Disaster Prevention and Mitigation
BY ASHRAF FAZILI
In comparison to the instant response to the world disasters, the victims of the recent floods in Kashmir Valley feel that their State has been lacking in timely rescuing of the sufferers, besides sluggish arrangement of dewatering, their rehabilitation, provisions, shelter, clothing (roti, kapda, makan). The general public opinion is that the local youth swung into action instantly till army and other rescue teams mobilized their resources.
For rehabilitation, despite tall claims, the state government seems to have been let down by New Delhi in release of timely, necessary funds required for the immediate relief measures of the flood victims. Every passing day is precious in view of the approaching harsh winter and it appears that people whose lives got spared from the wrath of floods may die now due to lack of proper warm shelters, warm clothing and other facilities. In the beginning there were tall claims of release of assistance in thousands of crores of rupees as relief to flood victims. The month of September has passed in waiting and now October is also nearing its end, but the promised USA’s seventh fleet of Bangladesh did not come (till the formulation of a new country became a reality).
Today the business hub, LalChowk presents a devastated look with dust in the atmosphere and people buying the salvaged material from the footpath vendors, while the shops are getting renovated. Most of the houses that submerged are getting cleared of the silt and the filth that entered with the flood waters. Some of the damaged houses are being dismantled in some areas. There is an apprehension that new structures may come up with utter disregard to building bye-laws. SMC must exercise its check with the powers vested in it. Most of the recovered vehicles are lying near the workshops waiting for their turn as it takes number of days for restoration of each vehicle. In this connection the open ground in front of Burn Hall School is fully occupied by the damaged vehicles besides the open spaces near the road side workshops all over the city. Traffic jams seem to have increased despite stalling of a sizeable number of vehicles due to floods. The recovery of city to its original position may take a long time to come.
From the natural disaster trends since 1945, scientists have observed that, there was an increase in the number of small and large natural disaster events during last half a century. Most of the natural disasters were meteorological in origin, river flooding, coastal inundation from hurricanes and typhoons, accounting them of a third of all disasters during this period of time. Earthquakes, although far fewer in number are more fatal. As more than half deaths attributed to natural disasters resulted from earthquakes.
In J&K State Community disaster training took place, wherein Divisional Disaster Management Cell, in collaboration with Civil Defense Organization J&K State, Red Cross Society, Fire & Emergency Services and disaster administration participated in August 2013. Forty youth mostly from Dal area and other areas of Srinagar city attended the training program, whose services were proposed to be used as Civil Defense Volunteers. Later similar programs were reportedly held district wise to register maximum number of youth for any future eventuality. It was only after losing 1150 lives in six years of various natural disasters, besides 953 persons in Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and 192 persons in 2010 flash floods in Leh, that J&K State formulated Disaster Management Policy falling in line with other states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Manipur, who have put in place comprehensive plans to mitigate natural disasters.
However in the recent floods, local youth showed their valour and risked their lives to save people in distress. They made their own innovations by carrying the old sick people on inflated tyres of trucks placing cushions below carom boards. The authorities took time to mobilize their resources to save the remaining lot of people.
From the studies of the decade of environmental disasters of 1990’s, widespread environmental degradation at global level floods, hurricanes, famines, windstorms, and other extreme events are becoming more frequent. Some important records of past historical tsunamis are:
1st November 1775- Earthquake caused tsunami destroyed Lisbon killing over 6000 people.
27th August 1883- Volcanic eruption tsunami from the Karakota volcano drowned 36,000 people.
15th June 1986- Tsunami in Japan killed over 27,000 people.
December 26th 2004- Tsunami has beaten all records being the deadliest one till date, killing more than one lakh people and rendering several lakhs homeless. The strange observation made on the most-hit island of Indonesia was that animals had migrated from the affected areas and the aquatic life was not much damaged in Indian Ocean.
After the Muzaffarabad earthquake in 2005, the US geologists RB Bilan and K.Wallace confirmed in a conference in India that the Kangra regions like other parts of the Himalayas are vulnerable to a future large earthquake of magnitude 8. Scientists warned that since the population in Gangetic basin in India and Pakistan is larger than at any time in the history, any future massive eartquake in Himalayas could have a much greater impact on population than the tsunami of 2004. Structural seismologists have warned that the Western Himalayas may be on a stress state similar to that of Andaman plate boundary prior to 2004. The view was however refuted according to their research and evidence by H. Gupta and Negi- former directors.
In May 1964 Yokahama Strategy emphasized that disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness is better than disaster response in achieving the goals and objectives of vulnerability reduction. Disaster response alone is not sufficient as it yields only temporary results at a very high cost. Prevention and mitigation contribute to lasting improvement in safety and are essential in integrated disaster management.
The GOI has issued guidelines that where there is a shelf of projects, projects addressing mitigation will be given a priority. It has also been mandated that each project in a hazard prone area will have disaster prevention / mitigation as a term of reference and the project document has to reflect as to how the project addresses that term of reference. According to these guidelines, Jhelum Project must receive top priority in its approval from GOI.
It is reported that the measures for flood mitigation were taken from 1950 onwards. As against the total 40 million hectares prone to floods, areas of about 15 million hectares have been protected by construction of embankments. A number of dams and barrages have been constructed. The State Governments have been assisted to take up mitigation programs like construction of raised platforms etc. Floods continue to be a menace however mainly because of the huge quantity of silt being carried by the rivers emanating from Himalayas. The silt has raised the bed level of many rivers to above the level of country side.
Embankments have also given rise to problems of drainage with heavy rainfall leading to waterlogging in areas outside the embankments as witnessed recently in Rajbagh, Jawaharnagar, Majoornagar, Bemina etc. To evolve both short term and long term strategy for flood management / erosion control, Government of India has recently constituted a Central Task Force under the chairmanship of Chairman CWC. The task force will examine the causes of the problem of recurring floods and erosion in States and regions prone to flood and erosion and suggest short term and long term measures. The task Force was to submit its report in December 2004. Due to erratic behavior on monsoons, both low and medium rainfall regions, which constitute about 68 percent of the total area, are vulnerable to periodical draughts. Our experience has been that almost every third year is a draught year.
Flood preparedness and response: In order to respond effectively to floods, Ministry of Home Affairs have initiated National Disaster Risk Management Program in all the flood prone States. Assistance is being provided to the States to draw up disaster management plans at the State, District, Block and Village levels. Awareness generation campaigns to sensitize all the stakeholders on the need of flood preparedness and mitigation measures. Elected representatives and officials are being trained in flood disaster management under the program. Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Uttar Pradesh are among the 17 mulyi-hazard prone States where this program is being implemented with UNDP, USAID and European Commission.
The other issues to be cared for are: Earthquake risk mitigation, National core group for ERM, Review of building bye-laws and their adoption, Development of revision of codes, Hazard safety cells in States, National program for capacity building of engineers and architects in earthquake risk mitigation, Training of rural masons, Earthquake engineering in undergraduate in engineering and architecture curricula, Hospital preparedness and emergency health management in medical education, Retrofitting of life line buildings, National earthquake risk mitigation project, mainstreaming mitigation in rural development schemes, National cyclone mitigation project, Landslide hazard mitigation, Disaster risk management program, Awareness generation, Disaster awareness in school curriculum, Information, education and communication, Special focus to Northern and North eastern states.
The various prevention and mitigation measures outlined above are aimed at building up the capabilities of the communities, voluntary organizations and government functionaries at all levels. This is a major task being undertaken by the government to put in place the mitigation measures for vulnerability reduction. This is just a beginning, the ultimate goal is to make prevention and mitigation a part of day-to-day life.
–The author is a retired Chief Engineer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org