The ongoing emergency response to the Balochistan 29 October earthquake is located within the broader disaster management context. Culmination of emergency response phase is linked to meeting 'essential shelter needs' of 7820 shelters, planned distribution of 1750 MT Al - Nayhan food package and supporting the devolved district government based response mechanism following Army's de-induction. By 20 January 2009 both shelter and food distribution objectives are likely to be met, baring unforeseen, and field mechanisms will be effective in rendering essential support to Ziarat, Pishin and Harnai districts.
The Winter Response Plan, integral to the humanitarian response, aims at ensuring high level of cross cluster preparedness to meet emergency situations till commencement of early recovery in March 2009. The planning process has contributed in brining about cross cluster integration and convergence on proactive response.
Education, Health, WASH, Food and Agriculture and Shelter clusters (UNHABITAT) are focusing on early recovery needs in concert with government counterparts. With anticipated UNDP planning inputs emergency response will smoothly transit to early recovery. Its scope, though, would be determined in consultation with the provincial government and of course by the funding imperatives.
The provincial government is more disposed for support in rebuilding earthquake damaged infrastructure, though the soft component dealing with restoration of essential services is equally vital.
Factoring DRM considerations in rebuilding housing stock would be challenging as beneficiary cash compensation is not linked to such considerations. However, infrastructure reconstruction can be rebuilt to earthquake resistant specifications and through proactive advocacy such imperatives can also guide houses reconstruction.
Joint Programme on DRM does afford opportunities for improving upon disaster preparedness in seismic zones of Balochistan. These range from building vulnerable communities' capacities as first responders, to transferring Programme for Enhancing Emergency Response (PEER) competencies through NDMA auspices, and of course strengthening emergency response capacities of key line departments and PDMA. IASC response interface with governance structures and the military is briefly analysed.
Response interventions support the provincial and district governments in meeting emergency response needs. Therefore, service delivery strategies employed must take governance capacity into account. In Balochistan the Revenue Department which constitutes the back bone of the district administration is under staffed. Other key departments relevant in response situations also face capacity gaps. Newly created districts like Harnai are even more disadvantaged.
Remote location of a district tends to degrade the quality of functional coordination with the provincial government. Quetta based response planning will thus remain inconsistent in its delivery reach to beneficiary districts and communities for above stated reasons. Therefore, IASC response mechanisms MUST reach out to the beneficiary communities for identifying needs and integrating them into district / provincial response strategies.
On civil military coordination; from an initial reluctance to work with the military the humanitarian community ended up intimately coordinating their operations in the critical shelter and food sectors. Closer cooperation in the health sector could have been beneficial.
There are three aspects to military's employment in humanitarian response to natural disasters. One, military is required to perform such functions in aid of civil power under Article 245 of Pakistan's Constitution; secondly, it is best equipped in terms of resources and operational structures to undertake such assignments.
Thirdly, with regards Oslo Declaration Guidelines on employment of military assets for humanitarian assistance, their recommended employment as a 'last resort' is over ruled by the 'timeliness' consideration which military in Pakistan fulfils better than other response agencies. Moreover, Pakistan Army does abide by the consideration of complementing and strengthening government response mechanisms, emphasised in the Declaration. Analysis of Balochistan earthquake civil - military cooperation in the humanitarian response would yield conclusions that would benefit wider cooperation in responding to natural disasters.
Critical aspects underpinning post earthquake winter response are summarised:-
Two set of assessments supported the response planning: Mc RAM and Army door to door survey. While the former has a comparative limited spatial coverage but was much diverse in its assessment scope. The latter focused exclusively in assessing damage to the housing stock. It more precisely identified categories of the affected caseload for according response priorities, and had a wider spatial reach. Army survey constituted the basis for launching the critical shelter response. Both assessments thus have their value in facilitating response planning.
Assessments and beneficiary feedback indicates that comparatively more response gaps exist in peripheral earthquake affected regions located at higher altitudes and are vulnerable to winter hazards like UCs Khost in Harnai and Rud Malazai in Pishin.
This also highlights the significance of continuous gap analysis and reality checks of relief interventions to relate their delivery to emerging humanitarian needs. Shelter, Health, WASH and Protection clusters interventions are comparatively more relevant to the emergency response. After the planned distribution of Al - Nayhan package food security situation, which was never critical, is likely to remain satisfactory. So is the case with winter NFIs needs as suggested by beneficiary feedback.
For ensuring prompt winter emergency response; there is a need for constant monitoring of the humanitarian situation against defined indicators. Response to a major emergency situation would occur within the context of district / provincial government or even Army led response, depending on the emergency threshold level. It, therefore, follows that coordination mechanisms and information sharing with key response stakeholders should be further strengthened.
Population migrates traditionally from higher altitudes in Ziarat and even some regions of Pishin to adjoining districts. However, while working closely with relevant stakeholders there is a need to monitor and contingency plan supporting forced population migrations due to exposure to severe winter elements. Till now, though, there is no evidence of such migrations occurring on a scale that may warrant response.
Critical shelter intervention must strive to meet the 'essential shelter needs' early. It is recommended that UNHABITAT should assume control of the shelter programme in keeping with likely continuity of its contributions through early recovery.
Health and WASH clusters must strive to fill gaps identified in the Response Plan and strengthen outreach amid severe winter conditions.
Provision of heating solutions constitutes an important element of humanitarian response in winters and there should be a consideration for funding and according implementation responsibility.
Funding cross sectoral needs should also be a planning consideration, particularly with regards Shelter and WASH support to other sectors.
Smooth transition to early recovery should be planned and it is recommended that IASC should support Balochistan government in technical assessments and strategy making.
Cyclone response of 2007 highlighted the need for early identification of vulnerable groups requiring residual relief support. Protection cluster, therefore, should identify such beneficiaries and facilitate establishing cross cluster linkages for their continued support. However, extended relief support is time bound and it should, therefore, not encourage dependency.
Finally, IASC clusters have launched an impressive post earthquake response in concert with their government counterparts. Humanitarian situation across the earthquake zone baring transient inadequacy in emergency shelter cover reinforces this perception. It is, therefore, recommended that this valuable experience be reduced to cluster response SOPs indicating role of government counterparts, and should be shared with them.