Adequate preparedness ?can only save the lives ?
As Kedarnath tragedy completes one year, the state Government of Uttarakhand seems to have taken no lesson with regard to saving the lives if similar tragedy reoccurs. The disaster management experts, both governmental and non-governmental, are unsatisfied with the way the things are being handled in the natural disaster prone state.
The only difference visible after the tragedy in the state is that roadside boards have come up all along the routes of rivers like Ganga, Mandakini, Bhagirathi and Alaknanda warning tourists and pilgrims to stay away from the water bodies. Another step taken by the state authorities, which some peopleridicule, is restraining tourists or pilgrims visiting the geologically sensitive and dangerous places like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, Gangotri and Gaumukh. Some efforts to strengthen the warning system through SMSes on mobile phones have also been taken by roping in mobile service providing companies. But how much it works is yet to be seen as the system is yet to start.
“A close watch is being kept on the pilgrims visiting Kedarnath. No pilgrimage will be allowed during heavy rains or landslide. The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam has pitched 100 tents to accommodate 500 pilgrims. However, these tents never get filled to their full capacity. Only 150-200 pilgrims stay there daily,” said Bhaskaranand, Secretary, Disaster Management and Rehabilitation, Uttrakhand. Vice Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority Shri M Shashidhar Reddy had pointed out one month after the Uttarakhand tragedy that the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which works under the NDMA, lacks a proper dedicated disaster communication Network, such as satellite phones. He also feels the need of modernisation of India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Central Water Commission by setting up world class observation and forecasting systems. Since the responsibility to respond to any disaster is with the states, the disaster management set up of Uttarakhand should be re-looked.
Some experts in the field of disaster management also pointed out that the Landslide Hazard Zonation Mapping prepared by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Department of Space, Hyderabad in 2001 be taken up on priority and the Management Plan proposed for the Uttarakhand segment of the 2000 km length be taken up accordingly. They further added that whenever a new technology is introduced its results and impacts should also be documented at the earliest and shared widely.
The National Institute of Disaster Management’s report suggests the need to collect terrestrial, meteorological and anthropogenic data with particular focus on landslides, rainfall and other information relevant to the event. It also demanded necessary guidelines and action plans for tourist/pilgrimage places, hotels, lodges and guest houses, given the high concentration of people at such locations. When excessive sand is removed from the river beds, it hampers river flow systems. Intensive mining in the region is turning it even more fragile. Mines are leased out and the contractors generally go beyond their limits. There is no mechanism to control it.
Head of Policy Planning and Environment Division at the National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi Shri Anil K Gupta says that the common models of development as applicable to other regions of the country are irrelevant for Uttarakhand and it requires developing locally sustainable, ecologically compatible models of infrastructural growth. “The most important understanding that emerged from this disaster is to look from a system perspective, i.e. relationship between eco-geo-hydrological components, implications of climate change on people, resources and livelihood, and preparedness to deal with uncertainties and sudden events. The ‘living with risk – but with effective mitigation and adequate preparedness’ holds the mantra,” he added.
Since local people are the first respondents in any disaster situation, Shri Saurabh Gautam, director of Global Rescue Consultants Pvt Ltd, feels that the local people should be imparted with practical training to deal with such disasters. He said the voluntary organisations should also be equipped with proper training as they are the second to response to the calamities. “Adequate capacities should be built across our institutions and communities to reduce the adverse impact of the disasters. We also need to strictly regulate developmental initiatives in close vicinity of the river streams through appropriate legislations,” Shri Gautam added.