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Nepal Quake Underscores the Need for Updated Resource Inventory - By Nivedita Khandekar
[ Feature | Disaster/Flood /Earthquake  /  15 May 2015 ]

s2015051365320.jpg The Indian Army, Nepal Army & Nepal Armed Police personnel help Barpak residents to rebuild their homes on May 13, 2015.

“All they needed was a long enough rope to divert
the falling tree to the desired spot. But no one
knew where they could find a rope or a strong wire,”
Dr G M Dar from the Disaster Management Centre
at Srinagar, recently narrated a telling incident from
the devastating Kashmir floods of 2014.


A weakened embankment of a spring on
Srinagar outskirts would have breached if the water
flew over it. The local administration wanted a
nearby tree to be felled to divert the strong current
of water so that sandbags could be piled on to
strengthen the embankment to save the area from
flooding. A rope holding that tree to nearby trees
would have meant a directed fall at the desired spot.
That was not to be.


That’s why resource inventory is a must at all
levels right up to districts and even block level, Dar,
a faculty at the Disaster Management Centre of the
J&K Institute of Management, Public Administration
and Rural Development, said. The inventory
has a range of equipment and availability of trained
manpower.

Apart from the loss of lives (150 plus), there
was an estimated loss of over Rs 5,000 crore due
to J&K floods, a PTI report had quoted
ASSOCHAM.

Uttarakhand in 2013 had similarly witnessed huge
loss of life and damage to property arising out of a
natural disaster and still paying the price with
severely decreased tourism/pilgrimage.

The Nepal earthquake last month should come
as a rude reminder for India. Rampant unauthorized
construction across cities has made Indian urban
centres such as Delhi and Mumbai most vulnerable
to natural disasters such as quake or floods.
Much has been written about what would have
happened if a 7.9 magnitude on Richter scale quake
hit Delhi and how the national capital will be
flattened in absence of any structural stability
measures etc. But it is not just the immediate natural
disaster that kills or injures people.


Much also depends on how fast or slow is the
response of the authorities. The reason:
Mismanagement of resources and manpower that
further leads to huge loss of life and property.


When will India learn lesson?

Even as the term disaster management is gaining
currency year on year, it has not percolated to the
lower most rung, usually the first responders in case
of a natural calamity. Kashmir floods 2014 or
Uttarkhand 2013 should have been lessons well
learnt.


But a local engineer of the flood and irrigation
department or for that matter a hospital’s medical
superintendent remains unaware about the
availability of resources that can prove valuable at
the time of providing relief and rescue.
Way back in 2004, the Ministry of Home Affairs
(MHA) had initiated a web-based platform, the India
Disaster Resource Network (IDRN, http://
idrn.gov.in), which is basically an online inventory
of resources, both men and material, that is hoped
to be useful in times of emergencies.


A quick glance through the inventory – statewise,
district wise, neatly segregated region wise
AND available to public free of cost – tells us, you
have fibre boats, wooden boats; you have firefighting
teams for high rise buildings or a nuclear
plant; you have JCB machines and you have
ambulances; bolt cutters or cold cutters; you have
radiologists and you have a Ham radio operator.
You name it and the list has it.


And it is here that the legendary Indian babudom
has failed to meet the expectations. Data that needs
to be updated for each district has not been updated
for scores of states and Union Territories. Forget
remote districts, even the national capital Delhi does
not fare any better.


Following table makes it clear how Delhi, the
seat of power, has not done poorly. For instance,
Central Delhi district has not bothered to update
data since August 2005; North Delhi has not done
it after June 2008 etc. But the most important is
the fact that Shahdara and South-East Delhi districts
– both relatively newer districts – have no data
whatsoever. Unfortunately, these are the two district
on either side of the Yamuna, with dense
population, most of it unauthorized colonies, and
the area is hugely prone to flooding.


DELHI
Central Aug-05
East Delhi Feb-15
New Delhi Nov-14
North Jun-08
North East Mar-15
North West Apr-06
South delhi Feb-15
South West Jan-15
West Jan-15
Shahdara Data Not Available
South East Data Not Available
(Source: IDRN)

Mumbai, the financial capital that has once
suffered massive loss of life, property and trade after
26/7 (2005) has no record updated after December
2008. Andaman and Nicobar Islands that had
witnessed the terrible Tsunami (2004), has not
updated the list of inventory since 2003.
But then, according to Anupama Sethi,
administrator with the IDRN, “There are honourable
exception. Most districts of Orissa, often ravaged
by deadly cyclones, have updated inventory till
February or March 2015. Other states with updated
inventories for almost all districts are Tamil Nadu,
Tripura, Punjab and Kerala.”


Awareness is the key


Main problem is lack of awareness. Although
IDRN is monitored and maintained by the National
Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), the data
collection and updating it is essentially done at the
district level. But many at the district level – for
instance the district collector – are not even aware.
That is where Sethi and her team chips in with
training for different states.


But surely, something somewhere is lacking. A
review meeting in September 2014 of the IDRN
received valuable suggestion from across
stakeholders. For instance, infrastructure data such
as locations of schools, hospitals or even the
community bhawans need to be added to the
inventory. Orissa has done a wonderful job of
creating stilted shelters for people evacuated from
flood prone areas.


The IDRN data is available only in English right
now. But for a diverse country such as India,
obviously the need is to have the same data in all
regional languages. Also, the data is accessible only
online right now, there is an immediate need of
making provisions for off-line availability too. After
the Ladakh cloudburst in 2010, the entire BSNL
network had collapsed and there would have been
no way to access the ‘online’ resource inventory.
Keeping in tune with the increasing penetration
of smart phones across stratas, using social media
such as Twitter and Facebook for information
dissemination can prove timely and necessary for
generating awareness too.


India surely cannot afford repeats of
Uttarakhand 2013 or J&K floods 2014 when
resources were indeed available with the
respective states but the authorities concerned, the
first responders, had no information about
the availability of such resources, which
delayed the response. The key is awareness,
knowledge.

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