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PUBLIC EDUCATION

PPLDM’s first activity related to promoting public education on disasters in Pakistan is the upcoming publication, “PAKISTAN’S DISASTER RISK ANALYSIS.” To be published in both Urdu and English, the book is a comprehensive account of all the major disasters Pakistanis stand the risk of facing. Below are some excerpts from the book

1. The manner in which victims of disasters are cataloged bears out the truth of the saying: “there are three kinds of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
The saying mocks the relevance of statistics in human society. Nowhere does this irrelevance apply greater than the field of disaster management. Usually, after a disaster strikes people anywhere, the ‘number’ of deaths tends to be the most newsworthy part of the event.It seems that people are moved by a disaster enough to donate to relief effort on the basis of how many fatalities the disaster has caused. The higher the statistics regarding fatalities, the more the resources raised for relief effort.

The irony about the social “impact” of news about disasters is that the dead seem to elicit greater support from people who want to be part of relief effort than the living. That is because it is difficult to have suffering well represented by statistics. While the rate of dead portrays the scale of disaster, the depth of disaster also needs to be portrayed in a manner effective enough to motivate people to want to help out.

Lives lost can not be regained, but lives ruined must be rebuilt for that is what disaster management is all about. It is the state of the survivors, those who are suffering, who are injured, and who have lost everything they owned, including loved ones, that should constitute breaking news about disasters. Relief effort obviously cannot reach the dead, but it must reach the living and address their needs in a number of ways.

We need to train journalists in techniques of reporting disasters so as to make the reports effective pleas for support for the victims. Reporting is the sole means of spreading awareness about a sudden disaster and generating support for the victims. We need to create a new field of journalism with focus on how to report a disaster so as to convey to the domestic and international community the full depth of human suffering it has generated. The field of journalism needs to undertake research and development in disaster sensitive reporting.

We anticipate greater frequency of disasters due to climate change. Some of the disasters may not cause many deaths, or any death at all, but they will cause destruction of lives and livelihood, dislocation of a huge number of people, economic loss, disease, psychological and physical injury, each of which must be addressed in a meaningful way for disaster management to yield long term positive results.

It is for this reason PPLDM has coined the term ‘Disaster Sensitive Media’ (DSM) and decided to hold work shops in disaster reporting. A series of work shops are planned for print and TV journalists all over Pakistan to teach them skills in disaster reporting. Utilizing DSM skills, reporters can elicit active national and international support for the victims of disaster. PPLDM has an R&D section solely dedicated to producing professionals well versed in disaster sensitive reporting.

2. Part of what makes tsunamis so bad is that they are a very sudden event. There is not much warning and no build-up. People know for days in advance that a cyclone is coming. Even then the storm surge caused by a cyclone, which slowly builds up, can cause enormous devastation. Just imagine what bullet-like tsunami waves can do. They come to shore minutes or hours after an event which people may not detect at all. People are caught by surprise as thousands of tons of water are hurled at them at rapid speed. Events usually tend to build up, but tsunamis do not because they are caused by events that themselves happen instantaneously, such as earthquakes, landslides, and eruptions. Pieces of the ocean travelling at the speed of a speeding car means tsunamis are one of the worst disasters that can happen on Earth.

It would be impossible for a tsunami to slowly happen. To see for yourself how this works, take a container of water. Dip your hand slowly in it until it is submerged at the wrist. You will see no waves and the only thing that happens is the water level smoothly rising. Now, throw your hand quickly in. The walls of the container will be splashed with water having risen much higher. If there was a slow displacement of water, such as a volcano slowly sliding into the ocean over a period of several hours, there will be no tsunami. The same principle works for earthquakes, which are the primary cause of tsunamis. You may wonder why there are no earthquakes that slowly build up. It is because if they did, the tectonic tension would be relieved peacefully and there would be no shaking. As explained, the plates get locked in by friction and then they suddenly slip. It is the same as snapping your fingers. If the tectonic slip was slow, there would be no tremors. If the sliding of your fingers was slow, there would be no snapping sound. Hence, tsunamis are an impact disaster, like scaled up car crashes.

Tsunamis are a poorly named natural hazard. In fact, the word “tsunami” is itself a misnomer. It is Japanese for harbor wave, because on the tsunami-prone island chain, Japanese fishermen would go out to sea (where Tsunami waves are never large) and then come back to their harbors to find everything wrecked. Tsunamis obviously are not restricted to harbors.

A common name for tsunamis is tidal waves. This too is inaccurate. Tsunamis have nothing to do with the tides, which are caused by the gravity of the moon and the sun. They got this name because of their resemblance to tides. When a tsunami is approaching shore, one often mistakes the tsunami waves and the preceding drawback for unusually fast-moving tides. Another name that some people use for earthquake-generated tsunamis, which make up almost all tsunamis, is seismic sea waves. This obviously excludes the few tsunamis which are triggered by landslide or volcanic eruption.

The problem is that there are cases when it is unknown what a tsunami was triggered by. In some cases, an earthquake may strike offshore, and it causes a landslide which causes the tsunami. A Tsunami, however, is the same whether triggered by an earthquake or a landslide, and one does not need separate names to distinguish the two. Though they may cause flooding, tsunamis are not a type of flooding. They involve water being thrown onto land, upon which it often retreats back to where it came from and does not necessarily stay unless it finds a depression in the land.(Pakistani politician Imran Khan and his associates probably do not know this fact or they would not have used the metaphor of tsunami for PTI’s rising popularity in 2012. Tsunamis are created by another force and recede in due time) One can use the word “inundating” or “submerging” for tsunami waves sweeping over land, but the term “flooding” is inappropriate (remember the water starts receding into the ocean as soon as it stops moving). That is why we separate tsunamis and storm surges from floods and write separate chapters on each.

A flood is when water moves on its own to a certain place. A storm surge is when water is carried to a certain place, such as by cyclone winds. A tsunami is when water is thrown on to a certain place. Being thrown means great speed and great force, and as such, tsunamis are a tremendous hazard. Pakistan being a coastal country faces the risk of tsunami and needs to prepare itself to meet the challenge.

3. The long, porous border with Afghanistan is a major potential source of infectious disease for Pakistan. Decades of warfare has created a toxic environment in Afghanistan. The Soviets followed the scorched earth policy throughout the eighties and burned down forests in Afghanistan to eliminate insurgent hide outs. The western troops follow the same practice today. Pollution, deforestation, destruction of infrastructure due to warfare, and resultant lack of health care facilities means disease has a cooperative environment. Afghanistan has a dry climate and so escapes the kind of plagues that are prevalent in many African nations, but the lack of any meaningful governance and healthcare system, plus the extremely poor socioeconomic conditions the people live in entails the Afghans have little protection against disease. It would be impossible to implement effective mitigation at the border under current circumstances because there is no health screening at the Pak-Afghan border.

Pakistan can not seal the border to keep the Afghans out. Health care wisdom and complexity of terrain both forbid it. Pakistan’s resources would be wasted on the effort. The attempt could even be counter-productive. For one, refugees fleeing violence would find a way to cross the border incognito because the imperatives of war compel people to undertake a harsh journey towards life than live in conditions where death stalks them all the time. Secondly, there can be no health screening of people who sneak in. Should refugees carry a communicable virus such as polio or Congo virus without knowing about it, they can spread the disease in urban areas before they have a chance to get themselves medically checked.

It is for this reason that Pakistan must install health screening at every border check post along the Pak-Afghan border and keep a soft border policy so refugees do not try to sneak in and hide in the Pakistani population, which is easy because of cross border ethnic and linguistic similarities. In order to safeguard itself, Pakistan needs to establish health care rehabilitation facilities for the ailing Afghan refugees fleeing war torn areas and deploy the help of organizations like doctors without frontiers in addition to other multilateral medical support at the Pak-Afghan border.

The policy we advocate is Pakistan’s only defense against communicable virus entering from Afghanistan.

Granted, this matter is fraught with complexity. The political imperatives push Pakistan towards tough border policy. The health imperatives forbid a tough border policy as the latter inevitably produces violations that go undetected. Pakistan’s government must tackle the issue raised here eruditely and follow the policy that serves Pakistan’s long term health care interests because virus is a stronger killer than violence. It is an inescapable enemy that harms a country’s development prospects in several ways.

Let us address the politics relevant to our argument here. Pakistan’s chief security concern is the worry that till the outstanding irredentist issue over Kashmir is resolved with New Delhi, India can ensnare Pakistan in a two front war because the former has been able to penetrate Afghanistan during the decade and a half of West’s control of Afghanistan. If that is the case, Pakistan needs soft power to cushion itself against Indian design.

If Pakistan has a cooperative policy towards the non combatant Afghan refugees who enter with desire for a safe existence for their families, the strategic environment Pakistan’s policy would create on its western front would thwart India’s expeditionary designs against Pakistan. Wars are ultimately fought amongst people. If Indian troops have to move in the middle of a hostile population, their chances of winning are poor. Friendly image projection amongst the people of Afghanistan is Pakistan’s only possible political cushion against Indian effort at strategically dislodging Pakistan within the region.

Hence there is long term political benefit in the policy we advocate. Our primary concern is the elimination of environment that can facilitate the spread of epidemic in Pakistan.