Sometimes nature is soothing, sometimes it is ferocious. Whenever it turns to be in its bad temper it can bring devastation. It is known as disaster.Natural disasters are the manifestation of nature and they can take place anywhere anytime.
Although natural calamities cannot be averted, many measures can be taken to lessen the impact of these disasters and mitigate their effects on human lives and material losses.
In the year 2013 we have had two disasters- Floods in Uttarkhand and cyclone Phailin in Odisha.
The fiery Cyclone Phailin bought devastation in the coastal areas of Odisha, but India managed to successfully avert much loss to human lives and destruction because of its meticulous preparation.
At a central level, the meteorological department's ability to accurately predict such natural disasters has proved to be of great significance. Except for a couple of hours delay, the cyclonic storm moved just as the met department predicted and that too four-five days in advance.
Indian Metrological Department gave very categorical and clear reports about the progress of the cyclone much in advance, and that helped in evacuation of the people to be affected by the cyclone.
It was also the hard work put in by various government agencies in disaster preparedness that paid off while tackling Phailin.
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) went beyond its role and coordinated among departments to ensure full preparedness. The mandate of NDMA is preparedness for disaster, but it did handle coordination among various central government agencies, state authorities, armed forces, medical teams and rescue and relief workers.
Disaster management training was given to people that included several mock drills. People were told to carry their identity proofs and listen to radio and follow the instructions. In this way, thousands of people were trained on the dos and don'ts of disaster management.
This time the centre and state coordination was excellent. The armed forces, scientists and government agencies together tackled the situation arising out of cyclone Phailin. All of them did their job with "exemplary courage and efficiency".
On the other hand the tackling of Uttrakhand floods was appalling. This Uttrakhand tragedy raises the question; why a nation that can send a spacecraft to the moon couldn't reach relief to Kedarnath for four days?
People blame nature, encroachments on riverbeds, dams etc. But it is first and foremost a failure of the State to see advance warnings, take preventive measures, and have an organized effort in place to deal with any eventuality.
The State Government could have regulated the flow of tourists and pilgrims by issuing permits or receipts to them. This could have helped in keeping track of how many tourists/tours and vehicles have entered the fragile environment of Uttarakhand, but no record of any such sort was maintained.
On June 13, Met Department is said to have issued an advisory that rains were about to hit Uttarakhand while on June 15, specific warning of very heavy rainfall was issued. Why was there no Doppler radar to monitor storms? These are abject governance failures.
The tourist could have been alerted on SMS. The district administration and temple samitis could also have been alerted. The flow of tourists, vehicles in the hills could have been halted, avoiding the human cost of the tragedy. But no such warning systems seem to be in place. There was no satellite phones in the remote areas of Uttarakhand.
The administration at Kedarnath is said to have alerted the administration in Rambara and Ghaurikund of a cloudburst on the evening of June 16, but the advice was not taken seriously or acted upon, leading to thousands of people trekking 14 km from Ghauri Kund and the cloudburst on June 17 morning (along with flooding and glacier burst coming down in Kedar valley) causing heavy loss of life under the deluge of rubble and slush that flowed down like a tsunami.
Finally, the Army was called in. The paramilitary forces and Air Force choppers stepped in 48 hours after the tragedy stuck. It was fatal delay, as reports suggest that by then many people had died of starvation, hunger, and lack of water, cold and injuries after being battered by the elements of nature.
While the western countries value human resource the most, we spend all our precious time and money on petite political issues and blame games. It is time India steps up to address issues like mitigation strategies and effective disaster management planning.