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A villager being rescued using a rope | Photo: PTI
A villager being rescued using a rope | Photo: PTI

Kashmir floods: Our “disastrous” disaster management

|By Adfar Shah|

The floods in Jammu and Kashmir following the Uttrakhand tragedy last year exposes our response and preparedness for disasters both at the state and the national level.

Unprecedented rainfall in the State has destroyed houses and submerged vital highways and lanes. A calamity of such a magnitude taking hundreds of lives and destroying property worth billions does not come as a shock as the State has been put in the category of disaster prone zone/seismic zone by experts.

But unfortunately our acts of disaster management are itself disastrous. We as state administration think of and ask for boats and other life saving gear only at the time of crisis, failing to learn from the past.

Last year’s devastating flash floods in Kargil , the heart wrenching Uttrakhand tragedy (killing thousands) and last year’s ferocious windstorms that hit the valley of Kashmir besides other parts of the state are just some recent examples of the disasters to learn lessons from but thanks to our forgetful nature, every time seems like our our first time.

Natural calamities and nature’s fury has time and again not only caused severe damage, but has also exposed the deep rooted lacuna in the disaster management system in India and our lack of preparedness which makes us even more prone to damage in such an eventuality.
Kashmiri women and a child are transported in a boat through a flooded road in Srinagar | Photo : Reuters/Danish Ismail

Being transported in a boat through a flooded road in Srinagar | Photo : Reuters/Danish Ismail

Not to talk of mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the development planning, we are yet to give the subject of disaster management a due place in our curriculum. Forget the curriculum; we do not even have boats for rescuing people and are being requested and ferried from other states.

Lack of professionalism has been taking the toll on almost every institution in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a Waqf Board but no waqf experts, there is flood control but hardly any trained personal, there are hospitals but no adequate staff and facilities.

Disaster management as a system has been a failure here as people as well as the officials shows least concern for the subject.

Earlier Seismologists and Geo-scientists had issued a warning  that over eight lakh causalities may occur if an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale occurs in the seismically-active Himalayan belt where Kashmir valley is located.

Despite such warnings that the Kashmir valley falls in a disaster sensitive zone (Zone IV) the state remains unprepared. Whether there is an earth quake or other disaster mitigation programme being worked out, still remains a question.

Though PM’s timely relief package of 1000 crore (plus State already having 1100 crore at its disposal for disaster) for the state means much for the flood hit people, however, just packages at such critical times is not the solution.

As per National Institute of Disaster Management more than fifty million people are hit by natural disasters in the country every year . Who cares?

We have a culture of social dementia in country; we see the worst but forget quickly with no stringent policy formulation whatsoever.
Floods in Poonch | Photo: PTI

Floods in Poonch detroying lives and property | Photo: PTI

The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas with a history of natural and manmade disasters.

It is hit by, at least, one major natural or manmade disaster every year resulting in heavy loss to life and property.

Notwithstanding our efforts to predict disasters, there is no doubt, that we cannot stop them from occurring but with advanced technology and skilled manpower, we could reduce and minimize their magnitude of destruction.

And, for doing so, we need a viable and efficient disaster management system.

The PMO needs to pay heed to the warnings and make plans for disaster management in the vulnerable Himalayan States much before calamity befalls.

However the ground reality suggests that managing a disaster has always proven to be, in itself, a disaster.

The nuclear radiation leakage in Japan, the Fukushima crisis, the frightening phases of swine flu, Dengue fever, etc, are just to mention a few instances, which revealed the actual position and credibility of country’s ability and preparedness to combat such disasters.

According to a report all the states and Union Territories in India are prone to disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and draughts.

Information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that, at least, one state faces all the four major types of disasters, six states face three types of disasters, twelve face two types of disasters and five face one type of disaster.

Hence each time a tragedy strikes the country; it exposes the Centre’s inefficient and outdated disaster management policy.

The earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26, 2001 left at least 30,000 dead and millions homeless; the super cyclone Of Orissa in October 1999 caused heavy destruction to the life and property. The massive floods in Bihar, Assam and other states and drought conditions in Rajasthan led to immense starvation deaths across India. The snowstorms and the ferocious blizzard of Waltengo Nar in Qazigund in 2005 and the massive earthquake on October 8, 2005 rendered hundreds homeless.

It is in times like these that one couldn’t agree more with William D’Avenant, who said that

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.”

Disaster management requires social and individual consciousness along with administrative efforts.

Moments of crisis make it mandatory for the State administration to prepare for any possible occurrence in the future.

A small ‘Disaster Management Cell’ in the Divisional Commissioners office has been set up to tackle such massive issues, reflecting where we stand when it comes to disaster management.

Disaster management has to be made a part of the curriculum and the subjects like ekistics and architecture need to be introduced in colleges besides giving a boost to professional Social work in State Universities.

Disaster management as a subject needs to be taught at graduate and post-graduate levels. Such courses will go a long way in preparing and producing an experienced group of people who can prepare masses to face disasters and calamities in future.

At the moment, IGNOU is the only University offering PG Diploma and certificate courses in disaster management, while other institutions offer no such courses.

The Centre can supplement its efforts by providing a major share of the financial support. Under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF), started in 1991, the centre-state contribution has been pegged at 75:25.

While, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) provides assistance for monitoring rainfall and cyclone detection through ten cyclone detection radars located on the coast, what comes as a shocker, is that, the Centre water commission (CWC) which functions under Union Ministry of Water Resources, has a flood forecast system at more than 157 centres in India but has no flood forecasts for J&K.

Who is to be then held accountable for the lives lost?

While, technological and financial means alone are not enough to limit the damage caused by disasters, mitigation plans need to be put into place to deliver relief and initiate effective and timely rescue operations.

Having said this, one needs to be extra cautious post the floods as disaster always brings with it diseases, epidemics, etc. which the State needs to plan for and tackle efficiently.

With almost 6 lakh people stranded and 50,000 people rescued as of now, its kudos to our forces, – the Army, IAF, the police, local volunteers, and the ational Disaster Response Force (NDRF) who are trying their best to help the affected at the moment.

Army jawans rescue stranded people across a stream in Jammu | Photo: PTI

Army jawans rescue stranded people across a stream in Jammu | Photo: PTI

Jammu and Kashmir Floods Information: Important Details

Emergency Army Helpline:(+91) 011-23019831 · (+91) 011-23322045

Home Ministry Helpline:(+91) 011-23093054 · (+91) 011-23092763

NDRF Control Room:(+91) 011-26107953 · (+91) 0-9711077372

About The Author

Adfar Shah, a New Delhi based Kashmiri Sociologist is a Columnist at Point Blank 7. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com

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