The devastating floods in India’s Jammu and Kashmir State following the Uttrakhand tragedy last year exposed our response and preparedness for disasters both at the state and the national level.
Unprecedented rainfall in the State destroyed houses and submerged vital highways and lanes. A calamity of such a magnitude taking hundreds of lives and destroying property worth billions does not come as a shock as the State of Jammu and Kashmir has already been put in the category of disaster prone zone/seismic zone by experts.
But unfortunately our acts of disaster management are itself disastrous. We as a state administration think of and ask for boats and other life-saving gear only at the time of crisis, failing to learn from the past. We forgot the recent devastating flash floods in Kargil, the heart wrenching Uttrakhand tragedy (killing thousands) and last year’s ferocious windstorms (that hit the valley of Kashmir besides other parts of the state) are just some recent examples of the disasters to learn lessons from but thanks to our forgetful nature and collective social dementia, every time seems like our first time.
Natural calamities and nature’s fury has time and again not only caused severe damage, but has also exposed the deep rooted lacuna in the disaster management system in India and our lack of preparedness which makes us even more prone to damage in such an eventuality.
Not to talk of mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the development planning, we are yet to give the subject of disaster management a due place in our curriculum. Forget the curriculum; we do not even have enough boats for rescuing people and are being requested and ferried from other states after the crisis reaches its peak.
Further lack of professionalism has been taking the toll on almost every institution in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a Waqf Board but no waqf experts, there is flood control department, but hardly any trained personal, there are hospitals but no adequate staff and facilities, there are schools but no proper infrastructure or a quality teaching mechanism, there are enough security agencies but no assured security,, etc,. Likewise, disaster management as a system has been a failure here as people as well as the officials show least concern for the subject.
Seismologists and Geo-scientists have in the past issued a warning that over eight lakh causalities may occur if an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale occurs in the seismically-active Himalayan belt where the Kashmir Valley is located. Despite such warnings that the Kashmir Valley falls in a disaster sensitive zone (Zone IV) the state remains unprepared. Whether there is an earth quake or other disaster mitigation programme being worked out, still remains a question.
Though the PM’s timely relief package of 1000 crore (plus State already having 1100 crore at its disposal for disaster) for the state means much for the flood hit people, however, just packages at such critical times is not the solution.
As per the National Institute of Disaster Management more than fifty million people are hit by natural disasters in the country every year, who cares?
We have a culture of forgetting the calamities in our country; we see the worst but forget quickly with no stringent policy formulation, whatsoever.
The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas with a history of natural and manmade disasters. It is hit by, at least, one major natural or manmade disaster every year resulting in heavy loss to life and property.
Notwithstanding our efforts to predict disasters, there is no doubt, that we cannot stop them from occurring but with advanced technology and skilled manpower, we could reduce and minimize their magnitude of destruction. And, for doing so, we need a viable and efficient disaster management system.
The PMO needs to strongly consider to the disaster warnings and make plans for disaster management for the whole nation especially for the vulnerable Himalayan States much before calamity befalls. However the ground reality suggests that managing a disaster has always proven to be, in itself, a disaster.
The yearly floods in Bihar and some other states, the frightening phases of swine flu, Dengue fever, etc, are just to mention a few instances, which reveal the actual position and our ability and preparedness to combat such disasters.
According to a report all the states and Union Territories in India are prone to disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and droughts.
Information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that, at least, one state faces all the four major types of disasters, six states face three types of disasters, twelve face two types of disasters and five face one type of disaster.
Hence each time a tragedy strikes the country; it exposes the Centre’s inefficient and outdated disaster management policy.
The earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26, 2001 left at least 30,000 dead and millions homeless; the super cyclone Of Orissa in October 1999 caused heavy destruction to the life and property. The massive floods in Bihar, Assam and other states and drought conditions in Rajasthan led to immense starvation deaths across India. The snowstorms and the ferocious blizzard of Waltengo Nar in Qazigund in 2005 and the massive earthquake on October 8, 2005 rendered hundreds homeless.
It is in times like these that one couldn’t agree more with William D’Avenant, who said that, “Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.”
Disaster management requires social and individual consciousness along with administrative efforts. Moments of crisis make it mandatory for the State administration to prepare for any possible occurrence in the future. A small ‘Disaster Management Cell’ in the Divisional Commissioners office has been set up to tackle such massive issues, reflecting where we stand when it comes to disaster management. Disaster management has to be made a part of the curriculum and the subjects like ekistics and architecture need to be introduced in colleges besides giving a boost to professional Social work in State Universities.
Disaster management as a subject needs to be taught at graduate and post-graduate levels. Such courses will go a long way in preparing and producing an experienced group of people who can prepare masses to face disasters and calamities in future.
At the moment, IGNOU is the only University offering PG Diploma and certificate courses in disaster management, while other institutions offer no such courses.
The Centre can supplement its efforts by providing a major share of the financial support. Under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF), started in 1991, the centre-state contribution has been pegged at 75:25.
While, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) provides assistance for monitoring rainfall and cyclone detection through ten cyclone detection radars located on the coast, what comes as a shocker, is that, the Centre water commission (CWC) which functions under Union Ministry of Water Resources, has a flood forecast system at more than 157 centres in India but has no flood forecasts for J&K.Who is to be then held accountable for the lives lost? While, technological and financial means alone are not enough to limit the damage caused by disasters, mitigation plans need to be put into place to deliver relief and initiate effective and timely rescue operations.
Having said this, one needs to be extra cautious post the floods as disaster always brings with it diseases, epidemics, etc. which the State needs to plan for and tackle efficiently.
With almost 6 lakh people stranded and thousands of people rescued as of now, its kudos to our forces, – the Army, IAF, the police, local volunteers, and the national Disaster Response Force (NDRF) who are trying their best to help the affected at the moment.
Having said this, the real challenges that we are beset with are healthcare aftermath floods and rehabilitation of the victims along with a proper assessment of the loss of property by professionally delving into the economics of the massive disaster. The central government in collaboration with the state administration along with civil society needs to join hands for the massive rehabilitation of the flood ridden masses who faced it all without much support from the state government initially as the floods even collapsed the administration, communication, etc,. Also the state needs a serious environmental policy and discourses on practicable strategy to stop eco-destruction, which has been ignored like anything and the fallout is before us today.
Lastly, it is worthy to observe that media that is covering Jammu and Kashmir flood fury is presenting it in a different way by creating the stories of exaggerated heroism of security personnel, NDRF, paramilitary, locals, etc,. There is much less news on flood victims and actual suffering of masses or what is to be done and what is happening on the ground, etc, and more coverage of which agency is demonstrating heroism for media bites with irrelevant stories and over stated claims. Some media groups exaggerate Army’s work, which is indeed praiseworthy but at such a critical juncture, the priority must not be just praising those who are helping people or praising some particular section only.
The real subject must be to show the real position of the disaster and what is the people’s fate, who are caught in the calamity. Helping out people in such disasters is the fundamental responsibility of every citizen or every human being without claiming heroism. Such a help must not be too exaggerated and turned to a mere TRP game by media. There is nothing praiseworthy about a disaster and army, paramilitary, local volunteers, etc, all should do the job with a sense of responsibility and treating the same as a part of their duty and media must abstain from manufacturing just heroic tales out of a heart wrenching disaster like this. At the moment the reality remains that under the heavy coverage of fake heroism, we have forgotten the peoples’ plight.
Last but the most significant reality remains the government bashing by people that the government has not has reached them without realizing that enormity of the disaster and without considering that the floods collapsed even the governmental set up. The Chief Minister like volunteer was himself working day and night to help the masses. As human capacities are limited, we must not shout at unreasonable things.
The relief distributing agencies should strictly check any misuse of the supply and things sent from outside as aid must not go into wrong hands.
(The article originally appeared in Pointblank7, a prestigious media group where author is a Columnist).