By Dr Navin Chandra Joshi
With tsunami disaster, earthquake and monsoon playing truant, there is either famine or flood round the year in some part or the other. Ironically, the situation brought about by lack of monsoon rains has arisen in a country where there is abundant water in rivers and under the earth. The simple truth is that over the decades we have just not bothered about how to manage our water so as to tide over the difficult times of adversity when there is lack of rains anytime. We still take ?drought? as a curse that befalls the country when God wills. This is the situation in 2004, after 57 years of our Independence.
Every year on an average, more than 80 million Indians are affected and 7,000 killed due to natural calamities, besides substantial damage and destruction of property. Apart from this year'scyclone, floods and droughts and previous years? earthquakes which ravaged the country, killing thousands of people, there has been a substantial damage to property worth hundreds of crores and to thousands of animals. All this speaks volumes on our utter complacency in reducing and mitigating the impact of natural calamities.
The irony is that even after such casualities take place, little is done to prevent loss of human life and cattle should another disaster take place in future. Sadly, even a ?National Fund for Calamity Relief?, as suggested by the Tenth Finance Commission, has not been put into action so far.
India, a vast country in Asia, has about 85 per cent of its area as disaster-prone in some form or the other. Whenever natural calamities take place, the government machinery invariably is geared up to undertake relief and rehabilitation/restoration work. Since natural disasters cannot be prevented, efforts need to be made towards strengthening and improving our capacity to confront the calamity and ensuring speedy relief and restoration work. Destroyed infrastructure, particularly road, power, communication and irrigation should be repaired as soon as possible so that they operate to the pre-calamity level.
Drought-prone areas comprise about 68 per cent of the total towns and cultivable areas. Around 48 million hectares of land are reported to be flood-prone with an average of eight million hectares being affected every year during the monsoon season. More than half the geographical area of the country is vulnerable to seismic activities of varying intensities. Landslides are common and an area of about 2,000 sq kms is prone to avalanches. Of the long coastal line, about 5,700 kms are exposed to tropical cyclone hazards.
Cyclones, caused by high speed winds leading to tidal waves upto 4 metres, reach the coastline and intrude upto 10 kms in some areas. In fact, the eastern coast of India is cyclone prone, with a couple of them striking evey year. Floods?one of the most destructive acts of nature?occur almost every year in some part of the country or another, causing tremendous loss of life, large-scale damage to property and misery to millions of people.
Unlike droughts, cyclones and floods, which can be forecast with some accuracy, earthquakes invariably strike without a warning. And that is why they are so much feared. Most casualties during an earthquake take place because of building collapses. Unfortunately, despite well-defined building codes evolved for earthquake-prone areas, generally people seem to be ignorant about them or else they do not follow the rules. As such, building materials, which are totally unsuitable for use in such areas, are used by people oblivious of the hazards in store.
No doubt, considerable expertise has developed in the country since Independence for managing natural disasters, though still there is a lot of scope for further improvement in respect of preparedness and long-term reduction efforts. There is also the need for an in-depth analysis of the national effort, promotion of greater public awareness and launching of specific initiatives. The services of scientific and technical institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, as also experts in various organisations, should be availed of in programmes and activities in disaster management.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that in times of natural calamities anywhere in the country, some social and voluntary organisations contribute relief and help much more than the Central and state governments have been able to do. The activities of such organisations are focused on alleviating the sufferings of the affected people and for doing everything possible in their rehabilitation. Time has come when the government of the day needs to coordinate its activities by fully cooperating with them.
Amongst such voluntary organisations come the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) all over the country. The RSS volunteers provide relief, food, shelter, medicines, etc. to the affected people. Not only that, they render such services like saving the lives of people and taking care of the dead in every aspect. The dedicated volunteers of the RSS have been doing yeoman'sservice for the last several decades in a completely selfless manner, irrespective of any consideration of caste, creed, religion or whatever.
It is also true that the government machinery is seldom prepared to tackle floods, droughts and other calamities which occur too often and this is because there is no long-term policy to control or prevent them. Except for pumping money in drought-prone areas, there is precious little that is done by the government. And who knows how this money is utilised or to what extent it mitigates the hardships of the people?
Cases are legion when the RSS volunteers have rendered unflinching and immediate help of all kind to the affected members of Muslim community wholeheartedly. The RSS has always taken this service as a service to mankind. No wonder, the humanistic approach of this organisation blows off the bogey of labelling the RSS as a communal organisation or as a political party. The aim of all such voluntary organisations is nothing but to foster national cooperation and integration in the interest of promoting national peace, alleviating human suffering and bringing about unity in diversity.
(The author is a former Colombo Plan professor and retired from Delhi University; he can be contacted at M-2721, Netaji Nagar, New Delhi-110 023.)