By Sarkaritel May 5, 2015 11:10


Nepal, A Wake-up Call


By Poonam I Kaushish

A humungous human tragedy of anguish, despair and desperation, morbidity and mortality struck Nepal last week resulting in a trail of death and destruction, over 6200 dead and counting, scores of bodies buried under a ravaged landscape and the living crying out for relief. Accentuating the horoscope of time wherein vivacious life met the dance of death. All leaving it to the Gods.

Clearly, the devastating Nepal earthquake has once again underscored the need to take measures in India to prevent a similar catastrophe. Happily, hands-on Prime Minister Modi was baptized by the Bhuj earthquake which struck during his Gujarat Chief Ministership in 2001 and Kashmir recently. His post-haste hands-on response to Kathmandu devastation has immediate

Yet, that alone is not enough. Think. India has been struck by at least nine major earthquakes since 1975, the last in Andaman Nicobar Islands on 25 April last but our preparedness to deal with calamity is woefully lacking. Given that almost 85 per cent of the country is vulnerable to one or more hazards such as earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides etc according to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Worse, in the past 25 years, over 25,000 people died in major earthquakes in India and 95% of them were killed due to building collapse as over 90 per cent of buildings in any city are built without permission and more than 50 million people are affected by these adversities annually, states the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

This is partly due to the fact that disaster management is not seen as an essential part of good governance and integral to development planning. “Sadly, no long-term responses have been developed, as it is assumed that by sanctions monies their job is done,” adds disaster risk reduction specialist of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Who will be held accountable? Whose head will roll?

More scandalous, though a National Disaster Management Authority was created in 2005 with the power to allocate resources and supervise disaster management across the country along-with a disaster response force for rescue and evacuation, it exists only on paper in a few States.

The national disaster management plan is still awaiting approval from the Prime Minister’s Office. Moreover, this toothless tiger does not have the authority to carry out studies in the highest seismic zones in the country. All it can do is issue guidelines on how to make India disaster-resilient.

Further, alongside the NDMA the three other agencies, National Institute of Disaster Management, Meteorological Division and the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ (MoES) work independent of each other. While the NIDM deals with policy planning and creating awareness exercises, both MD and the Ministry do topographical surveys of 30 cities.

Succinctly, all are clueless about the state of preparedness be it risk management, know-how for assessing risks at local levels, enforcement of standards and regulations, early-warning systems and risk mitigation in the country, rural and urban. Never mind every State boasts of departments of disaster management or relief and rehabilitation set-ups.

An example. India is divided into five seismic zones with Delhi located in Zone 4. Thanks to its slums, unauthorized colonies, illegal construction and protruding balconies especially in Old Delhi and Yamuna floodplain, calamity is waiting to strike. According to the IIT Roorkee lakhs would fall like a house of cards. Topped by narrow streets making it impossible to carry out search and rescue operations.

In fact, a 2013 disaster management plan reveals that 98 per cent of the Queen of Hills Shimla would either collapse or suffer substantial damage if an earthquake of 7.5 magnitude occurs. The story of apathy compounded by bureaucratic indifference and political passivity is chillingly common across the national landscape as over 90 per cent of buildings in any city are built without permission.”

True, the lack of resources accounts for a large part of India’s lack of preparedness. Woefully, there are no emergency operations centres or trained personnel to search and rescue people. Shockingly, this is not due to lack of money, since 2010 till date the Central Government has budgeted over $5 billion to prepare for disasters with the Centre contributing 75 per cent.

However, primarily this is due to the attitude of policy makers, implementers and Government towards investing in people-oriented preparedness at different levels vis-a-vis risk management systems, stated an expert at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre. For reasons best known to it, the Earth Ministry has unilaterally shut down the sensor project.

Shamefully the Comptroller and Auditor General’s 2010 report lamented the country’s disaster management preparedness and warned of impending disaster including severe natural ecology hazards. Resulting from de-forestation and erosion of hill slopes along river-beds and spread of unregulated buildings along river banks.

Undeniably, the rising death toll from Nepal urgently underscores that we need to shed our indifference put checks and balances in place and focus on the most vulnerable areas. The first and foremost task is to restructure the National Policy on Disaster Management reflecting a holistic approach involving prevention, mitigation and preparedness in pre-disaster phase with appropriate additional funding, along with the so far existent policy of the post-disaster relief and rehabilitation under crisis management.

Simultaneously, create awareness for disaster reduction amongst policy makers, administrators, professionals (architects, engineers’ et al) and financial institutions. Bring appropriate regulatory instruments (State laws, master plans, development area plan rules, building regulations and bye-laws of local bodies) along with strengthening of the enforcement mechanisms at different levels.

The powers-that-be need to involve experts and environmentalists with a genuine track record of research and policy making. Who would evaluate the ecological problems, study its context and be involved in decision and policy-making. With special emphasis on problems created by burgeoning population and its impact on the local eco-system, growth of hap-hazard housing, environmental insanitation and decay.

Towards that end, we need to conduct micro-zonation surveys of large urban areas falling in the disaster prone regions, build earthquake-resistant building, educate people how to handle an earthquake, cyclone or flood, where they should run to take shelter.

Setting up an effective communication network, create an institutional mechanism at both the national and State level to advise and help relief operations, updating short and long term action plans and relearn the value of every life. Else we would pay a stiff mortality price.

Asserts an IIT Delhi Earthquake expert, “As India continues to push northwards into Tibet, massive devastation is foreseen from Afghanistan to Arunachal Pradesh right down to the Andamans, especially along the over-crowded Gangetic basin till 2020.” Adding, “We can predict where an earthquake will occur, what its intensity and magnitude will be. But what we still cannot tell is when it will take place.”

Plainly, the Nepal shock is a warning from earth: There’s more to come. Can, more important will India be able to withstand the shift in the tectonics plates? Will the wheel of life continues to twirl or will we celebrate the dance of death? What gives? —- INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel May 5, 2015 11:10