In my 1st post this year (Read here), one among my wish list was to have a “Natural calamity free 2014”. But that is not to be. As I write this piece, most of Jammu & Kashmir is under a deluge. The fury of the rains has ceased but not before leaving a trail of destruction. The armed forces are pulling all stops in an attempt to rescue even the last human standing. The authorities are yet to ascertain the exact number of people who have been affected. For most of us in India what is panning out is a very familiar sequence of events. Just that it was Uttarakhand last year, Andhra couple of years ago, Kosi floods in Bihar few years back and Jammu and Kashmir this year.
With so much money spent on Science and Technology and regular chest thumping announcements of firing rockets and satellites into space we still don’t have a reasonably sound weather forecasting system in place. Most of the satellites we put in the orbit are meant for peaceful purposes including that of capturing imagery which will help in predicting changes in weather patterns,.. But year after year (exceptions like Cyclone Phalin apart) we have never been able to comprehend the scale of Nature’s fury with any reasonable amount of accuracy. Pardon me for my ignorance if indeed we knew in advance of these floods in which case it is far more worrisome – that we knew what was coming and still we didn’t take adequate precautions.
As cynical as it may sound, in India our approach and response to natural disasters follow a very set pattern. Once a calamity strikes we seem to have a ‘Standard Operating procedure’ the main problem with it being so “Standard” that it can be summarized as “Chaotic”. I had written about this last year as well. Read here.
First will be the local administration’s efforts to do some rescue without realizing if they have the capability and resources to do it. Followed by the Chief Minister’s visit to the affected areas and then appeal for support from the Central Government. Then the Centre pitches with its support which includes calling the Armed forces to get into rescue. This is followed by normally an “Aerial survey” by the Prime Minister and then announcement of Aid amounts to people who lost their lives,.. As the fury unfolds, media circus under the guise of informing the public gets into a “Coverage rat race” the underlying objective being “TRP rat race”!!! Then there is the blame game between Centre and State if they are from different parties. Then follow the “Photo ops” by politicians and PR plugs on their efforts. And these days you have the social media “forwards” which add to the frenzy.
In all this few questions arise:
- For a country like India which has seen so many natural disasters year after year predictably in the same time periods, is it difficult to predict a pattern in Nature’s fury? In the so many crores of money we spend on Science and Technology, Research,.. can we not allocate few crores to “outcome” based projects for example better methods of weather forecasting? If we are already doing it, the concern is on the effectiveness of these spends.
- Once the calamity strikes can we not have a method to the madness? Instead of first the Municipality trying to do some relief and then the State trying to pitch in and then finally getting the army to assist,.. can we not have a central nodal agency take over rescue and relief operation irrespective of the scale? Not that we don’t have nodal agencies. There is one called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with the PM as its Chairman and till I last heard with a politician as the functional head!!! The Vision of this agency as per the website is a classic case of trying to do so many things and ending up doing nothing. Its vision says “To build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation”. With so many adjectives and jargons doting that long vision – it’s clear that some management consultant has made a killing in helping the agency draft that impressive vision statement! For instance do we know what role is this NDMA playing in the J&K situation?
- Can we not have one Co-ordinating agency on the ground? What is required is an agency which effectively becomes a single point co-ordinating agency in all the post calamity efforts – the 3 R’s. First the Rescue, then Relief and then finally Rehabilitation. Once this agency steps in, even the CM of the state must go thro this agency if he wants to pitch in with any relief effort. It is admirable to see civil society pitching in remarkably. From common public to NGOs there is assistance galore. But without a central co-ordinating agency the nature of assistance can turn chaotic as we saw last year in Uttarakhand and as we see now in Jammu and Kashmir.
- Can we not have a process by which anybody who wants to be part of the 3R’s as above must report to this central co-ordinating agency on the ground first? This agency then channelizes resources including men and material according to priority and gravity of the situation on the ground. Today we see many agencies doing their bit without any co-ordination among themselves resulting in a bit of chaos.
- Can we stop forgetting once the event is over? While the media goes over the top in coverage for a few days when the action is hot – it completely forgets to follow up after a few days except for revisiting for a day on the Anniversary of the event. After all that what happened in Uttarakhand last year, do we now know if the lessons have been learnt and sufficient precautions have been taken while reconstruction?? Can we say with confidence that come another flood, the scale of destruction will be much smaller?
I am not sure may be these are empty rants of an individual which may not be practical. But I am certain that for a country like India which generally thrives on chaos, it can do without that in the times of natural disasters atleast. As Nature “Cut” Uttarakhand and “Pasted” Jammu and Kashmir this year it could be another state next year. It will be good to see some lessons learnt and new initiatives taken under the task master Prime Minister. I will then vouch for the arrival of “Ache Din”!!!
You could play a part in the R&R efforts in J&K. You could send in your donations if you wish to