Disaster Profile - Pakistan
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan lies between latitudes 24 and 37 degrees north and longitudes 62 and 75 degrees east covering a total land area of 798, 095 sq km. Pakistan shares its borders with Iran to the west, India in the southeast,
Afghanistan in the northwest, and China in the north. The Arabian Sea lies to its south. Pakistan is a land of great topographic and climatic contrasts. The topography varies from coastal beaches, sandy deserts, plateaus, plains, high mountains to snow-covered peaks. The country is geographically divided into three areas: the northern highlands, the Indus river plains and the Balochistan plateau.
The climate in Pakistan is characterized by low rainfall and extreme variations in temperature. 5.3% of the total land area is classified as range lands, which receive less than 200mm annual rainfall. The southern slopes of the Himalayas and the sub-mountainous tract receive higher rainfall from 760 to 1270 mm. Pakistan has four seasons. The monsoons are between Jul and August.
Vulnerability to Natural Hazards
Pakistan is vulnerable to most natural hazards. It is prone to floods, earthquakes, droughts and cyclonic storms. Being densely populated, the impact of these natural phenomena is widely felt in the county.
Floods: Floods are by far the most frequent hazard and can have devastating effects: those of 1950, 1992 and 1998 caused many deaths (2900,1334 and 1000 respectively). They occur during the monsoon period of July to September due to heavy rain in the plains and the catchments area of the rivers, together with snow melting in the mountains. With the swelling of the rivers heavy flooding occurs causing great destruction to lives and livelihoods. Punjab, North Western Frontier Province and some parts of Sindh are frequently hit by floods. The most recent serious floods, in July 2001, hit NWFP, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. These disrupted the power supply and communications in the capital, and severely damaged infrastructure. The floods caused 226 deaths, damages to 5000 houses and an estimated loss of 1000 cattle. In the NWFP the rains also triggered landslides, which resulted in 15 deaths and large numbers of destroyed hoses.
Drought: The main reason for drought is failure of the monsoon. In recent years drought is reported to have brought extensive damages to Balochistan, Sindh and Southern Punjab where the average annual rainfall is low (200-250 mm). Severe drought periods in 2000 and 2002 affected livelihoods, resulted in human deaths, pushed tens of thousands people to migrate, and killed large numbers of cattle. The drought of 2000 led to 143 deaths and affected 2,200,000 people. In 2002 Tharpakar in Sindh province has been affected by an ongoing severe drought, which requires emergency assistance and food aid.
Earthquakes: Pakistan lies in a seismic belt and therefore suffers from frequent earthquakes of small magnitudes. The devastation can be immense because of the poor quality of buildings. There was a major earthquake in Quetta, Balochistan, in 1935 when the entire city was destroyed, and 30,000-60,000 people perished. The most recent significant earthquake occurred in 2001, in Sindh (which also hit Gujarat in India) resulting in 12 deaths and over 900,000 becoming affected.
Cyclones: Although not a frequent phenomenon, cyclones can cause large-scale damage. The period 1975-2001 records 14 cyclones. The coastal areas of Sindh are most vulnerable. A cyclone on 1965 killed over 1000 people in Sindh, while the most recent cyclone, which hit two districts in Southern Shindh, killed 258 and left over 666,000 affected. Economic losses were severe with over 75,000 houses destroyed and corps and agricultural land inundated.
Wile disaster management is recognized as an important discipline, the institutional structure to support effective disaster management remains limited.
The Emergency Relief Cell (ERC) in the Cabinet Division at he federal level serves as the focal point for disasters. The primary mandate of the ERC, as its title suggests, lies in the area of supplying emergency relief. The Provincial Governments and the local administration provide relief in calamities. The role of the Federal Government is to assist in terms of resource gaps.
There is no disaster management policy except for the National Disaster Plan prepared by ERC, way back in 1974. The plan covers procedures, organizational set-up, the primary possibilities of implementing agencies and standard procedures for the monitoring of disaster operations. The plan encompasses all disaster situations and multiple contingencies.
The ERC coordinate the activities of all the related agencies: federal divisions, provincial governments, semi-governmental, international and national aid giving agencies in the conduct of operation of relief. It also administers the Prime Minister`s Flood Relief Fund, which is maintained at the Federal level. The ERC operates an Emergency Control Room, which coordinates the situation during calamities by liaising with relevant agencies such as the Federal Flood Commission, Meteorological Department, and Provincial Governments.
The ERC maintains a warehouse in the capital, Islamabad, stocking essential non-perishable relief items such as medicines, blankets, clothing and tents. In addition there is a Relief Goods Dispatch Organization located in Karachi. This is responsible for receiving and dispatching all relief goods from foreign and local agencies in the event of a disaster. The ERC also maintains an Aviation Squadron with a fleet of 6 helicopters, whose task is to assist rescue operations and enable officials to visit the affected areas.
The Meteorological Department with its 73 Met Stations spread across the country is the main agency engaged in disaster management. The Department plays a key role in flood forecasting. Seismological stations set up under the Met Department monitor information related to earthquakes.
The Federal Flood Commission is another agency in disaster management. The Commission is responsible for preparing flood protection plans for the country, approval of flood control and protection schemes prepared by provincial governments, preparation of regulations, measures for improving, forecasting and flood warning systems, research for flood control and projection, and maintaining the National Flood Protection Plan.