Pakistan if faces security defies on its external facades then it equally tackles with some domestic challenges and natural catastrophes on its ground. Oct 08 could be termed as “National Resilience Day”, not only to remember those souls who lost their lives in dreadful earthquake of 2005 in history of Pakistan. But this day also calls for preparations for any kind of natural disaster or calamity which knows no borders. After the problems and hinges faced by earthquake of 2005, it was felt that there should be some central management authority that not only maintains the database but prepare the countrymen for any kind of calamity in Pakistan. Thus National Disaster Management Authority NDMA, was established to cater not only with any kind of disaster but time to time provide necessary guidelines to people to avoid collateral damage on ground.
If Pakistan is blessed with diverse topography and climate, it equally makes it vulnerable to natural mishaps. Pakistan is placed among countries who are prone to climate related calamities in form of storms, floods, earthquakes, landslides, heat-waves, intermittent monsoons and drought. Moreover, the human-induced disasters like road mishaps, oil spills, fire breakouts, industrial accidents, and deliberate attacks apart from terrorism effected country like ours cannot be overlooked. Thus, NDMA is trying to reach out to all segments of society to generate appropriate awareness. Media as an important tool of information is a key stakeholder to raise awareness among masses. Media in Pakistan has evolved with passage of time and plays an influential role in public awareness and preparedness through educating common man about disaster preparedness and response. Recently, a consultative dialogue was held by “Mediations” in collaboration with NDMA on the “Role of Media in Preparing a Resilient Nation”. In the detailed discussion, media representatives from different media houses shared their experiences and highlighted the challenges for sharing detailed information on any kind of disaster, its management and providing right information to the masses. Chairman NDMA, Lt. Gen. Omar Mahmood Hayat, HI(M). apprised the media with the initiatives taken by NDMA and also gave detailed insight on experiences which NDMA goes through as responsible body.
The key objective of this media dialogue was to identify the gaps and challenges faced by media in providing factual info to the target audience. A need was felt that there should be cohesive policy and structure of disaster management authority be revised, at both national and provincial level. Though NDMA in past few years has done great job in reaching out to populace but yet there is lot to be done in areas which are disaster prone particularly if they are located at fault lines for earthquakes, areas which receive heavy rains and thus flooding emerges or those vulnerable zones who are going to be effected because of water scarcity. In the session, journalists were provided with media toolkit on how to response and report on any kind of disaster. It is an important and informative piece but such toolkits should be devised for all age groups including disabled persons, children or elderly people. It was also suggested that department of civil defence should be more active along with other organizations providing emergency services to common man. Apart from training of journalists it was recommended that, time to time refresher short courses, radio channel of NDMA, more use of technology and reaching people through SMS regularly for preparing them on how to respond during incidents and help in saving lives can bring desired results. Chairman NDMA said, that unfortunately the concept of civil defence in Pakistan has gone obsolete and not much viable because of multiple factors. In western countries this concept has changed into civil protection, yet we all have to get out of blinkered approach that only institutions are responsible for such kinds of happenings. It comes to all of us as social responsibility and with generating Below the Lines (BTL) activities, damage during any emergency can be minimized. NDMA is devising School Safety Framework which surely will be helpful for students, young children and teachers on how to protect themselves. Emergency Evacuation Plan is yet another aspect which needs proper training and maintenance in terms of infrastructure in Pakistan and people must know how to response with sense.
Media plays crucial role in shaping minds and opinions of masses. For disaster management all kinds of media including print, electronic, social and digital media be taken on board timely. As during any kind of catastrophe, communication channels are the first to be erupted hence the group of trained volunteers be present everywhere to reach timely and ease out people in trouble. Media while remaining objective and progressive must address challenges in the wake of climate change or other human instigated incidents and bring positive improvement in entire spectrum including all vulnerable groups (children, women, aged and disabled). During any mishap, it becomes our social responsibility to facilitate people instead of portraying it as a spicy story while deviating from the norms of civilized society. We all are aware of lacunas in our system however as a responsible segment of society, media can come forward as one of liable actor to create awareness in the masses. Our activities and responsibilities should not be time or day bound but such important issues of public safety be addressed on daily basis through variety of innovations. We, the Pakistanis, as a resilient nation that has always stood firm against all impediments, must continue for the betterment of our realm and countrymen.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.