October 8, the day the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history struck eleven years ago, was declared by Pakistan as National Disaster Awareness Day in 2015, and we have just gone through the first of this occasion since then. To put the word “awareness” in it is a wise choice, because that is the most important thing lacking from Pakistan’s grasp on disaster management. Pakistan is one of the most hazard-ridden and disaster-prone countries in the world and yet its authorities and its people are woefully deficient in possessing awareness regarding their risk factors and risk management know how.
The October 8, 2005 earthquake that struck Pakistan’s northern areas at 8:50 AM was dealt with in a sufficient manner. But even then, the crisis could have been lessened with more awareness among the people regarding what to do during an earthquake. Kashmir and Khyber-Paktunkwha lie on an extremely seismic-prone portion of the Earth’s crust, yet the people by and large lived in very dangerous structures, made of un-reinforced concrete and mortar-less masonry with round stones. They had no idea of the danger they live in, and that an earthquake capable of bringing down the roofs over their head could occur any day now.
After response comes recovery. While recovery from 2005 earthquake has stagnated and remains slow, Pakistan has not traveled much of a distance in fostering disaster risk awareness. Simple actions taken by the people during times of calamity can increase their safety enormously. They just need to learn what those actions are and how to do them. yet most do not know much and even tend to take actions that increase the risk. The authorities, which do the work on behalf of all the people, are also not aware enough.
We may need to turn to new ways of promoting awareness. We need a revolution in disaster management education. Education is badly needed in Pakistan, where illiteracy is very common. Though the effort to promote education is extensive, most notable with the activism of the Malala Fund and associates, such labors have not borne much fruit yet. Their efforts mostly focus on public schooling, which is difficult to implement. It is often hampered by the same disasters that they could equip people to handle, such as war and violence keeping children at home to the October 8 earthquake that literally wiped out most of the region’s schoolchildren. To carry on the traditional way of imparting education does not seem to be working. It can now count as Einstein’s definition of insanity. We need innovation. We need to foster self-schooling and homeschooling among the Pakistani masses.
Pakistan can take on the effort on its own, but it is also a good idea for them to learn from the rest of the world. The exchange of ideas among human societies is what has largely driven innovation throughout human history. There is much to learn. Pakistanis, both the elite and the common masses, should immerse themselves in literature on disaster management from other countries, such as scientific papers, journals, books, documentaries, and even movies. Pakistan needs resource centers entirely dedicated to provision of information on climate change and disaster management. Additionally, we need to carry out community based disaster risk management drills all over Pakistan.
By doing all this, the people of Pakistan will go a long way towards keeping themselves safe from the earthquakes, wars, terrorism, epidemics, famines, droughts, cyclones, landslides, and fires that threaten or plague them.