Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas and Disaster Preparedness by Authorities in India

Posted on December 22, 2010

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The vision of India’s National Disaster Management Authority-NDMA http://ndma.gov.in/ndma/index.htm is ‘to build a safer and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, pro-active, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy for disaster management through collective efforts of all Government Agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations’. Sometime one wonders on the disaster preparedness of our national level authority and its actions in the ground, which clearly reflects that, it is no more than the conglomeration of erstwhile administrators. For example, since the enactment of National Disaster Management Act, 2005, and ratification of state Act by Uttarakhand Government for State Disaster Management Authority, the authorities never met.

The flood in the North India during September 2010, clearly indicated that the Government of India was unprepared (Link: http://bit.ly/9uQ5R5 ) to control the situation in affected states like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana.  Here more than 3 million people were affected due to flood, that washed away their homes, damaged crops by ravaging 5,00,000 hectares of farm land in Uttar Pradesh alone. In Uttarakhand about 200 people were killed. The UNICEF estimated that 1.7 million people were affected in Uttar Pradesh and 1 million in Bihar. The flood situation was that, the harnessing of rivers through construction of dams did not help, as claimed generally by Hydro-power authorities in Himalayan region.

Similarly, the cloudburst, which led to flash floods and mudslides, claimed about 180 lives and injured about 400 people, besides causing widespread damage to public and private property in Leh region (Link http://bit.ly/gnDYpe ).

On this situation, one of India’s News daily writes that, “Politicians and educationists talk about relevant and appropriate local knowledge, but there is no evidence of it in what happens in our universities and research institutions. A modern society needs to constantly update its knowledge and information. It is part of the preparedness of a government” (Link: http://bit.ly/9uQ5R5).

For instance, the aftermath of flood in Uttarakhand was that, the central team of various officials visited to all 13 districts of Uttarakhand and Disaster Management Secretary of State had a meeting with District Magistrates to coordinate while state Government asked for relief package from center. What happened that, nobody knows.

The India Meteorology Department (IMD) in September 2010 launched a major project on Integrated Forecasting and Communication System given the crucial situation in Leh and Uttarakhand to understand the complex phenomena of meteorological disasters. It was claimed that the dynamic weather prediction models using super computers and very highly sophisticated software will start giving more and more accurate data on various meteorological hazards like drought, heat waves, monsoon, floods, thunderstorms, or tropical cyclone. The government of India took it as one of our priorities and Rs 1000 crore  (INR 100 Million) programme was sanctioned by Planning Commission in 2007. This included setting up of automatic weather stations, Doppler radars, connecting them with most high speed digital interconnecting systems and network as well as buying super computers for numerical weather prediction have been over.

The challenge here is that, how the scientific data is efficiently, timely and effectively communicated to the local communities in disaster like situations. In the mountains, one needs to understand the topographical barriers, availability of communication channels and electricity. As an example during floods in Uttarakhand, people were completely disconnected for weeks from any type of communication means due to no electricity, and there was no food supply, while the tourists visiting in the region remain stuck in places due to major land slides in road networks.

There is an urgent need to look in to following aspects:

  • Reviewing the District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) generally headed by the District Magistrate and the preparation process of District Disaster Response Plan (DDRP) in each district of mountain region.
  • Review the linkages between District Planning Committee and District Environment Committee in lieu of coordination and planning with DDMA.
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of communication between NDMA and State level Disaster Management Authorities.
  • Implementation of DDRP, mock drills and availability of staff as per state provisions and central guidelines.
  • The implementation of plan for identification of high risk areas in the region and availability of all relevant information at one place for policy and planning purposes.
  • The status of training to the local community on various disaster related issues and inclusiveness in such efforts.
  • Review the effectiveness of communication channels during disaster like situation and preparedness of DDMA on it.
  • Availability of resources (human and financial) with state and DDMA and Urban local bodies.
  • Reviewing the JNNURM and other Urban Development plans in view of disaster preparedness on water, waste, sanitation, flood, etc.
  • The provisions for Dam Break Analysis in mountainous regions of India, where in situation like cloud burst and flash floods, the authorities have appropriate disaster management plan in place.
  • The efforts towards awareness building and knowledge sharing by various entrusted departments in a state and districts and support by national level agencies.