Pakistan gets UN disaster plan

A new disaster prevention program could help Pakistan manage its natural disaster risks.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 23, 2002

A new disaster prevention program could help Pakistan manage its natural disaster risks, announced the U.N. Development Program Monday.

Initially the UNDP is allocating $55,000 toward the new National Disaster Management Program, which will be administered in partnership with the Pakistan government.

Until now, a UNDP statement said, Pakistan has had "no comprehensive and integrated disaster management policy at the national level." The UNDP also stated the country "lacks a system for disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation, which could reduce the loss of life and property in case of natural disasters."

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based disaster response groups, anticipate working closely with the new program, said Rick Augsburger, director of the Church World Service (CWS) emergency response program. "We applaud this effort by the UNDP," he said.

Pakistan faces risks from floods, droughts and earthquakes, among other disasters. The country is currently burdened by a four-year drought.

CWS has been responding to a famine-like situation caused by persistent drought and an acute shortage of irrigation water threatening the Sindh province, one of Pakistan's poorest regions. The province has an illiteracy rate of 98 percent for women and 67 percent for men, and has few opportunities for economic advancement. The majority of families depend on cattle and agricultural production.

Farm families have seen their income drastically reduced by drought. In addition, the land is degraded due to overgrazing by cattle and other unsustainable agricultural practices.

Due to the lack of rain, most wells remain brackish, and water quality fails to meet the minimum standards set by the World Health Organization.

CWS is responding to this crisis with a short-term program of food assistance, as well as fodder for livestock. CWS will supply food to 1,500 of the most vulnerable families in 110 villages of the Mirpurkhas division of Sindh province.

CWS is coordinating with other international and local NGOs, including Catholic organizations and the National Council of Churches.

Besides drought, earthquakes also pose a hazard, stated the UNDP. "Pakistan regularly experiences earthquakes, ranging from moderate to severe intensity." A recent quake killed at least 25 people and destroyed five villages in the remote Astore Valley in the Himalayan foothills in November. Another quake in the same region killed at least 10 people and injured 48 others a few weeks earlier.

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