JI Conference on Stabilization Challenges after the Flood

phpThumb_genesfftThe Jinnah Institute held an experts’ conference on 23rd September 2010 in Islamabad to take a macro look at the contours of the disaster caused by the recent flooding in Pakistan. This was one of the first major public attempts by a local independent organization to discuss the damage on the ground, the subsequent impact on local communities, segments of the economy and national security.  The conference brought together a variety of stakeholders to share information and lessons from the field during relief efforts and also suggest a way forward for reconstruction and rehabilitation and turning challenges into opportunities.

The conference brought together representatives from the government, international and local NGOs, independent philanthropists, regulators, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and media persons. The objective was to provide a platform for a variety of stakeholders to share knowledge and identify gaps in service delivery. Expert panelists provided an evaluation of risks to the affected population in coming months, including developmental concerns, susceptibility to violence and abuse, and the spread of extremism in the affected areas.

Manuel Bessler, the Head of UNOCHA provided initial estimates of the disaster while Shandana Khan, CEO of RSPN highlighted the plight of the people in affected areas based on reports from the field. Dr. Riffat Hussain, Chair of the Department of Defense Studies  at Quaid-e-Azam University analyzed the challenges floods will pose to national security and Naeem Mirza, COO of the Aurat Foundation outlined the gaps in the governance of disaster as experienced by affectees in the camps and the challenges faced by relief organizations in the field. Dr.Ishrat Hussain, Dean of the Institute of Business Administration and Dr.Akmal Hussain, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Beaconhouse National University discussed the economic impact of the flood and outlines steps to mitigate the financial challenges faced by the country in the face of this monumental disaster.

Ambassador Robin.L Raphel, Coordinator for U.S. Economic and Development Assistance to Pakistan outlined the concerns and plans of the international community for the way forward in recovery and rehabilitation. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Nadeem Ahmed, Chairman NDMA presented the government’s role in relief efforts and its plans for ensuring greater coordination and efficiency in relief and rehabilitation. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in his Keynote Address at the event reiterated the government’s firm commitment to ensuring rapid and transparent relief to those in need. He welcomed interventions, such as JI’s conference, as a positive initiative by civil society to engage with government and help it identify problems in and improve its service delivery mechanisms.

Participants agreed that a disaster of this unprecedented magnitude and scale required a response that would be beyond the financial and coordination capabilities of even the most advanced governments and economies in the world.  It was noted that under these circumstances, the need to bring the country’s intellectual and physical capital together in a sustained effort is necessary for turning this challenge into an opportunity. It was observed that the absence of an effective central authority for integrated disaster management and the lack of efficient coordination within the foreign and local relief organizations was responsible for the current state of disaster management in the country.

Participants also observed that state-level disaster preparedness measures are heavily tilted towards structural aspects and undermine non structural elements such as the knowledge and capacities of local communities. According to Shandana Khan, CEO of RSPN, the crisis should be dealt with at a grass root level and local people should be involved in the relief effort in a way that builds on their existing knowledge of local conditions and augments it with newer strategies for disaster management.

Manuel Bessler, Country Head of the UNOCHA, stressed the need for distinguishing relief from early recovery. According to Mr. Bessler, the response in Sindh has been relatively weak even though the extent of the devastation there is much greater than the other provinces. The scale of relief efforts in the south therefore must be urgently stepped up before the crisis deepens.

Dr. Akmal Hussain, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Beaconhouse National University, highlighted the flaws in Pakistan’s institutional structure; he opined that institutions and social structures enrich a small groups of elites while depriving the majority of the people of the minimum conditions of civilized life. Dr.Akmal proposed moving away from external economic dependence and stimulating the local economy for sustainable growth as well as an employment guarantee scheme for the affected areas. He stressed the need for providing subsidies to farmers in the form of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides for the Rabbi Crop and creating food security by supporting local agriculture in the affected areas. He urged the creation of an “economic democracy” that would provide opportunities to all citizens of Pakistan rather than just a few and subsequently fuel economic growth in the country through equity.

Ambassador Robin.L Raphel, Advisor for Economic Assistance to Pakistan, commended the people of Pakistan and Pakistan’s civil and military institutions on how well they have responded to this disaster. However, she criticized Pakistan’s bureaucracy as being slow and noted donor concerns about transparency. She also noted that economies all over the world have slowed down after the recession; therefore Pakistan should look towards its own sources to generate revenue to fund the long term recovery process. Ambassador Raphel suggested that the Government should expand its tax base by taxing Pakistan’s elite and also by implementing a special flood tax.

The chief guest of the conference, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, reiterated the Government’s commitment to strengthening democracy in the country and emphasized that political stability is vital for economic stability. Assuring all the participants of transparent utilization of funds, the Prime Minister said the government was reprioritizing its budgetary allocations and expenditures to save money. He thanked the UN, international relief organizations and local stakeholders for their untiring efforts in the disaster management process.

Sherry Rehman, President of the Jinnah Institute, chaired the conference. She stressed the need for mobilizing local resources to fund the relief efforts. To this end, she called for greater cuts in non-development expenditure, a reduction in the size of the cabinet reduction and higher transparency in the governance of disaster. She urged a persistent effort by civil society and government in the coming months and years to maintain public interest in this crisis that will need a sustained effort to convert such a massive challenge into an opportunity and to re-boot some of our governance templates and planning priorities for improved governance and service delivery to all Pakistanis.