Factors Making Small Communities in Pakistan More Vulnerable to Disasters

There is no single definition or explanation of a disaster, as a matter of fact in this modern age of science and technology one could predict the time and place and estimate the damage when a disaster would hit a certain area however only an estimate could be made about the outcome of the dreadful event still all the disasters could not be forecasted.
This prediction also has difference in opinion when it comes to interpret the disaster; economists may measure it by calculating the loss of assets, health workers might talk of diseases that might spread after the event, political view might be setting institutions to deal with the event and social view might involve the effects on the society. Pakistan has been at risk to many natural and manmade disasters in the past. History states various events when cyclones, flooding, drought, landslides and earth quakes have hit the country. The country is also believed to be one of the most flood prone terrains in South Asia.
The floods of 1950, 1992 and 1998 and 2011 have taken various lives and made severe damage to property and assets. Pakistan is also located at seismically active zone making the area vulnerable to extreme consequences. This vulnerability was proven on October 2005 when an earthquake measuring 7. 6 on the rector scale had hit 9 districts in Kheyber Pakhtunkhuwa and Azad Jammu Kashmir killing over 72,000 people and destroying over 4,00,000 houses. Pakistan being an agriculture based country also has fear of droughts. The droughts of 2002 had cost an estimated amount of 2. 5 billion $.
Pakistan does not have a lot of reported cyclone hit incidents to stat yet till now roughly fourteen cyclones have been recorded since 1971-2012 which also had damages in a notable amount. When a disaster strikes some area it does not spare any in its way but the most prone and effected people are the ones who belong to small communities. Their segregation and exclusion in to small communities might be due to the false and holistic systems present in our social circles bases on ethnic, religious or class based values in the current society. Further on these segregated segments are marked as poor or minorities.
However these small communities are most vulnerable when a disaster strikes. The level of their vulnerability increases in the post disaster scenario. There are many factors behind the vulnerability which have horrific outcomes for these small communities as a result. I would like to discuss on a few factors which in my view point are the important factors and causes of the increased vulnerability of these small communities. Poverty is one of the most fundamental causes which results in increased level of vulnerability of small communities. Their lack of access to resources leads to the lack of capacity in dealing with a disaster.
An estimate made in 2005 states that around 22. 6% of the total population lives under the poverty line in the country, further on 40% of the total urban population lives in slums. The economic situation in the country is not very stable and due to this inflation is widespread in the country leading to income volatility. In circumstances where poverty is present in the society at such a high scale, it gets difficult to make ends meet, fighting against a disaster is a question that does not even comes in to the context. Poor construction practices also result in the increase in the vulnerability of the small communities.
Due to poverty still in many villages people build their houses out of mud. This is not a strong structure. At the time of a disastrous event such structures can prove not to be very resistant. Similarly in urban areas as mentioned above a large number of people live in slums which are again not a very resilient structure in case of disasters. There are no proper code and conducts devised by the government authorities to tackle with this issue. Such conditions increase the vulnerability of the small groups present in Pakistan. Weak early warning system is a problem present in many developing countries.
Pakistan being a developing country also has this problem where due to the lack of resources and technology many disasters cannot be predicted on time. Due to this it gets hard to estimate the damage level and the intensity of the disaster beforehand. It also gets hard to make a relief plan or mitigation strategies to minimize the effects of the disaster. Remoteness and isolation is another factor which is caused by the cultural and social barriers due to which majority of the small communities are effected as they are segregated and isolated from the society.
Remoteness can be taken in to two different means one is the social exclusion factor the other can be the nature of their inhabitant area which might geographically be landlocked by nature. In either ways their isolation can be a factor that can lead small communities in to a more vulnerable situation. Infrastructure can also play a role in increasing the vulnerability of small communities. If we take the area of Southern Punjab as in example the area consists of the rural side of the country and agriculture is their main source of employment, the place also has a history of floods related disasters in the past.
Due to lack of proper roads etc it might get hard for people to evacuate even if the disaster as been predicted beforehand. The people from strong communities have means of transportation by which they can get to safety with ease on the other hand the poor and small communities don’t get a chance to evacuate from the danger zone. Awareness programs and education about strategies to counter disasters is a phenomenon which is not present in the current society. The floods of 2012 could be held in account as evidence of this acquisition as many of the rural poor were displaced as majority of their assets were destroyed and many lives lost.
If people were given proper education about strategies to deal with the disaster as it was an area with high risk the amount of loss might have been reduced. Lack of community participation is also an important factor as due to exclusion, factions are produced in the society due to barriers they do not tend to interact with the weaker segments of the society. Their lack of communication and participation creates a divide and due to which the vulnerability is increased in the smaller communities at the time of crisis. Limited capacity and coordination between various governmental and nongovernmental agencies.
This might occur due to the meager means of resistance available or mismanagement on behalf of the agencies. Corruption also has a role to play in this situation where the rights of the small communities are usurped by the larger or more power full factions of the society. This corruption could give rise to mistrust between the state and non state actors trying to fight against the disaster. As they don’t unite therefore their power is also diminished. Religious/Ethnic biases can also lead to disasters as small minorities are at stake. Due to quarrels and other means of violence threat to their assets and lives increases their vulnerability.
Similarly in civil conflicts the small and less powerful communities are the ones which are at the high risk level due to their openness to danger. Rapid Urbanization as societies become more and more modern day by day the process of urbanization also increases. In search of reaching to an industrial society as it brings more and more recourses to increase the level and quality of life it also brings along some negative aspects out of which greed is most prominent. Today man has become so greedy that it does not care that what effects his voyage to success might have on others.
Rapid Industrialization is also having its negative effects on the environment which will eventually lead to severe consequences as global warming. At the same time rapid urbanization means the extinction of forests and other natural resources. As majority of the small communities cannot afford to live at the core hence the are pushed to the outer circle of the area where there might be a non availability of basic necessities of lives leading to various epidemics for example due to lack of sanitation facilities or making them live in to disaster prone areas due to deforestation leading to earth quakes, landslides and floods.
To conclude I would state that the above mentioned factors are some of many which evolve in our social system. What so ever is the cause of the disaster event either it is manmade, natural in nature it is the small communities which are affected the most. Social, political, armed conflicts, hazards all in total increase the vulnerability of small communities. Steps are to be taken in to account to eradicate this in justice from our society as this may lead to social unrest or may have even more bizarre outcomes on the community as a whole.

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