In this article it is argued that Disaster Management practice in India need to change the old mindset of disaster relief, to include quick planning and actions, using verifiable space data and avoid delay causing detailed assessments in deciding any government run relief package. We need to be cautions against the current jargons such as ‘green economy’ and ‘climate smart’ development for the vulnerable Himalayas that need sustainable development with tried and tested technologies and not focusing on economy alone. The available state action plan on climate of Uttarakhand’s (SAPCC), is not a holistic and implementable document, that still need a detailed assessment and research prior to any implementable action. For long term relief and rehabilitation action the national and state governments, regional and international agencies need to come quickly on board to take charge of situation.
Too many Reports too Less Understanding
There are many agencies coming with various kinds of premature reports about the kind of disaster Uttarakhand faced recently, however, ground realities are much different than what has been argued in them. Almost, all districts in Uttarakhand are affected due to the disaster that hit 16 and 17th June and impacted over 5000 villages, many thousand deaths and damaged thousands of houses and infrastructure facilities. A number of media agencies are also sensationalizing the issues and giving wrong figures about the state of affair.
Delay in Action
Even after over a month, when many responsible governments (State and National) and international agencies (UN, Bi-lateral and Multi-lateral) are still in indecisive stage, there are organizations who have already rescued thousands of people, provided immediate relief material and also setup their long term rehabilitation camps for the education of children, employments and livelihood opportunities to the locals. There were actions like short term shelters, connecting bridges, food item supplies, energy options, health facilities and long term livelihood opportunities, those have already been chalked out by many actively involved organizations in this region.
From this disaster the first and foremost thing our agencies entrusted the role of emergency and disasters relief, must learn that we need to change our old mindset of disaster relief actions that include quick planning and actions on restoration or rehabilitation actions while using contemporary means and technologies including ICT’s.
In a situation when we already have ready in hand satellite imageries, data set, digital photographs and many such information, we might need not to really wait for preliminary assessment for ‘disaster relief’ and ‘emergency’ situation, to decide upon a package from an international or national agency. In the case of Uttarakhand disasters we had lot of information available that could have been verified easily and relief and rescue operation could have saved thousands of lives. Which didn’t happen and people died due to hunger, fatigue, health problems and mental trauma. Similar was the case with the livestock population in the region.
A updated report (23 July 2013) of NDMA- National Disaster Management Authority of government of India, revels that out of 5526 missing people (which is far-far less than actual figures), 249 bodies have been recovered, while a livestock population of over 10000 also lost during this disaster.
On the day of disaster 17th June, a team of volunteers met with state Disaster Minister, Portfolio Minister and State Disaster Secretary to inform, appraise and suggest them about the severity of problem. The team observed a very casual approach in understanding the situation to initiate quick rescue and relief operation to the stranded people by the government functionaries. Later, it came in to notice that the delay in rescue and relief supply led to manifold deaths.
In a worst scenario many voluntary groups and individuals, through coordinated efforts finally ensured food and medical supplies to the stranded.
The Preparedness Scenario
The situation is that, in highly disaster sensitive regions in mountain state like Uttarakhand there are no early warning systems in place.
When we talk about Indian Himalayan Mountain region, there are regional agencies like ICIMOD, entrusted with the role of knowledge dissemination to reduce the risks associated with natural hazards, understand the vulnerabilities and develop coping capacities on disaster and early warning systems, through community-based disaster risk reduction and response protocols. However, there seems unpreparedness in the region in context to knowledge sharing, action research and dissemination actions, while the availability of adequate infrastructure and information systems in place are addition.
What Indian Government is taking to HFA (Hyogo Framework for Action 2001-2015) as achievements are; about local institutional capacity building, assessment and monitoring of disaster risk with enhanced early warning systems in place, use of knowledge for innovation to develop resilience, reduced underlying factor and strengthened disaster preparedness for effective response. In general it is said that India was able to substantially reduce disaster losses by building the resilience of communities to any kind of disasters. But, the question is, how much have our governments emphasized upon knowledge dissemination and implemented the disaster risk management policies as part of each decision making processes and plans in India?
Transfer! What Not?
The mountain villages, those are completely cutoff from mainland many agencies are now suggesting about cash transfer scheme as part of relief work. Will that really work when our markets don’t have basic items like food and shelter related amenities? The focus of relief and rehabilitation should be, first connecting the villages by any means and supplying basic needs for a while. The voluntary groups working in the region have their own limitations, and for long term relief government, regional and international agencies should come together quickly to work on such aspects.
Many agencies are using many metaphors like climate smart, clean and green development, we need to be cautious that we are not really hampering the quick relief process on one hand, and not pushing too hard for too big plans in the name of such development in the mountains. What we could not achieve in other less sensitive and accessible regions, we should not strive for those technologies for now in the mountains itself. We must consider that our mountains are somewhat fragile and equally remote in many sense. These new mountains comparatively hold much more natural resources and green values to other areas, the need is for developing them with the idea of sustainability, rather ‘green’ business centres .
The Hydropower And Other Aspects
A detailed discourse would be required about the development of hydro-power in the mountains and they include mega to small hydro projects. The cause for the disaster in areas like Kedarnath area was a long term process of glacial mass formation and disintegration, and the erratic rainfall from a global climatic phenomena. These aspects need further research and discourse, and for this purpose international and regional agencies need to put their heads together, and come up with facts and figures to establish connections and a future coping mechanism.
There are reports talking about implementing solar and wind power projects in the disaster hit areas like Uttarakhand. In our view, they are not that simple as it seems. Many aspects have already been explored in the region, and yet much more efforts are required to implement such energy option here. Rather talking about ‘environmental’ aspect the focus of most of the agencies is about ‘green economy’. The economy just forms one part of holistic development process, we need to consider all dimensions of development, and that’s about ‘sustainable mountain development’ through appropriate knowledge dissemination, networking and ground actions.
The State Climate Plans
There are reports those talk about the implementation of the recommendations of State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) of Uttarakhand government. We must understand that any action that is not supported by proper studies or research, on kind of climatic variability and vulnerability in the region, it cannot be said a holistic and implementable plan document. And the SAPCC of Uttarakhand, and for that matter any state climate action plan in India, no such assessment were done at all.
The Way Forward
Developing better livelihood options through various alternative means and focusing upon the development through quality education in the state will help in some way. Following are the actions those need urgent attention in Himalayan region and specifically in Uttarakhand for now:
- Detailed hazard zonation for whole Indian Himalayan region, Uttarakhand on priority,
- Developing a system that makes availability and accessibility of robust scientific data on various hazard related aspects,
- An action oriented disaster network that quickly acts when disaster strikes, on rescue and rehabilitation aspects,
- Very strategic and well planned capacity building efforts in different regions with the help of local organizations,
- Developing and placing long term monitoring and early warning systems in disaster prone areas and otherwise,
- Developing regional preparedness and mitigation plans,
- Using advanced information communication tools, ensuring last mile connectivity,
- Developing private sector towards livelihood and employment generation through small and medium enterprises,
- Mandatory provision of insurance coverage for each family living in Highly sensitive Himalayan region, and subsidized it for poor families.