Tag Archives: natural disaster

The Unrealized Potential of Volunteerism in Pakistan

pakistan-earthquake

Fayyaz Bhidal is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Atlantic Council

Saturday, October 8, 2005 was an unfortunate day in the history of Pakistan. The entire country was ravaged by an earthquake that registered 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale. The tremor devastated the entire Kashmir region, razing almost every building to the ground. It also damaged large parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces and caused a high rise housing tower to collapse in Islamabad. The loss, both human and material, was colossal. The death toll surpassed 100,000, and 3.5 million people were displaced. The injured were numerous and everywhere.

This earthquake in Pakistan, just like earthquakes anywhere else in the developing world, caught disaster response institutions off guard. They were unprepared, lacked the essential rescue equipment, training, and resources. On top of that, road and rail networks were no longer usable without major repairs.

In the face of this massive catastrophe, when the state institutions were stuck in a state of panic, the responsibility fell to common people to take it upon themselves to do whatever they could to save their brethren pinned under the rubble and debris. Their efforts rescued over 138,000 injured stuck under collapsed buildings, and saved many more women, children, and elders who lost their families in the calamity. Had it not been for their efforts, most of the injured would have died by the time government rescue teams reached them after a delay of 78 hours.

Attending a panel on ‘Disaster Protection through Preparation’ at the Points of Light Conference in Atlanta, and learning about the role volunteers played in Nashville in saving people and properties during the 2010 floods, and later on helping the city clean up and recover, I could not help but think about the role volunteers played during the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. They not only helped minimize the damage and sped up rescue, recovery, and rehabilitation efforts, they also left the affected communities more united and self-reliant.

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Which Countries Are Ready to Deal with Change?

change-readiness-index

Every day on the news we hear about challenges that countries face, ranging from domestic crises to natural disasters. At the same time, we learn about opportunities for advancement created by new technologies and global markets. How ready are countries to absorb negative shocks and capitalize on positive changes? This is the question that KPMG, in cooperation with Oxford Economics, seeks to address through the 2013 Change Readiness Index (CRI).

The index, this year in its second and expanded edition, assesses the ability of 90 countries around the world – from Australia to Afghanistan – to manage change and cultivate opportunity. Based on the analysis of secondary data and primary surveys of over 500 country experts, the index looks at three key elements: enterprise capability, government capability, and people & civil society capability. This data is also accompanied by several case studies that put CRI to the test, looking for instance at the varied capacity of countries to respond to major earthquakes (Haiti, Chile, and Japan).

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The economics of natural disasters

As China and Myanmar’s (Burma’s) death tolls from the recent calamities continue to climb, Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute offers an interesting perspective on the role that a human hand has in the extent of damage caused by natural disasters. Of course nobody can stop a cyclone or prevent an earthquake. But the high number of casualties in the aftermath of such disasters is at least to some degree man-made.

China’s death toll stands at 41,000 and Burma now has staggering 134,000 people dead or missing. Some part of those figures can obviously be attributed to the shortcomings in the government-managed rescue efforts. But longer-term governmental policies may be as much – if not more – to blame.

    The poverty that exposes people to nature’s dangers also kills. And that kind of poverty is no inevitability. It requires a human hand. Back in the early 1950’s, Burma was the wealthiest nation in Southeast Asia. But today, after a half-century of socialism and authoritarian rule, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world.

    When a regime mows down a gathering of political protestors, we sit up and take notice. But when it actively impoverishes its people with economic policies long ago proven harmful, we’re too willing to see this not as a choice to which men may be held accountable, but as a natural fact, under no one’s control. So it wasn’t fated that tens of thousands of Burmese would have so little shelter from the storm. They could have been richer, safer.

    In 1995, an earthquake rocked wealthy Kobe, Japan, ranking as the most expensive natural disaster in history. Yet only 6,400 lives were lost. Compare the Sichuan earthquake. Catastrophe modeling firm AIR estimates total damages will exceed $20 billion, only about one-tenth the economic loss of the Kobe earthquake. But the human toll is over five times greater.

Wilkinson concludes that it’s the economic growth that “creates roofs that don’t blow away, walls that don’t crumble, hospitals to tend the sick, and generators to keep to the ventilators on.” Indeed, having market-oriented policies is key to achieving sustained economic growth. But for the benefits of that growth to reach everybody, sound economic policies are not enough. The institutions of good governance ensuring transparency and accountability in the political as well as economic systems matter as much.