The mountainous communities of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan are at high risk of disasters because of their geography and lack of access to quality services. Global warming and climate change have a direct impact on these areas causing glaciers to melt and unstable lakes to form, increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. For several years, the increase in floods, debris flow, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and avalanches has severely impacted people and their livelihoods. Also, these vulnerable communities have been hit hard by the global COVID pandemic, infecting and killing many people due to lack of awareness and access to timely health services.
The agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network including the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) – together with the European Union – are addressing these issues through a project to improve disaster and health preparedness at community and institutional levels in highly disaster-prone areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, namely Diamer, Astore, Karmang and Shigar. Using its community-centric model for disaster management, AKAH aims to train 900 men and women in these areas as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, ready to act as first responders in disasters and other emergencies. Sharing his experiences of the training, Mr. Shafa Ali from Astore District said, “Volunteering is my passion but this membership as a CERT volunteer has made me feel real essence of volunteerism and helping people in need. Our village Finah, in Astore, is a disaster-prone village often hit by floods. The knowledge and skills I have now as a CERT member will enable me to guide disaster affected people and take immediate actions to protect them and provide relief in case any disaster happens in the village.”
This is the first time that AKAH is implementing such disaster preparedness initiatives in these districts. Also, this project aims at equal involvement and participation of women in disaster management activities to empower women and help reduce their vulnerability. Sharing her feelings, Ms. Farhat, a newly trained female CERT volunteer said, “The formation of CERT with 50 percent membership of women, in my village Bolan, an area prone to floods, avalanches and rock fall, is a new concept for both men and women. This initiative will not only equip women with knowledge and skills but will help to reduce suffering. Trained women volunteers will not only help to save lives but will help families with reserved minds and cultures to deal with and treat women better”.
“Women are exceling in every field of life these days. The theme of disaster management and involvement of women is quite new for me and people in my area. But I truly believe that it is not a challenging field for women because the mountain women are strong and this field of helping in emergencies needs strong people. I am saying this because this CERT training has given us confidence to step forward to help others apart from enriching our knowledge,” said Nadia Maryam from the Shigar district of Baltistan.
Apart from CERT formation and trainings, AKAH will also work with these communities to form 30 Village Disaster Risk Management Committees and develop 30 Village Disaster Risk Management Plans to enable communities to take pre-emptive measures to protect themselves and their assets. To support these efforts AKAH will also preposition stockpiles of emergency supplies in the most vulnerable and remote locations.
At the institutional level, AKF and AKAH will strengthen the physical and personnel asset base at seven Tehsil Headquarter hospitals by working with health staff and first responders using integrated training modules on emergency preparedness, response and management; conducting mass casualty management planning; providing medical first responder kits; and rehabilitating water and sanitation facilities to ensure adequate functionality in the case of mass casualty incidents. The project will directly benefit 74,000 people (nearly half female), including local communities, vulnerable groups and health workers, helping to improve disaster and health preparedness and to reduce vulnerabilities.
The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is celebrated every year on 13 October.