It is only life stupid!
By Poonam I Kaushish
Ok, fellow countrymen let lose the volley of expletives, curse all you want. Of how rotten the State of Denmark is, wherein the North is smothered by pollution and the South is reeling from a terrific storm. Whoever said when it rains miseries, it pours, was dead on!
As Delhi, UP, Punjab and Haryana struggle with toxic gases “sever” Cyclone ‘Ockhi’ (eye) hit Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Lakshwadeep last week with gale winds gusting to 130 kmph. While the storm left eight persons dead the Navy rescued 38 fishermen in Tamil Nadu, 250 families in Kanyakumari and another 59 in Trivandrum. The Coast Guard has doubled efforts to search for 13 boats with58 crew from Kerala and one boat from Tamil Nadu.
Yawn, so predictable is the State Governments response: Patting themselves on the back for doing a half-baked job, “we are taking all possible steps to rescue fishermen stranded in rough seas.” Notwithstanding, its approach is one of criminal casualness. Of reacting after people have lost their lives.
The story is par on course over the last four years when Cyclones Vardah, Nada and Kyant (2016) hit Chennai’s coast stranding thousands in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra, Odisha and Andaman and Nicobar islands of Havelock and Neil. Cyclone Gujarat in 2015 resulted in floods across the State, Cyclone Hudhud 2014 led to a massive loss of life and property in eastern India and Nepal and ditto Phailin in Orissa 2013.
Alas, our preparedness to deal with calamity is as rag-tag as ever. Far from having a defence system against elemental fury, the Central and State Governments seem to be banking on hope that any future disaster would not be as destructive as the last. Not for our polity implementation of basic suggestions and developing long-term responses.
Think. Around 76% of India’s coastline is prone to the worst cyclones and tsunamis and 8% of the total land area, particularly the eastern and Gujarat coast is vulnerable to tropical cyclones, while 59% of the country is vulnerable to earthquakes, 10% to floods and river erosion, and 68% to droughts.
Prime Minister Modi has set up the National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) which provides a framework to deal with all phases of disaster management cycle—prevention, mitigation, response and recovery—and lays down duties of various Government departments at the Centre, State, district and panchayat.
Duty done rest is left to the Calamity Relief Fund Job to dole out funds. Little realizing that instead of helping people, most State Governments use this for purposes other than disaster management or to create infrastructure for which money is provided in the regular budget. Worse, everything is kaam chalao! Crisis over it is back to business as usual.
Alarmingly, there is no effective coordination between the Water Resources and Earth Ssciences Ministries who work in opposite directions. Each Minister and his babus guard their fiefdom with zealousness. Let alone coordination, even silly information is shrouded in secrecy.
The less said about disaster management the better. Let alone spell it, our netagan have, never even heard about it. They do not know the A,B,C,D of managing a crisis. More shocking, according to a report by the UN, India spends about $10 billion every year for crisis management. Could we spend this sum of money for disaster management?
Preparedness entails focusing on the most vulnerable areas and educating the people how to handle a cyclone or flood. Where people should run for shelter, setting up an effective communication network, providing satellite phones to stranded people and bring them to safety and carrying out a safety drill from time to time.
Mitigation involves constructing safe shelters and houses to reduce the effect of impending disaster and villagers given training at village centres about safe building procedures. Moaned a fisherman, “Whenever news comes of a depression in the Arabian Sea we pack our belongings as most of us don’t have houses and the only cyclone shelter in our village is not enough for everybody. Where will we go if there is a storm again?”
Shockingly, the CAG 2013 report on the National Disaster Management Authority in a severe critique said it neither had information and control over the progress of disaster management work in the States, nor could it successfully implement various projects it had initiated for disaster preparedness and mitigation. What’s more, the Authority has been functioning without its core advisory committee of experts that advises it on different aspects of disaster management for the past three years!
Before that in 2010 too it had lamented disaster preparedness and warned of impending catastrophe 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. Zilch happened.
The only saving grace are NGOs which have been working alongside State Administrations to carry on the task at the micro village level. By preparing a village contingency plan, organizing the community, identifying vulnerable places and educating the people to face disaster.
Systematizing drills regularly so people know what to do when an alert is issued — locking up their homes, keeping their cattle in safe places and taking only a few clothes and important documents with them. Thus, the Government and NGOs compliment and supplement each other’s work unitedly.
Experts aver that thanks to global warming more frequent and intense extreme weather events means India must improve their planning and reduce the potential impact of disasters before they occur. Communication and connectivity enhancement have become the need of the hour. Satellite images do tell us about the affected areas during a calamity, but we need higher resolution images.
Towards that end, 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.
India needs to focus on long-term rather than short-term planning. True, Namo’s response has been dabang till date, undertaking aerial surveys of affected districts and earmarking Rs 1000 crores from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. But less said the better, of our other leaders.
It is high time they pull up their bootstraps instead of going through rituals, albeit shedding copious glycerin tears in the hope these would wipe the hear-wrenching cries for help and facilitate garnering votes at election time. All lament the crisis. But their screams are gagged by their ambitions.
One does not need a bleeding heart nor blindness to calamity to know what should be done. The time is far gone for the Government to play the pied piper. Decisive indecisiveness will no longer do. It only holds out promises of more misery, more wrenching news and more cries for the Government to act.
In the ultimate, to foresee is to govern. Desperate situations call for desperate action. Remember, life is not about collating numbers but flesh and blood with beating hearts. No longer can we ostrich-like bury our heads in the sand and wail, its’ only life, stupid! —— INFA