The last week of October 2013 saw India battling a fierce force of nature from the Bay of Bengal – Cyclone Phailin. It was predicted to be a cyclone with enormous devastating capabilities and it was indeed one. However the loss caused to human life was extremely less. The entire credit goes to the Meteorological department for accurately predicting the cyclone and to the Armed forces and Disaster management organizations for acting swiftly in evacuating people before the cyclone made a landfall.
But unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the floods in Uttarakhand in July 2013. Unusually heavy rainfall and an enraged river Mandakini swept away anything that came in its way, causing severe damage to life and property.
These two natural calamities paint completely contradictory images of our preparedness. The Uttarakhand tragedy can be called both, as a man made and a natural disaster.
Man-made because it was brought about by a slew of mining and construction activities which were carried out with little or no ecological regard.
It can also be called a natural disaster as the melting of glaciers, especially the Chorabari Glacier, attributed to the floods significantly.
Another reason for our failure to tackle the flood was public apathy. Since no flood of such magnitude had occurred in Uttarakhand in recent times, people didn't expect it to happen this time either and went ahead with their pilgrimage.
Though the Meteorological Department had predicted extreme weather conditions, no precautionary measures were taken. Bad weather and hostile terrain can also be regarded as a factor which hampered rescue operations and eventually led to more casualties. Well, the weather was so bad that it resulted in crashing of an Indian Air Force helicopter which was transporting a rescue team to affected areas, killing everybody on board.
Now coming to our response to Cyclone Phailin; even in this case the Meteorological Department warned us about a natural calamity. But the advice was swiftly acted upon.
The concerned Central and State authorities communicated the effect of the cyclone to the locals. Rescue teams were rushed to the coastal areas and many more were at standby at close locations.
Though it was a festive season of Dussehra, people took the instructions seriously and with the help of rescue teams reached safe places away from the coast.
The quick response of the people in evacuating their places before the cyclone struck, can be, perhaps, a result of the near-death experience they had during the most infamous Tsunami in 2004, something, which the people of Uttarakhand had not experienced earlier in terms of flash floods.
The credit for reducing the impact of Phailin also goes to the numerous awareness and response programmes conducted by Indian government, especially the National Disaster management authority and NGOs, in the coastal areas. Proactive administration and media also played an important role in tackling this crisis. In short, everybody played a critical role in reducing Phalin's impact.
In both the cases, one thing emerges as a game changer – Preparedness. We weren't prepared in Uttarakhand and that is why we suffered. We were prepared in case of Phailin and that is why we survived. So this keyword is the only thing which, even in future, can help us to save millions of lives and it is not only the Government's responsibility but also the responsibility of each and every individual to equip himself/herself with the knowledge and skills to tackle such disasters.