Brief History of Disasters and Its Management in Pakistan

From times before partition, the areas of Pakistan have seen more than its fair share of devastating disasters i.e., earthquakes, tsunami, droughts, floods, landslides and avalanches. Most devastating of these disasters to affect Pakistan (pre-partition) was the 1935 Quetta Earthquake which completely destroyed the old city of Quetta and approximately killed 60,000 people, followed by 1944 Cyclone which hit the coast of Karachi leaving 20,000 people homeless in its wake, and the 1945 Makran Tsunami which killed an estimated 4,000 people. After Independence, Pakistan, as a new state, made a great deal of progress, establishing its Civil Defence Service which had a large and varied mandate, including aspects of disaster management. Over the years, Pakistan has progressed greatly in its capacity to mitigate and respond to disaster situations. 

History of Major Disasters in Pakistan
As explained briefly, Pakistan has seen many disasters even before partition and after Independence in 1947. A brief overview of the major disasters is given below: 
•    1935 Quetta Earthquake. It took place on May 31 at 0233 hours in Quetta. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.7 and killed approximately 60,000.
•   1944 Karachi Cyclone. On July 27 a powerful cyclone made landfall at Karachi, caused large-scale damages and left approximately 20,000 people homeless.
•    1945 Makran Tsunami. A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 struck the Makran Coast near Pasni, the subsequent tsunami with waves as high as 15 metres struck the coastline of Pakistan at Pasni, Gwadar, Ormara, Karachi and Keti Bandar. It is estimated that that tsunami killed as many as 4,000 people.
•    1950 Punjab Floods. Approximately 2,190 lives were lost, 10,000 villages destroyed and 900,000 people were left homeless when River Ravi flooded, bursting its banks. The city of Lahore was the worst affected.
•   1964 Indus Valley Cyclone. A powerful cyclone made landfall along the Sindh coast on June 12 causing massive damages, with 450 casualties and 400,000 people were left homeless.
•  1965 Karachi Cyclone. On December 15, the deadliest cyclone in Pakistan’s record hit Karachi, leading to the death of estimated 10,000 people and left numerous homeless.
•   1973 Floods. The floods began on August 8 and deaths of people were reported from Sialkot and Gujranwala. Many villages of Lahore and Wazirabad were inundated on August 11. Indus flood waters entered Larkana on August 21, and suburban areas of Sadiqabad came under water on September 2. Massive losses and damages were reported. The floods affected more than 4.8 million people.
•   1974 Hunza Earthquake. On December 28, an earthquake with the magnitude 6.2 struck Hunza Valley at 1211 hours. The effects of the earthquake were felt throughout the northern half of Pakistan. It approximately killed 5,300 people, injured 17,000 and affected 97,000. Its destructive effects completely destroyed the town of Pattan in North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
•    1992 Floods. The 1992 floods came in September due to torrential rains. Flood warning was issued on September 12. River Jhelum witnessed the flood at its peak on September 14 and inundated many villages. High flood situation was witnessed in rivers and water flow had to be diverted by way of breaches in an embankment to save the city of Multan on September 15 and breaches were also made on September 18 to save Punjnad Headworks. Approximately 1,400 people were killed and 12 million people were affected by the floods.
•   1993 Sindh Cyclone. On November 16 a cyclone which moved into Sindh from Indian Gujarat started dissipating near the Sindh-Gujarat border. However, it caused massive rainfall and flooding in Karachi, Thatta and Badin, killing 609 and displacing 200,000 persons.
•   1998-2002 Pakistan Drought. Considered the worst drought in Pakistan’s history, it affected more than 2 million people throughout the country.
•  2005 Kashmir Earthquake. The single most deadly earthquake – 7.6 on the Richter Scale – to hit the country, caused massive damages to areas in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Islamabad Capital Territory. The earthquake approximately killed 73,338 people, injured 128,304 and affected 3.5 million causing damages and losses worth billions of dollars.
•  2007 Cyclone Yemyin. At least 730 fatalities occurred as a result of flash floods triggered by Cyclone Yemyin, which struck coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan in June. Approximately 350,000 people were displaced, 2.5 million people were affected and more than two million livestock perished.
•  2010 Pakistan Super Floods. The single worst instance of flooding to affect Pakistan which started on July 22. The floods affected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, causing approximately 1,985 deaths, injuring 2,946 persons, affecting 20 million people and leading to over 10 billion dollars worth of damages and losses.
•  2010 Attabad Lake Landslide. Attabad village in District Hunza of Gilgit-Baltistan was declared hazardous by NDMA in September 2009 based on a study undertaken by Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP). 103 families were evacuated prior to the incident. On January 4, a massive landslide blocked the natural flow of River Hunza leading to the permanent creation of Attabad Lake.
2011 Sindh Floods. Due to unprecedented rainfall in Sindh over a period of 4 weeks in August, approximately 27,581 km² area was inundated. As a result, 516 lives were lost and 9.3 million people were affected.
• 2015 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Earthquake. On October 26 at 1409 hours an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Hindu Kush Mountains causing large scale losses and damages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (now part of KP). The earthquake approximately killed 272 people, injured 853 and destroyed 96,047 houses.
2019 Mirpur Earthquake. On September 24 at 1601 hours a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Districts Mirpur and Bhimber in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and District Jhelum in Punjab causing heavy damages, killing 39 persons and injuring 746 persons. Within hours of the earthquake, Disaster Management Authorities (DMAs) mobilised their resources and both civil and military rescue teams were on ground to conduct rescue operations. Furthermore, NDMA mobilised relief goods within one hour and first shipments reached the affected areas in three hours and were handed over to district administration for prompt distribution in the area. As of October 3, the Government of Pakistan, Pakistan Red Crescent Society and NGOs/CSOs have provided 10,413 tents, 11,200 blankets, 5,476 ration packs, 60,333 litres of drinking water as well other relief items. Currently, the government is undertaking damages assessment to ascertain the extent of damage to public and private property.
Institutional Framework
Since Independence, various legislations and institutional bodies were promulgated/established. Below is a brief rundown of these important milestones:
•   The Civil Defence Act 1952 was passed to aid civil populace in defense of any form of hostile act as well as any calamity or disaster situation. This Act has been amended over time in view of national requirements.  
•  The Calamities Act 1958 was mainly focused on organizing emergency response (maintenance and restoration of order in areas affected by calamities). This Act was later amended when the four provinces were created in 1971. 
•   Emergency Relief Cell (ERC) was created within the Cabinet Division in 1971 and was responsible for disaster relief at national level. It provided assistance in cash and kind to supplement the resources of the provincial governments in event of major disasters. ERC was merged with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2015.
•    Federal Flood Commission (FFC) was established in 1977 in the aftermath of the 1973 and 1976 floods which wreaked havoc throughout the country. FFC was mandated to help coordinate flood prevention measures at the national level.
•  National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) was established in July 1999 under Anti-Terrorist Act in the Ministry of Interior to coordinate with Provincial Crisis Management Cell and to collect information regarding various emergencies in the country.
• Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (ERRA) Ordinance 2005 and Federal Relief Commission was passed to establish an authority to coordinate the recovery and rehabilitation of areas affected by the devastating 2005 Kashmir Earthquake. The ordinance was later passed as an Act in 2011.
•  National Disaster Management Ordinance 2006 was promulgated and resultantly, NDMA was established in 2007 as a lead agency at federal level to implement, coordinate and monitor the whole spectrum of disaster management including prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, reconstruction and rehabilitation programs. The Ordinance was later passed as an Act in 2010.
Organisation of NDMA
As per the NDMA Act 2010, the organization is headed by a Chairman while it has three members heading different wings. The Chairman also acts as an ex officio Secretary of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) which is chaired by Prime Minister of Pakistan and NDMA serves as a Secretariat of NDMC.
NDMA’s Mandate as per NDMA Act 2010
NDMA, the executive arm of NDMC, is assigned the following roles and responsibilities as per Article 9 of NDMA Act 2010:
• Act as the implementing, coordinating and monitoring body for disaster management.
•   Prepare the National Plan to be approved by the National Commission.
• Implement, coordinate and monitor the implementation of the national policy. 
• Lay down guidelines for preparing disaster management plans by different Ministries or Departments and the Provincial Authorities.
• Provide necessary technical assistance to the Provincial Governments and the Provincial Authorities for preparing their disaster management plans in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the National Commission.
•    Coordinate response in the event of any threatening disaster situation or disaster.
•   Lay down guidelines for/or give directions to the concerned Ministries or Provincial Governments and the Provincial Authorities regarding measures to be taken by them in response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster.
•   For any specific purpose or/for general assistance, requisition the services of any person and such person shall be a co-opted member and exercise such power as conferred upon him by the Authority in writing.
•  Promote general education and awareness in relation to disaster management.
Functions of Various Wings
In order to carry out the assigned tasks/functions, NDMA is divided into three wings with the following tasks:
•  Administration and Finance (A&F) Wing. Provides all administrative and financial support for daily NDMA operations.
•  Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Wing. Handles all matters related to DRR policies and plans concerning all types of disasters, risk insurance, NDMC including implementation and progress of National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP), as well as disaster awareness. Moreover, coordination with UN agencies bilateral/multilateral organisations, INGOs and NGOs with respect to all matters in the given domain is also carried out by DRR wing. 
Operations (Ops) Wing. It deals with operations/coordination of National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), relief and rescue operations during all disasters (inland and foreign). It also carries out coordination of humanitarian assistance and relief efforts with Federal/Provincial Authorities, armed forces and other organisations. Moreover, preparation of contingency and response plans for various hazards also falls under the Ops wing’s area of responsibility.
NDMA and Pakistan’s Progress on Disaster Management
Since the establishment of NDMA in 2007 our disaster management system has been steadily developing through facing numerous disasters and learning from them. We have spearheaded many unique practices in disaster management, which are now globally considered amongst the best. Pakistan has developed its National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy and its National Disaster Management Plan in 2013. Pakistan is a committed to Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction and is a signatory of the Paris Climate Change Accord. NDMA has developed numerous contingency plans, policies and guidelines, such as the National Industrial/Technical Disaster Contingency Plan, National Disaster Response Plan and Host Nation Support Guidelines for Foreign Assistance to Pakistan during Disasters. It has played a pivotal role in raising, training and establishment of urban search and rescue (USAR) teams in Islamabad, Mardan, Karachi, Lahore and even for Pakistan Army. NDMA, through its National Institute of Disaster Management, has trained over 10,000 government officials and private individuals in various aspects of disaster management. 
As we work towards building a better and disaster resilient Pakistan, NDMA is working with stakeholders and partners both in Pakistan and internationally. NDMA is working to establish its Disaster Management Complex, a purpose-built institute with state-of-the-art National Emergency Operations Centre and buildings for National Institute of Disaster Management, as well as establishing Pakistan’s first specialised National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) – a rapid response force that can be deployed anywhere in the country within 6 hours.

The writer is a security analyst and member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Global and Strategic Studies.
E-mail: [email protected]

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