Natural or manmade disasters are sudden extreme events causing serious disruption to the functioning of a community or a society.Though they have been stalking humankind since the time immemorial, the dramatic increase and damage caused by them in the recent past, have become a cause of prime national and international concern.Over the past decade, the number of natural and manmade disasters globally has increased inexorably. From 1994 to 1998, reported disasters averaged at about 420 per year but from 1999 to 2003, this figure went up to an average of over 700 disaster events per year showing an increase of about 60 per cent over the previous years.

The impact natural disasters appears in shape of massive killing of human populations, loss of agricultural lands, livelihood and shelter, poverty, hunger, disease breakout, internal displacements & migrations and associated crimes like gang wars, abductions, kidnapping, rapes, thefts, and murders.

As a result, humanitarian organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies [IFRC] and its 191 National Societies line up to provide assistance to tens of millions every year mobilising billions of dollars into the disaster-hit countries.Pakistan in particular is highly vulnerable to natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, landslides, heath emergencies and droughts, but also to man-made disasters such as fires, large scale industrial accidents, civil unrest, conflict and terrorism, creating massive refugees and internally displaced people, and war.

According to official data, a total of 117,038 people were killed and 2,869,142 affected during the five earthquakes, which struck between May 31, 1935 and October 8, 2005. The country witnessed 11 floods during the period between 1950 and 2010 leading to the death of over 10,000 people and affecting 45,320,446.The country is also vulnerable to tsunami and other sea-based hazards along its long coastline.

In 1935, an earthquake of 8.5 on the Richter Scale triggered a tsunami along the Balochistan coastline, killing nearly 4,000 along the fishing town of Pasni. Karachi and Gwadar were also threatened.

The country’s 960 kms costal belt, particularly along Sindh, is occasionally battered by cyclones. In 1999, a cyclone ravaged large tracts in coastal districts of Thatta and Badin causing widespread loss to life and property.

These coastal areas are also inundated by torrential rains, as in 2003 with a similar impact.The cyclone of 1999 in Thatta and Badin districts wiped out 73 settlements, killing 168 people and 11,000 cattle, affecting around 0.6 million people and destroying 1,800 small and big boats and partially damaging 642 boats, causing a loss of Rs380 million.

Given the frequent incidence of quakes, floods and other hazards, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society – the major humanitarian relief agency in Pakistan – together with the NDMA, the IFRC and its sister National Societies wasted no time in responding with the provision of emergency relief in to the affected population.

In many other parts of the country, PRCS-trained staff and volunteers are also active in AJK, flood and drought affected districts in Balochistan province, providing food and non-food items and shelter to thousands of people.In spite of the fact that the international humanitarian relief agencies leave no stone unturned to provide food and non-food items and shelter to the affected communities, thousands of deserving people may not be reached due to a number of factors, leaving them marooned and exposed to elements and threats of various nature.

The 2018 World Disasters Report released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says millions of people who need humanitarian assistance are being “left behind” in their moments of greatest need. According to the report, even those who are prioritized to receive assistance do not always get the help they need. The report lists five factors that explain why the international humanitarian sector is leaving millions of people behind.

The first and most obvious explanation is money. The gap between the funds needed by aid groups and the funds made available to them is growing every year.In 2017, only about 60 per cent of $23.5 billion appealed for by the UN-led humanitarian actors was received. However, money is only part of the issue.The second factor is access.

In many crises, humanitarians physically cannot reach everyone in need. This could be for geographical or political reasons, because of conflict and insecurity, or even because of bureaucratic and legal bottlenecks.The third factor relates to information. In many settings, aid groups cannot reach people because they do not know they exist.The fourth factor is more about how humanitarian organizations work. Often, aid groups unintentionally exclude groups of people because they lack the language skills and detailed understanding of the society to understand what is going on. Other times, the assistance cannot be accessed by people with different types of disabilities, or by people from marginalized groups.

The final factor outlined in the report relates to people considered outside of the scope of humanitarian work. These are people who are not affected by conflict, disasters or health emergencies, but who nevertheless live in crisis and do not receive help from anyone.So what is the answer? There is no silver bullet, and the report includes a number of recommendations ranging from improving how data is collected to encouraging governments to prioritize and incentivize support to the people considered to be “hardest to reach”.

However, I would like to focus on one recommendation above all: the need to invest more time, more resources and more trust in local humanitarian organizations.Local humanitarian groups, including the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, are uniquely placed to overcome the limitations outlined in the report. Their permanent presence means they can respond much quicker than their international counterparts and need less money to do so.They are also already present in many areas that international groups find inaccessible.

They know who the most vulnerable people are, and how to reach them. They are present before, during and after crises. They are our best hope for ensuring that those most in need of help are no longer left behind.It is time we all make real the pledge of making the last mile the first mile.

–The writer is Secretary General Pakistan Red Crescent Society