Saturday, July 31, 2010

ANY SOP'S FOR AIR SAFETY OR DISASTER MANAGEMENT?

The tragic air crash that consumed 152 precious lives has not only exposed the incompetence of the management gurus of the federal capital, disaster management and civil defence, but also highlighted, yet another time, the lack of coordination amongst the federal cabinet members, which only helped increase the chaos and miseries of the families looking for information about their loved ones.

Sitting in a chamber of parliament, our seniors at the Senate were in a state of grief, but equally dismayed at the poor performance of the cabinet members, the Capital Development Authority administration as well as the National Disaster Management Authority. Those, even from the People’s Party, agreed at the government’s apathy and the non-existence of any standard operating procedure (SOP) to block any unwanted flying object, not only in the no-fly zone of Islamabad, but also over the Diplomatic Enclave, the Presidency, the Prime Minister’s House, the Parliament House and, of course, the Supreme Court building. Why this flight was not interrupted the moment it entered the highly-sensitive area and has anyone cared about this at all or not, asked one of the seasoned senators from Punjab.

Just as nobody would ever know the cause of this crash, nobody would be bothered to find out that a pilot in his mid-60s, reportedly fasting and up all night for the Shab-e-Baraat, was allowed by AirBlue to fly with 152 people onboard, said a senator from Karachi. A knowledgeable former pilot sitting amidst the senators informed them that rumours were flying around that the pilot panicked when he was informed about violation of the no-fly zone and he might have committed the deadly mistake that cost him his life. The senators, however, were more interested in talking about the gaffes of the federal cabinet members throughout the incident-day. If it was Interior Malik, who pushed everyone to break the barriers, both at the crash site and at PIMS after announcing on one of the TV networks that six survivors have been rescued, then it was our Info-Champ Kaira who announced that the black box had been found, they said.

Another said if Interior Malik was announcing to probe any possibility of terrorism or sabotage, then a look-busy-do-nothing sort of Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar refused to consider this as sabotage. This perhaps enraged a senator from Karachi, who said that Mukhtar should better focus on his sons’ adventures in the US, which include, but are not limited to, gateway tele-exchanges, instead of venturing into ministry affairs, which in anyway are run by someone else and not by him.

Ironically, the situation was not that different on the administrative front, where seven various rescues agencies were occupying the Margalla Hills without even any clue as to how to drop their ill-prepared, ill-trained and ill-equipped rescue staff to the crash site. Had it not been for PAF choppers and the aviation rescue units of the army, it would have taken them a day to reach the spot, confided a reliable mole within the CDA.

The Capital Development Authority, which is supposed to look after and ensure the smooth functioning and planning of the city, proved again that they can best be used to find out plots for bureaucrats, politicians, judges, journalists, DMG batch mates or exhaust their budget on buying cheap land at higher rates from middle-men of the Oceanic town-cons, but when asked to provide rescue services, were found lacking. As per CDA Chairman Imtiaz Elahi, he had deputed over 500 people for rescue operations, but in shalwar kameez, with no fire-fighting gear, climbing kits or even proper rain-boots, adding that they were only combing the bushes and looting the remains of the ill-fated victims.

How much each of them and many other civilian rescuers have plundered is anyone’s guess, confided one of the rescue workers, who managed to get hold of only a Rado watch from one of the limbs, 150 metres away from the crash site. Does Imtiaz Elahi know about this? One can only hope for a better answer from him, if he is free from administrative and financial juggling. Nevertheless, we heard just a few days back that the salary bill of the Capital Development Authority has jumped from Rs 7 billion to over Rs 9 billion, out of the total budget of Rs 28 billion. Yet, we continue to hear stories of undue promotions of officers and placements of junior officials at higher positions on the basis of their ‘exemplary work’. Instead of asking for training and fire-brigade stations/equipment, we continue to hear that the wife of an officer is using a newly-bought Prado of the CDA or official vehicles meant for staff usage are being used for pick and drop services to officers’ wives from beauty parlours or their children from the best private schools around.Then there was Gen Nadeem from the much-hyped-about National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), whose agency continued to flip-flop throughout the crash-day by giving misleading figures – and figures were all they remained restricted to. As one senator friend reminded us that how could we forget the ‘good work’ of the NDMA during Cyclone Phet, which was highlighted in the previous session of the Senate when a number of senators spoke on the plight of the people living in the coastal areas of Balochistan, which have been battered by the cyclone.

Records show that senators Kalsoom Parveen, Rehana Yahya, Hasil Bizenjo and Sabir Baloch raised their voices about the issue, as they claimed that more than 2500 Cyclone Phet-affected people were living under open skies in more than 40 coastal villages of Gwadar, Ormara, Sonmiani and Pasni and the NDMA had failed to reach them.

So it is better to leave them to deal with the donors, digitised presentations and building grand bungalows in posh localities of the city, added a Baloch senator. About the district administration of Islamabad and civil defence, it’s better to leave them for some other time.
Courtesy Saeed Minhas
Daily Times, July 30,2010

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