Weekly Reflections: Volunteering for disaster management

NDMA has always been in the forefront to handle natural and man-made disasters. With its well organized network all over the country, it not only takes care of all dimensions of disaster management but also constantly create awareness among masses about the Disaster Risk Reduction


Dr. Abdul Saboor

The world is confronting the worst pandemic of history at the onslaught of Crona Virus which is being handled in various ways and means. It is a new kind of disaster which needs to be curtailed through new and well established approaches of disaster management. Like other kinds of natural calamities, there are two ways of managing disasters. One is based on developing a resilience of people generally exposed to such kind of viral diseases through the tools of precaution and prevention. Second is related to quarantine measures for curing the patients and control the further spread carefully. For all such measures, besides usual public health services, volunteering work may also add adequate value.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has always been in the forefront to handle natural and man-made disasters. With its well organized network all over the country, it not only takes care of all dimensions of disaster management but also constantly create awareness among masses about the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). This authority keeps on tendering flood, drought, earthquake, and weather alerts. Moreover, alerts of heat-wave, GLOF, infrastructure damages, and landslide fall in its jurisdiction. Crona Virus alert may be the new entry in the already exhausted list. Certainly there is a commendable record of success stories but for expanding nature of disasters, a well coordinated volunteering system may be designed to respond humanitarian challenges.

Volunteering is quite a famous and well tested denominator in the development horizon. The process of both social and economic development can smoothly be accelerated if it is rationally activated. Volunteering for development is meant to improve access to quality health and education services, in addition to developing livelihood opportunities for the most poor and vulnerable segments of the population. Volunteering services are also intended for enhancing the resilience of communities against the onslaught of disasters. Besides direct benefits of volunteering work, there are indirect advantages in the form of value addition of volunteers that may stimulate development process somehow or the other.

Volunteering, derived from the French word volontaire, is traced back to medieval times. The actual term of “volunteer” was first used in the mid of eighteenth century for “offering oneself for military service”. In nineteenth century, Universities became important pools of volunteers for many social institutions. Students movement in Universities of Oxford and Cambridge started as religious societies which were formed to visit sick people and prisoners. ‘College missions’ offered a wide range of social, recreational and religious services. University students, particularly girls, played a pivotal part in volunteering on the home front during the First World War.

In this regard,  there is need for the establishment of National Volunteer Forum (NVF) under the auspices of NDMA. A well integrated structure of NVF would have to be deliberated so that the routine and emergent tasks could be handled efficiently and effectively. A troika of academia, business community and civil society may be established. There would be a provincial chapter known as Provincial Volunteer Forum (PVF) which is to be replicated down the road to District Volunteer Forums (DVFs). All of these forums containing registered members to be recruited from universities and colleges constitute University Volunteer Forums (UVFs). The defined forums would be harmonized and networked through a digital portal system. Partners and collaborators may also be invited.

There is huge potential of volunteering work among the youth in public and private universities and colleges. We may avail the age and gender segregation in the selection of young volunteers. Similarly, education, discipline and skill wise separation is also possible for addressing the wide variety of volunteering needs particularly at the outset of disasters. Volunteers to be taken from higher education institutions are significantly distributed across geographic regions of the country. One young volunteer of a university is not merely a single person but the whole family and relatives might ultimately be the likely candidates.

In academic institutions, a well planned recruitment strategy of young volunteers may be formulated keeping the objectives of volunteering work in view. Both temporary and permanent members may be registered for running operations and emergency work. Initially, we may have silent members who are just agreeing on the volunteering ideas and objectives. It is quite likely that the spread of idea  enhances the strength of volunteers. We may have candidates in the years to come. Second category of registered volunteers are active members who are to be involved in various volunteering activities related to disaster management. Third category of registered volunteers are proactive members who would be offered freedom to take new initiatives at the occasion of disaster management.

There is a need to launch a country wide movement of volunteerism among the youth particularly the young girls who can contribute in an inclusive way. They would certainly be a wonderful source of motivation for all those young boys who are partially interested in volunteering work at the community level. A new wave of volunteering  spirit may be promulgated by engaging women folk in humanitarian work. Their volunteering engagement facilitates an inclusive development particularly in disaster management.

A special kind of governance system is required to execute this volunteering model. In this model everyone is to be considered a leader of different nature. Every volunteer would be declared as unique with exceptional skills and wisdom. Such uniqueness is to be mobilized for social and economic development. Besides transactional kind of leadership both at national and provincial levels, we will have to focus on transformational kind of volunteers. Above all, the smooth functioning of this volunteering scheme of action would depend on spiritual leadership which may give a boost to transaction and transformation.

There are implicit benefits of volunteering work of youth as they will be avoiding their time to be wasted in useless pursuits. The time to be spent in volunteering services would actually be  the time that might otherwise have been used in odd activities which may shake and break the personality. In this way, detracted youth may trace right direction for right kind of work. This would also add the spirit of nationalism and patriotism among them which is highly useful in other affairs of national building.

To materialize the dream of true volunteerism for management of manmade and natural disasters, we will have to develop an innovative approach to urge and encourage young generation of universities into humanitarian services. There is no denying the fact that development occurs when right volunteers put their shoulders to the right wheel at the right time and apply the right amount of intellect in the right manner. Keeping the global pandemic of crona virus, this is right time to activate the movement of volunteerism in the country under the spiritual leadership of NDMA.



Dr. Abdul Saboor, Professor of Economics Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, PMAS Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi