Monday, October 17, 2005

Dr Amanat Hussain

Dr Amanat Hussain is an independent management consultant and expert in project & change management. He lives in London. He flew out to volunteer in Pakistan a week after the earthquake. His assessment of the situation is posted below.

Earthquake – An Initial Assessment
Dr Amanat Hussain
17th October 2005

1. Introduction

The initial rescue and then relief operation has been underway for 9 days. The scale of the earthquake, the number of people injured, the inhospitable terrain and the deteriorating weather conditions means that the situation is still in the initial stages of the disaster management operation i.e. rescue and life saving stage.

2. Issues – Complex and Dynamic Environment

The earthquake hit an area that is both rugged and remote. The road infrastructure is generally poor with many communities inaccessible by road even before the earthquake. The area affected is larger than many countries.

The situation on the ground is both complex and dynamic. The remoteness of many of the locations means that new tragedies are coming to light on a daily basis. There are many agencies operating in this environment. These range from the Federal Government, Army, local civil administration, national and international NGOs as well as small teams and individuals. The increasingly bad weather provides an additional dimension to this complex environment, both by increasing the urgency of the rescue/relief operation, and by increasing the access/logistical difficulties it faces.

This tragedy has moved the entire Pakistani nation. There has been a spontaneous mobilisation of people from all parts of the country and all strata of society to provide support, succour and aid to the people affected by the earthquake.

While the Army has been mobilised to provide support in terms of distribution of aid, provision of field medical support and evacuation where necessary, there is still a lack of overall coordination of the efforts made by government agencies, NGOs, and individuals. It seems that there is still no clarity of the scale of impact of the earthquake on some of the communities in the remote locations. There is little assessment of the needs of individual communities and therefore little effort to provide targeted aid. Additionally, there is little visibility of what aid is available or what aid is on route so that it can be distributed effectively.

Muzaffarabad has been all but destroyed, along with all civil administration functions with the result that civil administration in the areas affected, particularly Azad Kashmir, has totally collapsed. There appear to have been no contingency plans to deal with this.

3. Stabilising the Current Relief Effort

To operate in this complex environment requires a shared understanding of an overall disaster management strategy with a tactical implementation of that underpinned by effective organisation and an information management system that is able to provide a real-time picture of the needs of the victims and the availability of the resources to meet these needs.

-Well defined and clearly articulated strategy
-Clear and visible leadership at all levels
-A dedicated team with supporting systems to provide strategic leadership and overall coordination of the effort
-Tactical teams with clear understanding of the strategic direction and with plans for its implementation.
-It appears that very basic information is unavailable to commanders so that they can prioritise and target aid. These information gaps must be addressed.

The immediate need is to stabilise the currently very difficult situation. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

-The pace of the relief effort must increase. Currently these are hampered by:
-Lack transport facilities – The uncoordinated but massive relief effort by the private sector (both individuals & organisations) have choked the road network. The mountain passes are built for light vehicles but have been blocked by huge lorries being used for the relief work
-Inadequate infrastructure
-Inadequate coordination
-There needs to be better and more visible coordination among the agencies that are working in this environment
-There needs to be better intelligence and more complete information so that the relief effort can be better targeted and focused

4. Evacuation of the Survivors

Given the scale of the disaster with some 3 million people made homeless, it is vital the government makes provisions for their survival through the very harsh winter in the affected areas. It would be an unforgivable tragedy if further lives were lost because of lack of foresight and planning.

As many experts have commented, the winters are very harsh in the earthquake affected areas. It seems unlikely that the tents being provisioned will provide sufficient protection against the elements in this harsh climate. Provisions therefore need to be made for the migration of the people from the mountains into either the valleys where winters are less harsh or into other parts of the country. This is a huge logistical task that needs to planned, coordinated and implemented. There is a need to:

-Assign responsibility for this activity. This will need to include the identification of the communities that need to be evacuated, the logistics of the evacuation and well as the development of the infrastructure to receiving the people.
-Scope the extent of this activity i.e.
-Develop estimates as to the number of people affected by this and how many are likely to migrate.
-How long are they likely to be accommodated for?

-Identify target sites to take the evacuees
-Develop infrastructure i.e. water, electricity, sanitation etc
-Develop strategies and plans to mange the social and economic impact on the evacuees and the local communities.
-Develop plans to relocate evacuees to their home areas following the winter, to prevent camps intended to house them for the winter turning into permanent urban slums

5. Supporting the injured

Tens of thousands of people have been injured in the earthquake. Many of these are children who have been evacuated to hospitals outside their areas with no access to family or relative. Indeed many have had their entire families killed in the earthquake. Having been victims of a natural disaster these children are in danger of falling prey to criminal elements who prey on the innocent and the defenceless.

There is a need to develop some strategic thinking about how the future of these children will be managed within either existing or new institutions. There are many NGOs that were already in Pakistan or have arrived in response to the earthquake that may be able to provide support for this activity. The government needs to coordinate all these activities and develop a sustainable plan that will deliver its strategic aims in this area. The activities need to be:

-Develop a long term strategic framework with identified responsibilities and defined criteria for success
-Within the strategic framework, identify roles for the various government & non-government agencies that are lively to contribute to this effort. The effective coordination of these activities will critical to the success of any initiative in this area
-Develop both short term and long term plans that deliver the strategic vision.

Many people trying to find the whereabouts of their injured kith & kin have nowhere to go to have access to information. There is little recorded information about individuals who may have been impacted.

-In the short terms there needs to a significant effort to begin to gather and collate information held either within the various national or international agencies.
-In the longer term there is a need to develop a national capability that can be brought into operation in the event a disaster. This can provide a central point for collecting and collating date and also provide a contact for people looking either to provide or obtain information. There is a need to develop systems that may be used in at times like these to record and collate information about the casualties so that there is a readily available database that can be used to provide the information.

6. Longer Term Assessment

In the longer term there needs to be an exit strategy from the current situation. The current role of the Army in terms of the rescue, relief and rehabilitation needs to taken on by the civil administration. There needs to be a plan and a timescale for handing over to the civil authorities. The AJK government infrastructure has been virtually destroyed in the earthquake. There needs to be an assessment if its capacity and capability and a plan to ensure that it is functioning at an optimal level so that it can play its role in the reconstruction.

The reconstruction activities need to be coordination across many national and international agencies. The long-term redevelopment plan of the whole area impacted by the earthquake needs to be addressed.

7. Some Early Lessons

-There appear not to have been any contingency or disaster recovery plans either by the military or the civil administration. These need to be developed.
-There appear to be no formal plans for handling major crises. The result is a significant delay in the initial response to the disaster.
-One of the key problems has been the lack of information and coordination for the whole effort. A greater focus on developing an integrated and coordinated plan would make a significant contribution to stabilising the situation.
-There is no national capability that can be utilised in the event of a disaster to collect and collate information and provide it to various agencies and members of the public.


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