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The Political Economy of Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction in Pakistan

Univ. of Texas at Austin
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Jennifer Bussell and Asim Fayaz
May 2017


This case study discusses government capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters – floods, earthquakes, and heat waves – in Pakistan.

The analysis finds that several hypotheses described at the start of this report are particularly relevant to explaining the extent of disaster preparedness and risk reduction in Pakistan. Out of the seven, four – perceived risk, economic strength, electoral incentives and democracy and political development – are generally found to be relevant, but the other three – moral hazard, civil society and external actors – met with substantial contradictory evidence.

Out of these, lack of economic strength was cited the most number of times as the primary reason for Pakistan’s lack of investment in disaster preparedness.

Even by developing world standards, Pakistan’s GDP is considered low while the population continues to increase. All respondents stated that in the face of immediate crises like extremism, need for development, and even disaster relief and rehabilitation, spending on disaster preparedness is not considered important. Evidence also validates the perceived risk hypothesis—disaster preparedness efforts focus only only predictable, regular events, rather than less predictable hazards, even where unpredictable hazards have done significant damage in the past. There is a general understanding that other, more basic issues like improving healthcare and education service delivery and reducing the electricity shortfall have to be addressed before the country can afford to invest in prevention and preparedness activities.

A number of respondents referred to electoral incentives but their claim was that politicians gain more electorally from disaster response than from preparedness and risk reduction. Politicians realize that citizens value their disaster relief efforts more, so they have a perverse incentive to spend less effort and resources on disaster preparedness.

The following sections provide an overview of the natural hazards endemic to Pakistan and discuss the political history and socioeconomic conditions that make it challenging to tackle those natural hazards proactively. An assessment of Pakistan’s institutional capacity for disaster response and disaster risk management is then provided with respect to the Hyogo Framework for Actions’s five priorities for action. Each of the seven hypotheses are subsequently reviewed in light of the evidence from field interviews and other sources. The concluding section offers policy recommendations for improving disaster preparedness as well as ideas for further research.