“Local Governments are Vital to Disaster-Response and Must be Revived Soon” Stakeholders at JI Consultation

Islamabad, 16 September: Participants at a stakeholder dialogue organized by the Jinnah Institute (JI) highlighted critical deficits in coordination in inter-agency relief efforts.
The participants identified many gaps in the role of UNOCHA, the government and the local NGOs in coordinating flood relief with each other. They also urged the government to enhance transparency of relief efforts and to boost the capacity of institutions such as the NDMA so it can deliver on critical relief, rehabilitation  and reconstruction.

Some delegates urged caution in asking for international assistance if all such multilateral relief was in the form of loans. They also regretted the slow international response to Pakistan’s flood appeal, and were unanimous in seeking higher literacy and awareness of local needs by UN and other international relief agencies in the field.

The response by local organizations and spontaneous citizen’s volunteer groups was appreciated but flagged for lack of umbrella coordination as well as for replication of efforts. Participants appreciated the relief efforts of the military, but were quick to point out that only the military is budgeted and resourced with the kind of infrastructure it has to carry out heavy logistical lifting in a national crisis. In many parts of the country, it was observed that there is an alarming re-emergence of banned terrorist outfits attempting to re-invent themselves as relief organizations.

These observations were made at a stakeholder consultation in Islamabad by the JI at a local hotel. Participants from a cross-section of NGOs working on various aspects of flood relief, reconstruction and assessment were invited to share experiences in the field. Representatives from RSPN, Aurat Foundation, NDMA, Heartfile, IFRC, WAF, UNICEF, Sungi, Shirkat Gah, BRAC, UNOCHA and Mercy Corps comprised the round-table chaired by Sherry Rehman, President of the JI. The seminar focused on four broad aspects of flood relief and reconstruction: challenges in initial response, economic assessment, security and governance.

Key observations made by the participants pointed out that the NDMA lacks capacity and institutional support. According to Harris Khalique, an independent consultant for the NDMA, the organization lacked the authority and infrastructure or resources to make and execute decisions. The participants agreed that using the flood disaster as an opportunity to “build back better” would avoid similar mistakes in the future, particularly with regard to illegal embankments on the rivers and substandard construction of roads and bridges, as well deforestation crises.

According to Sania Nishtar of Heartfile, the diversity of affected areas called for local-level responses. Participants urged the government to provide financial and technical support to the District
Disaster Management Authority.

Manzoor Hussain of Mercy Corps said that in places where flood waters had receded, such as KP, reconstruction must immediately start. Unfortunately, according to Zainab Qureshi of BRAC, international donors were still in “relief” mode which may be appropriate for Sindh but was no longer relevant for KP.

Tahira Abdullah, prominent civil society activist said that think tanks such as the JIP are in a unique position to bring experts and stakeholders together to address the floods with a multidisciplinary approach. The JI will conduct stakeholder assessments and feedback of flood coordination.

Sherry Rehman called for reviving local government structures, among other reform efforts in order to service delivery and increase state response to local needs much faster. She also said that the institute
will bring together multiple stakeholders, experts and government representatives on the 23rd September in a conference in Islamabad to organize a first public attempt by a local independent organization to map the scale of the disaster and to discuss challenges ahead, especially to reduce the impact of food insecurity, health crises, IDP rehabilitation, and to turn some challenges into opportunities.