Slow-onset disasters have unique recovery issues

Indus river and tributaries, data based on The...

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A recent article titled The Special Pain of a Slow Disaster, NY Times, November 10, raises a number of interesting points that I have not seen before.  I will mention two points – the first is lagging assistance to areas suffering from a slow-onset event experience and the second is that during recovery from a slow-onset disaster the downward trend may accelerate.

Researchers have know for years, that a disaster is usually just an interruption in the trajectory of the economy and general viability of an impacted community or region. But this article adds some details about the special problems resulting from a slowly-evolving flooding disaster in Pakistan. Some of the specifics about the Pakistan situation are as follows:

The water accumulated with the passage of time; it went up not in one hour or two hours but in weeks, he said, recalling the disastrous days in July when the Indus River system flooded millions of acres of Pakistani farmland. The flood plunged the deeply troubled nation into a humanitarian crisis that is likely to set back its development two generations.

Worse, help was equally slow in coming, Mr. Tariq said. There was no sudden rush of aid dollars to help flood victims, most of whom lost everything.

Pakistan was left rather alone in the most devastating flood in its history,” he said.

I strongly recommend that you read the entire article because it contains a lot of new information about long-term recovery from a slow-onset disaster.  Perhaps someone will do some research to determine if the same issues and problems have been present during recovery from slow-onset disasters in the U.S.  One more good research topic.

NZ – cited as model of earthquake response and recovery

NZ sets disaster preparedness example, says Clark, NZ Herald, Sept. 16.

Former N.Z. Prime Minister, Helen Clark, praises the national preparedness efforts with minimizing the deaths and injuries in the recent Christchurch/Canterbury Earthquake, especially true when compared with the outcome of the Haiti earthquake of the same magnitude. Ms Clark also commented on the positive benefit of beginning recovery planning quickly.  The ready availability of insurance money for reconstruction is an important feature of the N.Z. system.

If you put in place the systems which anticipate what disaster might strike, then you can act to thwart the worst effects. She was critical of how international aid funding was targeted after large natural disasters like the Haiti quake or the recent Pakistan floods.   While the international community generally provided immediate humanitarian relief, early recovery schemes to help people rebuild were “the least funded part of any international appeal for help.

I think there is an immediate need for a comparative study of recovery in N.Z. and the U.S. , and I plan to engage in one. Please contact me if you are planning to research this topic.

Pakistan – disaster recovery under extreme conditions and great scrutiny

As noted here many times, the recovery process is a complex one and one that is hard to accomplish in the U.S.  When the U.S. participates in the international response to a major to catastrophic disaster in another sovereign nation – especially underdeveloped ones,  such as Haiti or Pakistan — the problems grow almost at a logarythmic  rate.  Added to all of the elements of recovery are issues of morality, strategic significance, and existential concerns.  An opinion piece in the Wash. Post highlights some of these added concerns. Pakistan flood relief is in America’s strategic interest, Sept. 1, 2010.

The challenge for the Obama administration and other governments is to develop new mechanisms — similar to those, perhaps, that the United Nations has devised for rebuilding Haiti after its earthquake in January — that would enable relief and reconstruction with maximum transparency and honesty. If this is done successfully, the Pakistani government and its international allies, the United States included, could gain prestige in the eyes of a skeptical people. The alternative is a vacuum that extreme Islamist groups are already attempting to fill.  The American people must be there when the floodwaters recede. The moral justification is compelling enough. But the strategic rationale is real, too.

A related report, well written and compelling, was issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace, on August 17th, titled: Flooding Challenges Pakistan’s Government and the International Community. It makes a somewhat different case for the U.S. aid to Pakistan, highlighting the link between disaster recovery and peacebuilding.  A notable observation in that report is:

Unfortunately, disaster management priorities are often focused on immediate visible results rather than the less tangible and long-term goals of stable peace, good governance, and sustainable development. Saving lives is undoubtedly essential. At the same time, how disasters are managed can have a long-term impact on the conflict context. Disaster managers must ensure that short-term interventions also carry positive long-term impacts on societies that have already experienced considerable suffering.

Additional article, posted on Sept. 2, is well worth reading.  It deals primarily with the digital media and the mechanics of providing assistance to Pakistan, providing a very interesting contrast with the Haiti catastrophic earthquake earlier this year. See A Month In, Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Stuck at 1.0, in Wired magazine .

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 Policy.com

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.