Pakistan Needs a Single Situation and Reaction Room for COVID-19: why no “war footing”?

Pakistan Needs a Single Situation and Reaction Room for COVID-19: why no “war footing”?

Where is the Pakistan Government’s “situation and reaction room”? Who is leading and managing this “situation and reaction room”?

We continue to get multiple view points on what the “government” is doing to respond to the CONVID-19. We have the Prime Minister dealing with media flanked by the Health Minister and the Chairman of NDMA. We then have the Chief Minister of Sindh issuing a statement on how he is handling “lock-down”. We have the erstwhile Finance Minister coming on flanked by the Health Minister and the Chairman of NDMA–looking and sounding imperious–and briefing the press on Government’s efforts. The Leader of the Opposition who flew in from BorisJohnsonland walked out of the joint Cabinet Briefing and ordered his party workers to work along the lines of his ‘plan’. A few minutes later, and no less imperious, Minister for Information gets control of the State TV channel and lectures the public on how the opposition political forces are scoring political points rather than helping respond to the pandemic. So, the public is asking, who is in charge! Conflicting narratives alone can break the back-bone of an otherwise strong Pakistani public.

Then there is the private sector or shall we simply call it the the ‘non-state apparatus’ which is well intentioned though tiered and in-efficient in its response. While most are on busy on social media, some are actually trying to deliver required responses like simply providing food and rations to the needy in the times of this CONVID-19. Duplicity of efforts and absence of coordination is leading to a waste of resources. It is not just the government but also the non-state apparatus that requires coordination!

The book on handling disasters is long since available and needs no rewriting on principles even if we can argue that tools of response have evolved. This book states the following key principles: a) one organization handles the response; b) this organization has unbridled powers over all tiers and sectors of government; c) this organization operates all assessment and intervention and monitoring through a single window; d) this organization is supported and enable through the “political will”; and e) it is lead by a single person who also is the only spokesperson. This is what worked for Pakistan and the reason why the 2005 Earth Quake response by our country is written as the best-practice to be adopted globally. The powers to be at present seem not to have read this simple but powerful book–panic not, just read this paragraph again.

Nested in this response approach is getting the single ‘institution’ right. Who will take on this mantle in the present scenario in Pakistan? National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) presently castrated through the 18th Amendment? The National Security Council (NSC)? What should the roles of Economic Affairs Division (EAD) and the Federal Ministry of Health (MOH) be? The answer to these questions lies in the enabling mandates of these very institutions. NDMA per its raison d’ etre is the natural institution for this leadership and single window operation. Its original act allows it the requisite powers and what that lacks can be provided through political will. NDMA’s website alone at this time shows that it is far from its role and is under performing by miles.

Which brings us to the personality who should lead this effort!? Views are solicited. More soon.

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