Why Disaster Management is Important

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It is uncommon for the impact of a natural hazard to grow over a period of weeks but that is what materialised with the Pakistan floods.

According to the United Nations, this disaster was the largest humanitarian disaster in decades, with as many as 20 million people moved from their homes. The death toll of 1,600 looks certain to rise as disease takes hold.

Inevitably, the short term response is to provide food, shelter, hygiene kits and emergency medical care. This will be immediately followed by the provision of basic services, such as the putting in of water purification systems and water treatment plants. These actions are paramount to provide immediate relief to the affected communities , and will help to prevent the onset of disease and an increased loss of life.

In addition to these direct human impacts, the economic losses are considerable and have the potential to leave a unbearable legacy for communities in the affected areas as they look to rebuild their lives. As much as 50 percent of Pakistan has been inundated, causing widespread loss of crops. In some areas, eighty percent of farm livestock reportedly has been lost. The World Bank, which recently announced a 900 million dollar loan for Pakistan, indicates that direct damage was greatest in housing, roads, irrigation and agriculture, but the full size, scope and nature of this disaster is not yet realised.

Due to the scale of the disaster and immediacy of the challenges, attention automatically focuses on short term emergency relief. However, if the negative long term impacts of the disaster are to be diminished, it will be essential for the long term recovery process to begin as soon as possible. Experience from past disasters proves that while emergency relief may last several months, long term resurgence and reconstruction will take up many years and perhaps decades. The recovery process will be difficult and likely beset by a great deal of challenges.

Urgency will be paramount as disasters tend to leave communities far more in danger to future hazards, whether they are of natural or human origin. Despite this need, demand for swiftness but be accompanied by sustainable solutions that are sensitive to the needs of the affected communities, and help to rebuild them socially and economically, as well as physically.

Although local capacity for reconstruction will be inadequate, external actors, whether voluntary or commercial, must work sensitively alongside communities. Government, as well as national and international agencies, must also look to engage local communities, and develop local capacity to build and sustain buildings and infrastructure.

In doing so, communities may become more resilient to the effects of the future hazards, with post-disaster recovery informing pre-disaster risk reduction, and vice versa. The disaster management cycle stresses the ongoing process by which governments, businesses, and civil society plan for and reduce the effect of disasters, react during and immediately following a disaster, and take steps to recover after a disaster has occurred. The significance of this concept is its ability to promote the holistic approach to disaster management as well as to demonstrate the relationship between disasters and development.

Recovery and reconstruction are commonly identified within the post-disaster phase, the period that immediately follows after the occurrence of the disaster.

Once a disaster has happened, the first fear is effective recovery; helping all those affected to recover from the immediate effects of the disaster. Reconstruction involves helping to restore the basic infrastructure and services which the people need so that they can return to the pattern of life which they had before the disaster.

The significance of the ‘transitional phase’, linking immediate recovery and long-term reconstruction, is also stressed. With the recovery of social institutions, the economy and major infrastructure, efforts may shift to longer-term recovery and reconstruction.

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