pakistanis search for shelter and food and as health conditions deteriorate and disease spreads, the need for an immediate, large-scale humanitarian response is urgent.  And this is just the beginning.  Once the floodwaters subside from Pakistan’s swollen rivers, the task of rebuilding will be staggering – with a price tag in the billions, and lasting for years to come.  The effectiveness of the response to these relief and rebuilding challenges will have serious implications for the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, for the peace and stability of Pakistan and the entire South Asian region, and for U.S. national security.

The Catastrophic Flooding in Pakistan – extent still not clear

Although the flooding has gone on for weeks, somehow the full scale and impact of the catastrophic flooding has not been effectively communicated to the world at large.See Death toll rises from Pakistan flooding, CNN, August 16. In actuality, the numbers of people affected are staggering and the response and recovery are hampered by the continuing flooding.  Some key facts:

  • The death toll from flooding that has ravaged Pakistan for more than two weeks is up to 1,463;
  • More than 895,200 houses have been damaged, and more than 2,000 people have been injured;
  • One-fifth of the country is under water. Roughly 900,000 are homeless as a result of the catastrophe
  • Thousands of towns and villages (estimated at 4,000) have been washed away.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said …that while he has visited sites of natural disasters around the world, he has never seen anything like the devastation created by flooding in Pakistan.
  • He said the disaster is worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 Pakistani earthquake combined.

A thoughtful and comprehensive look at the longer-term impacts, including the stability of the country are examined in this NYTimes article: Floods Could Have Lasting Impact for Pakistan. N.Y. Times. If in fact this flood disaster is greater than the two most recent Asian catastrophic disasters noted above, are the capabilities of the international community sufficient to effectively assist? Add to that concern the political importance of Pakistan to the U.S.  This is a catastrophic disaster that bears careful watching.

International Disasters – some perspectives

While we in the U.S. have been focused on the oil spill and its many ramifications, elsewhere in the world at least three large countries (Russia, China, and Pakistan) have been experiencing record-setting disasters. According to the source ReliefWeb, August 10. Extreme weather fuels debate over global warming, and as noted in a Scottish newspaper, August 10th, Pakistan’s floods to outstrip world’s last three disasters.

The  United Nations is to launch an appeal for the victims of floods in Pakistan, which it warned could affect more people than the world’s last three great disasters combined.  It said the toll could exceed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Two wikis have been set up to facilitate aid and donations for Pakistani victims.  Please help, if you can.

Three Significant New Reports on Federal Recovery Systems

Three new reports out this week (April 13) address some of the fundamental problems of  the current federal recovery system:

(1) Heritage Foundation. Federalizing Disasters Weakens FEMA — and Hurts Americans Hit by Catastrophes. Report # 2398 by M. Mayer and M. DeBosier. This report discusses both response and recovery phase issues.

(2) DHS, Office of the Inspector General. Efficacy of DHS Grant Programs. Criticism of the existing grant programs, attributing some blame to the enabling legislation.

(3) GAO. Disaster Recovery; FEMA’s Long -term Assistance Was Helpful to State and Local Governments but Had Some Limitations. GAO-10-404. March 2010. The full report is 43 pages long. Click here for the one-page summary.

Currently, there is no comprehensive operational coordinating structure to guide the many federal, state, and local entities involved in disaster recovery.”

On a related note, on March 9, 2010 the Congressional Research Service issued a report: FEMA Disaster Cost-Shares: Evolution and Analysis, which discusses the match that state and local governments have to provide when they get a Presidential Disaster Declaration. It covers the history and the reasons for the requirement of matching funds.

The language of the Stafford Act defining cost-shares for the repair, restoration,and replacement of damaged facilities provides that the federal share “shall be not less than 75 percent.”  These provisions have been in effect for over 20 years. While the authority to adjust the cost-share is long standing, the history of FEMA’s administrative adjustments and Congress’legislative actions in this area, are of a more recent vintage.