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Disaster and its orthodox interpretation – Pakistani perspective 

Col Ikram Ullah Khan

Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan 

It’s common observation that whenever we are struck by some disaster, we tend to lay the blame squarely at Nature’s door attributing it to God’s wrath vis-a-vis human beings believing that the disaster has come as a manifestation of God’s displeasure and as a retribution for our misdeeds. 

We abortively try to philosophize the law of nature and are not inclined to accept that more often than not, calamity visits us as a consequence of our irresponsible behaviour, negligence and malpractices that we evince with regard to environment and ecology that has nothing to do with God’s pleasure or displeasure. God is not intent on punishing the wrongdoers as we view it. Human beings are the architect of their own destruction and are the real culprits who ask for the disaster by their delinquent behaviour and found ill prepared to deal with such calamities.   

The common view about calamity afflicting us on and off is based on an orthodox approach regarding natural disasters. We need to understand that Nature is not against us; rather we act in a manner that brings about catastrophe in the shape of human and material losses. In the present instance, we as a nation are collectively responsible for the disaster we are facing.

The calamity that visits us time and again at varying intervals is human-induced. We violate the laws framed for the purpose, ignore the laid down standing operation procedures (SOPs) and indulge in anti-ecological activities such as deforestation, haphazard and ill-planned construction, pollution, use of smoke-emitting vehicles, nuclear and chemical explosions and a variety of anti-environmental activities which are compounded by lack of proactive approach and planning in advance to deal with such unforeseen eventualities.

Human history is riddled with man-made disasters like nuclear explosions, chemical explosions which raise the level of mercury to a dangerous level, underwater oil pills, mine collapses, pollution, carbon dioxide and deforestation, etc. These can broadly be placed under three categories as under: 1.Technological disasters like chemical spills, transportation accidents and mining accidents.    

 2. Social disasters like war, civil unrest leading to destruction of infrastructure and terrorism. 

3. Environmental disasters, the most common and lethal one like deforestation, spread of carbon dioxide, nuclear and chemical explosions and pollution, all leading to global warming and greenhouse effect resulting in climate change that in turn lead to glacial lake outbursts flood (GLOF), change in monsoon cycle, frequency and intensity and flash floods. 

In the Holy Qur’an it’s mentioned that the disasters that human being face on this planet is due to actions performed by them which have negative impact on environment thereby disturbing the order of nature. The Holy Quran hints at this in the following verses: “Evil has become rife on the land and at seas due to man’s misdeeds. This in order that He may cause them to have a taste of some of their misdeeds; maybe they return back (from their mischief). Travel in the land and see what was the end of those (involved in mischiefs) before you.” (Surah Rum verse 41-42)

When people think of disasters, it’s usually thought of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunami and the like. But the most destructive and fatal but predictable disasters are man-made for which we find ourselves ill prepared. These disasters invariably occur due to human intentional actions or neglect and violations of laws. In most of the cases, however, there are co-relations found between natural and man-made disasters. For instance, deforestation (man-made) can lead to landslides (natural).

In the context of the current disaster that has hit the country to the core, we make a liberal use of the clichéd terms “natural disaster”, “climate change”, “global warming”, and “greenhouse”, etc to explain the current destruction caused by floods triggered by the unprecedented monsoon rains in Pakistan. This is a man-made disaster, yet we believe it has come from God and fail to appreciate that God has hardly anything to do with disasters which are human-induced. When you do something wrong the law of nature comes into play.

There is no “Divine intervention” as we erroneously believe it to be. For instance, when we indulge in deforestation through ruthless cutting of trees, even a small amount of rain can cause landslides wreaking havoc with human lives and properties. When we erect high-rise buildings on the river banks knowing fully well that this is not a safe place for construction, yet we take the plunge, disasters are bound to occur as it recently happened in Kalam and Bahrain.

Likewise, when we conduct nuclear explosion, it raises atmospheric temperature to a dangerous level that brings about global warming and climate change bringing along many other attendant evils. In such circumstances there is hardly any point to blame the Nature. 

The recent disaster can’t and shouldn’t be attributed to God’s fury believing that God is intent on punishing us for our misdeeds towards Him. We ourselves are the real culprits and the buck stops with us. We should stop calling the current disaster a “natural disaster”. Though floods could be called natural hazard but we shouldn’t forget the actual agents of floods as these are mostly human-induced. 

The current calamity has afflicted us as a result of our own doings that has been exacerbated by our inaction, weak governance, botched priorities and lack of planning to cope with such eventualities. Though we have set up large bodies like National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Flood Relief Commission (FRC) at federal level and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) at provincial level and their performance is pretty good given their capacity issue and other limitations, it leaves much to be desired. We have failed to set up district level disaster management systems which can quickly and effectively deliver without getting entangled in bureaucratic red-tapism.

Each district must have its own Rapid Response Force (RRF) and rescue 1122. Each district must identify the existing resources and assets/manpower placed at its disposal. District administration must be given the responsibility to effectively engage and coordinate with the NGOs like Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FHA), Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) that primarily deals with disaster preparedness and Al-Khidmat Foundation and other NGOs operating locally besides engaging local community leadership and use their services for the restoration, reconstruction and rehabilitation of flood-impacted communities.

Last but not the least, there is a need to deal with the current disaster in a holistic way and in a well-coordinated manner. Besides, we need to come out of the reactive mode, and instead of doing firefighting, the government both at federal and provincial level should take necessary proactive measures that would help pre-empt future occurrences and deal with such eventualities effectively.

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