Do political parties take disasters seriously?

Do political parties take disasters seriously?

Pakistan is a disaster-prone country. Floods, earthquakes, landslides, cloud bursting, drought, etc, hit us frequently. We are right now amidst the pandemic and have been severely hit by locust infestation. As if all these calamities are not enough, flood season is approaching fast. Water level in the rivers has started rising under the spell of climate change risking the lives and livelihoods of teeming millions stuck to their banks. We have many a mechanism in place to tackle floods but the crucial thing we lack is the sensitivity of the political parties towards calamities and disasters.
The country suffered massively from super flood disasters (including the unprecedented in 2010) for three consecutive years prior to the 2013 general election, yet not a single substantive statement was inserted by any major party in its 2013 manifesto. Even in February 2008 — just 26 months after the occurrence of the 2005 devastating earthquake, that had shaken the nation to its core — you don’t find any comprehensive promise about DRR in the 2008 election manifestos. Let’s go back a little more in the past. In September 1992, floods had devastated almost one-fifth of our country, including Kashmir. Next year we had general elections. The DRR remained conspicuously absent from the manifestos.Election manifestos of major parties of 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2018 largely look almost similar across parties and across years. While in power, most of them didn’t bother to formulate policies in light of their respective manifestos. Therefore, it may be argued manifestos are being produced merely to fulfill a ritual or a legal requirement. Yet, issuance of manifesto provides a benchmark to make parties accountable. Sadly, neither parties nor analysts produce any serious study in this regard. Moreover, what political parties don’t mention in manifestos should also be searched. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is one such vital omission.
Isn’t it mind-boggling? Especially when one finds that political leaders and legislators are repeatedly busy distributing relief items to the affected people, making promises to protect the disaster-prone people from future calamities and then conveniently forget to add a single paragraph about DRR in the manifestos. Moreover, disasters not just deprive the poor of their meager possessions and livelihoods but also cause massive losses to our GDP. Therefore, DRR should have become a vital pillar of the manifestos of most major parties. Strangely that didn’t happen.
To be fair, it is worth acknowledging that manifestos of most parties do have a section on the environment or on climate change. However, they enhance little or no confidence of the readers. A comparative analysis of manifestos of five major parties also reveals that they are unaware of Pakistan’s commitment under the SDGs 2015-30 and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-30. Mere acknowledging the importance of climate change, water scarcity, environment, clean air, forestation, etc, is not enough. Manifestos must also promise concrete targets too. So that electorates could make them accountable.
Some time ago, I participated in a four-day long global summit on DRR in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, organized by The Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction. I had to flag the issue of the absence of DRR in the manifestos of political parties as one of the major reasons for failing to achieve the ‘paradigm shift from disaster management to DRR’ — the first priority of the 2016 Asian Ministerial Conference on DRR declaration held in New Delhi, India. The AMCDRR also resolved to pursue it ‘with a sense of urgency’. It also committed to ‘strengthen national and local governance of disaster risk reduction to ensure coherence among policies, institutional arrangements across sectors.’
Theoretically we have shifted our policy from ‘disaster response’ to ‘disaster risk reduction’. But policy is implemented selectively. As far as preparedness is concerned, practically we have nothing there. One of the pillars of DRR is the district disaster management authorities. We don’t have any such entity in a single district. Disaster is not going to happen in Islamabad - it takes place in villages. We have wonderful DRR policies and structures at the national and provincial levels, but nothing exists at the local level. We need to invest there. Donors, who are funding many state projects in the DRR space, must also be made accountable. Natural disasters like floods are also a very serious economic issue. Just look at the losses incurred in the 2010 floods. This is a recurring problem, which is left to chance. Since political parties neglect what they promise, then what’s the point of asking them to include another issue like DRR? This seems a pertinent question until it’s satisfactorily answered.