April 2015 – Disaster risk reduction holds the key to sustainable development in Pakistan (Jacqui Badcock, UN Resident Coordinator, a.i.)

Opinion by Jacqui Badcock, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, a.i.

The news from Nepal following the 25 April earthquake has been grim, and will likely get worse over the coming weeks. As we reflect on the tragedy that continues to unfold, and keep the people of Nepal in our thoughts, let us also take this opportunity to consider the importance of disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan face the risk of natural and man-made disasters each day. Although these vary by region and severity, those risks are being addressed in both policy and in action. Earthquakes and other natural disasters are an enormous hazard to human livelihoods and entire ecosystems. As communities, we can mitigate them only to a limited extent, but we can take steps to prepare for them when they are unavoidable.

Preparedness truly is a matter of life and death in Pakistan because it one of the most disaster affected countries in the world. From floods, droughts, landslides, avalanches, earthquakes, typhoons, and more, Pakistan finds itself frequently and repeatedly battered by both the forces of nature and man-made disasters that displace tens of thousands of people. This will only be exacerbated by the effects of climate change. As the seventh most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change, an even greater emphasis on preparedness will be required for the future.

The Government of Pakistan has made DRR a priority and the UN in Pakistan is working closely with the Government to improve response and resilience to all types of disasters and other forms of displacement. DRR is a key element of the policy and technical support the UN in Pakistan provides to Government in programmes encompassing nutrition, health, education, livelihoods, social cohesion, and governance.

Activities to limit the impact of disasters must focus on the livelihoods and wellbeing of individuals affected by disasters, particularly those most vulnerable because they are disproportionately affected by disasters. The poor and marginalized, including women and children, often bear the brunt of the aftermath of a catastrophe and their voices too frequently remain unheard. To make matters worse, they are often forced to sell their means of earning a livelihood just to have the resources to get by following a disaster. With limited means to recover from disasters, the poor are rarely able to get fully back on their feet before the next crisis hits. Attention to their human rights – life, access to jobs, clean water and sanitation, but also the ability to participate in decisions when local governments discuss disaster preparedness, must, in fact, be an essential element of all UN disaster response and rebuilding initiatives.

DRR concerns all of us and is not the exclusive domain of any one institution or group of people. It is not an island among Government policies, but an essential element of development planning and policy considerations. This is a discussion that needs to continue and that the UN in Pakistan is working to expand with Government, partners and the people of Pakistan.

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