Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chaos when disaster strikes

Awhile ago when a severe earthquake hit Pakistan’s north and even Islamabad, the nation as well as the government was at utter quandary. No one really seemed to know what to do and how to handle the chaotic situation. Plane after plane landed at Islamabad International airport but there was no mechanism to absorb the aid and disperse it to the people who needed it the most. The fall of Margalla Towers in Islamabad was a similar site as were all other quake hot affected areas. There was a complete breakdown of services network. Had it not been for the Pakistan Army, the management of the disaster hit areas would have been from possible.

After the quake, many organizations like NDMA and ERRA were formed, but their actualization till date remains a far cry. Because these organizations, still largely managed by the army have no effective participation of the civil / local governments.

And the yesterday’s crash of the Air Blue airbus at Margalla Hills, Islamabad was yet another repetition of a ill-managed effort. Everyone rushed to the rushed site and crowded the area. No one really knowing what to do. There was no central body to manage, coordinate and organize the rescue work. The Rescue 1122, an otherwise very efficient service, was there in minutes, but empty handed. Their workers did not have tools to remove the burning debris to salvage the dead bodies. The various TV footages show rescue workers removing the still burning debris with bare hands. The removal of the body remains was undertaken by the Army helicopters, while the rescue helicopters of various civic organizations were nowhere to be seen.

And a striking thing was the absence of the civil administration. No one really looked like to be in charge of the rescue operations. In fact whenever such disaster occurs, it should be the city mayor or administrator who should reach the place of disaster, establish his control room and then coordinate the rescue operations. But in this case there was no one. The CDA chairman was not at all visible. It was only men from Navy and Army who seemed to be having some sort of control and seen giving statements.

There are many questions: did the civil aviation notify the civil government or the city administration that they have lost contact with the ill fated aircraft and needed help? Did the NDMA or any agency take control of the situation? Who was to be contacted by the relatives of the victims to know about the survival or otherwise of the passengers of the aircraft? Why the rescue workers were without adequate tools of salvage despite our earlier experience of ill-preparedness at the time of earthquake in 2005?

While the disaster itself was heartbreaking, the complete and utter confusion due to lack of coordination between all agencies made things more bad. Relatives of passengers lamented and ran from pillar to post to get any information but no one really seemed to be ready with their queries.

Its time now that we get organize to handle situations like the crash of the aircraft and deal such like situations more maturely and methodically.


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