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Disaster preparedness

Shamil Shams
October 31, 2014

Cyclone Nilofar has lost much of its intensity and is unlikely to cause much damage in the coastal areas along the Arabian Sea, but a lack of disaster preparedness in India and Pakistan has raised many serious questions.

A Pakistani shipyard worker pulls on a wire attached to a motor that will help peel away part of the outer structure of a beached vessel being dismantled in one of the 127 ship-breaking plots in Geddani, some 40Kms west of Karachi (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/GettyImages)
Image: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/GettyImages

From a "severe tropical cyclone," Nilofar abated to "severe" by Friday, October 31. The Arabian Sea storm is moving north-eastwards towards the western Indian state of Gujarat and the southern coastline of Pakistan with a wind speed of 70-80 kilometers per hour. The cyclone is expected make landfall by Friday night.

The Indian authorities had shifted thousands of people out of the way of cyclone by Wednesday, October 29, whereas Pakistan, too, geared up for potential large-scale evacuations.

"We have identified more than 30,000 people who will be shifted from coastal areas to safer places by this evening," M. S. Patel, an official in Gujarat's Kutch district, told the news agency AFP on Wednesday.

Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said it had ordered local officials to prepare for evacuations in villages along the coast. "We have estimated some 50,000 people who might be evacuated if the need arises," said Ikhlaque Qureshi, a PDMA official.

Large waves buffet the coastline ahead of Cyclone Hudhud making expected landfall in Visakhapatnam (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Powerful Cyclone Hudhud slammed into east coast of India last monthImage: Getty Images/AFP/STR

The cyclone's eye will pass around 250 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan's most-populous city with over 18 million people.

"The sea conditions along the Pakistan coast are likely to remain rough to very rough from today (Friday) till Saturday, and the fishermen of Sindh and Balochistan (provinces) are advised to keep their activities suspended," said Aleemul Hassan of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Authorities clueless

But DW Karachi correspondent, Rafat Saeed, says that the authorities were simply not prepared to cope with a potential disaster: "The PDMA is a non-functional body. The issue is not whether Cyclone Nilofar had subsided or not; the main problem is that nobody was ready to deal with a possible devastation."

If there were a massive cyclone, or an earthquake in Karachi, the catastrophe would be of an unimaginable magnitude, because in Pakistan the disaster management body does not exit, Saeed adds.

Gahanwar Brohi of Insan Dost Welfare Organization, a disaster recovery and relief organization, told DW that Pakistan's readiness for natural calamities had slightly improved in the past few years.

"The government is a bit more active than before. But that doesn't mean that it is capable of mitigating the effects of a large-scale disaster," Brohi said, adding that the recent floods in Pakistan's Punjab province proved once again the incompetence and inefficiency of the country's authorities.

Need for better coordination

In September, massive floods ravaged large parts of India and Pakistan. The heavy rain in the Himalayan region caused the swelling of the rivers, ensuing floods that destroyed thousands of houses, roads and fields on their path. According to an Indian official, more than 200 people were killed in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The situation in the Pakistani part of Kashmir and in the Punjab province was not very different. The PDMA put the figure of victims around 280. About two million people were displaced by the floods.

An aerial view taken from an Pakistani air force helicopter shows a flooded area in Multan, Punjab province, September 12, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)
Floods inundated many parts of India and Pakistan in SeptemberImage: Reuters/Z. Bensemra

Murali Krishnan, DW's New Delhi correspondent, says that India did well to evacuate people from coastal areas during the recent Cyclone Hudhud in the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, but more efforts are needed to improve the country's disaster management, recovery and relief programs.

"This year's flashfloods in Kashmir claimed hundreds of lives and caused huge damage to infrastructure and properties. It certainly raised questions about India's disaster preparedness," Krishnan said. "The monsoon showers were expected - they happen every year - but the administration was neglectful like always," he added.

Muzaffar Ahmad, an Indian official, admits that there is a need for capacity building and better coordination to deal with floods and cyclones.

"Our early warning systems are good but our state disaster relief forces are hampered by lack of human resources," Ahmad told DW.

Experts say that Cyclone Nilofar could have wreaked havoc in both India and Pakistan. These are the nature's warnings, they say, but it seems that nobody is ready to pay heed.

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