Managing disaster in India, not a cake walk!

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Bangalore, June 20: As the death tolls and the missing numbers in the disastrous Uttarakhand flood increase, common man thinks: Is the state administration in rambles? Is there no proper disaster management in the country? What could be the reason behind so many people being stranded for the past three days without any relief? The state administration could have been the bait...not any more. Going through the state of the disaster management system on the internet, I came across certain astounding facts that can determine how or why disaster management in a country fails or is hindered.

With a unique geo-climatic condition, India is more susceptible to natural disasters like flood, cyclone, earthquake, droughts and landslides. Approximately 60 per cent of the landmass is subject to earthquakes of varied intensities. Around 40 million hectares is prone to floods and 8 percent of the total land mass of the Indian sub-continent is subject to cyclones and 68% of the area faces drought. Reports confirm that in the past one decade till the year 2000, an average of 4,344 people lost their lives and about 30 million were affected by the disaster, let alone the loss to property, which has been astronomical.

Post the super-cyclone in Orissa and the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat, disaster management in the country has taken a paradigm shift in terms of scientific, engineering, financial and social processes. The Government of India has undertaken a number of initiatives like forming the National Crisis Management Committee, the Crisis Management Group, forming the control room, the contingency action plan, state relief manuals and the like.

What we have

There has been a gradual and considerable progress in the technology and the strategy that is being used these days. Computerized monitoring systems are at work round the clock, monitoring the bed level and the water level of the rivers. Special bulletins are published in case of any danger. Innumerable measures have been taken to curb the rather unpredictable behaviour of nature during cyclones, floods or droughts. out of 40 million hectares prone to flood, 15 million hectares have been protected by embankments. Dams, barrages and barracks have been built too.

Similarly a number of drought, earthquake and cyclone mitigation projects have been designed to control the after-effects of the calamities. Apart from computerized monitoring and warning systems, plantation in coastal shelter belt, mangroves, and cyclone shelters have been built, which can accomodate 3000-5000 lives during emergency situation. Apart from state-controlled emergency systems like mobile ambulance and medical vans, there are disaster management and rescue teams that respond in almost no time. Dedicated air-crafts and choppers have been proposed to further strengthen the plans.

Law and order issues and economic crackdown are some of the other aspects of an emergency situation. These are being exclusively handled by the emergency teams that are set at various village and district levels of the country.

What we lack

The main problem that our country faces when it comes to disaster management is its geographical situation. With terraneous landscape and unreachable areas, rescue operations are difficult. A country with around 60-70 per cent of village area, rescue operations become even more difficult, given their inaccessibility, lack of infrastructure and knowledge. The rescue operations in Uttarakhand is a case in point. Helicopters and choppers could not evacuate the pilgrims because of the torrential weather and increasing landslides.

The unpredictability of nature and its elements is another cause of not being able to judge an impending calamity. The solution? flood and draught management teams have been established at village levels, where they train localites on managing the situation with limited resources. They devise mechanisms and drought-oriented farming methods that mitigate the effects in such cases. Floods, however, continue to be a menace in most areas because of the growing volume of silt carried by the rivers. With the river bed increased, the water level rises and the risk of floods persists.

Who is responsible?

No one, especially because calamities are largely natural, which is unpredictable. The govt of India is gearing up substantially to face any kind of crisis situation. Rest, depends on the behavioural pattern of the nature.

As far as the recent updates regarding the rescue operations in Kedarnath is concerned, 18 special teams of five troopers have been deployed for rescuing the stranded pilgrims. They are carrying food and medicines too. Over 10,000 people have rescued so far with the help of the army and the paramilitary forces. 22 helicopters are used to air-lift the stranded.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Army soldiers rescuing pilgrims during their flood relief operation in Chamoli, Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

An aerial view of a flood-hit area in Chamoli, Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

An aerial view of a flood-hit area in Chamoli, Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

An aerial view of stranded vehicles at a flood-hit area in Chamoli, Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

People looking at submerged vehicles in flooded ISBT locality near Yamuna River.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Stranded pilgrims being rescued by ITBP at Govindghat in Chamoli.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Army personnel carry an injured flood victim on a stretcher for treatment at Hemkund in Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Army men during the "Operation Ganga Prahar" in a flood-hit area in Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Army men shifting people to safe place from flood hit areas of Bijnor in UP.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

Army men rescuing pilgrims at flood-hit Hemkund in Uttarakhand.

Managing disaster in India is difficult

A view of submerged buildings in the flooded river Ganga in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

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