COMMENT: Ensuring that no village is left behind —Miguel Loureiro
The majority of relief actors are targeting mohallahs. But no one has disaggregated information for the mohallahs since they did not figure on the 1998 Census (i.e., no one knows how many people lived there, how many houses there were), and no one is using a single method of data collection
As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing for a while. In fact, I haven’t written since the earthquake occurred. There were two reasons:
First of all, like everyone else in Pakistan, I was involved in the relief work, helping coordinate the logistics of my university’s efforts. I don’t want to brag too much but we did manage to send quite a bit of relief and more importantly, we sent our students (of the LUMS Adventure Society) to Bagh, where they trekked to far-off villages, distributing tents and supplies, coordinating with the army and other organisations. They trekked an average of 20-30 kilometres a day! We also sent another team to Abbotabad, where they helped set up a patient tracking system for hospitals.
The second reason I haven’t been writing is Relief Information System for Earthquakes in Pakistan (www.risepak.com), that we launched at the university as part of a network to collect information.
Many have been confused over the past weeks why we are giving so much time and importance to such back-end activities rather than delivery of relief goods. As far as we are concerned, information systems are extremely important.
We got lots of money (grants as well as loans) at the donors’ conference. Great. But consider... How will we spend it? How will we make sure that every village, every citizen is covered? Well, it’s easy, some of you may think. We’ll just check how many villages were affected, how many people lived there and compensate them.
But who knows how many villages were affected? How many people were affected in each village? Is there a map showing these villages and their locations? Do you know what a village is?
First of all, there are different ‘types’ of villages. The generic term for ‘village’ in Pakistan is gaon. Now dating from the Mughal times and then reinvented by the British Raj, the smallest administrative rural unit is called a mauza. It is at this level that the state collects both revenue and information.
So you can say that a mauza is a revenue village or a census village. But a mauza is essentially a cluster of small settlements, and not a single large settlement. And depending on where you are, these settlements are called mohallahs, bastis or deras. They do not figure on electoral lists, or in revenue rolls, or in the census, but they are independent entities.
Second, different state actors view the country differently. The administrative actors divide the country into districts, tehsils, patwar circles, and mauzas (for instance, the 1998 Census was conducted according to these tiers). The political actors divide the country into districts, tehsils, and union councils. The defence actors divide the country into a grid and sectors.
Third, different officials are in charge of the different areas. For example, in Azad Kashmir the district commissioner (DC) is the bureaucrat in charge of a district and the administrative authority (and therefore the main authority), while in NWFP the district coordination officer (DCO) is the administrative authority, but the power lies with the the zila nazim, the political authority. This is because the local government system has been introduced in the NWFP but not in Kashmir.
Now what’s happening in the field? The majority of NGOs and international organisations working in the field are saying, “We’ve covered these many villages and these many union councils”. The armed forces are saying, “We’ve covered these many villages and these many sectors”. The civil administration is saying, “We’ve covered these many villages and these many patwar circles”. But they are all talking about different things.
There is no clear-cut definition of a village in Pakistan. A majority of relief actors are targeting mohallahs. But no one has disaggregated information for the mohallahs since they did not figure on the 1998 Census (i.e., no one knows how many people lived there, how many houses there were), and no one is using a single method of data collection.
So despite the incessant talk about the importance of coordination, no one is really doing it. Everybody is taken in with the relief effort; that’s all they’re concentrating on. This is where RISEPAK comes in.
RISEPAK is an information-sharing web portal that compiles detailed demographic data (from population statistics), damage, access and relief updates (from satellites, geographical systems, relief agencies, workers, and local officials, as well as information-gathering visits to the affected areas) at the village/town level, to make sure that no village is overlooked in the relief efforts.
We are trying to create the first-ever, complete list of mohallahs/bastis, matched to their respective muaza in the census, and are trying to collect and provide information at both levels.
Who is behind RISEPAK? Well, we’re a group of individuals working in Pakistani and US universities, international organisations, NGOs, government agencies, the private sector... Anyone who sends information on the state of a village and/or on the relief efforts at the village level becomes a partner — just go to the website, fill out the forms, fax, email or just SMS or phone risepak.
The information is uploaded on the Internet where it can be accessed and used by anyone.
Right now, this information can be used to make sure every single village is getting relief. In the long run this information can be used to plan the rehabilitation and reconstruction of every single village. For now, we’re mapping every mauza in the earthquake-affected area. In the long run, we’ll try to map every mohallah. And who knows, maybe we can add village-level information, like types of social structures, farming systems, economic patterns, village-level politics...
Earthquakes will occur in earthquake-prone areas. To make sure we reduce the risk of having such a high number of casualties we have to identify people’s levels of vulnerability. To assess this vulnerability we have to identify the unsafe conditions (e.g. unsafe buildings; bare, deforested hills), what compelled people to live in these conditions (e.g. low income, limited sources of energy), and what the root causes of these pressures are (e.g. historical economic neglect of the region). For that, we need information.
There was very little (social, economic, cultural, political) information about the region before the earthquake struck. We can now make sure we learn more about it, to plan for the future. If we keep working, maybe one day we can collect this information for the entire country. After all, we do face hazards like floods and droughts that we don’t react to as we have to the earthquake.
Miguel Loureiro has academic and professional experience in the development sector