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Millennium Post

How to avert a catastrophe

Uttrakhand in June 2013 underwent one of the most severe disasters in India. It killed more than 10,000 persons, affected 4000 villages and 50,000 houses. 292 villages need to be rebuilt or relocated. This ecologically sensitive and fragile Himalayan State is exposed to multi hazards-floods, landslides, earthquake, cloudburst and storms. At present rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts are going on. Rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding of the villages, pilgrim towns, public buildings, roads, and restoring communication channels, and ravaged infrastructure in this Himalayan region pose a daunting challenge to the government. It is necessary to prepare a ‘Disaster Management Plan’ and a strategic framework which is eco- sensitive, inclusive and safe.

An effective disaster management framework should address the most urgent and pressing issues, while keeping a long range vision. It can be a set of five interrelated eco-sensitive plans based on rigorous eco-analysis, comprising a) regional plan, b) redevelopment and conservation of pilgrim towns, tourist centres and villages, c) plans for roads, transport, communication, infrastructure, water, health and hygiene, energy, d) local community plans, and e) retrofitting and rehabilitation plans of shelter and buildings. The plans should be based on the scientific studies- satellite imagery, laser scanning and forensic analysis. The plans should facilitate community participation and mobilisation of resources of the government, international, corporate and NGOs. These require a  three-pronged strategy:

First, an integrated framework of eco-sensitive  disaster management plans for  Himalayan region, focusing upon safety, livelihoods, rebuilding roads and transport network, basic services, hygiene/ health, public facilities, shelter and communications. Second, guidelines for location and development of roads, infrastructure and buildings; with mandatory safety provision for every building/structure. Third, action plans for reconstruction, rehabilitation and retrofitting of buildings.

Planning needs a support system comprising accurate and up to date base maps, information, documentation and analysis pertaining to meteorology, micro-zonation, vegetation and forest, landslides, geology, floods, traffic volumes and road network, bridges and culverts, population and tourists/pilgrims flow, health profile, morphology, land use, infrastructure services, etc. Technological system can help in this task and the areas of vulnerability can be identified, so as to be prepared and plan strategies to safeguard against disasters. The following are the key strategies for planning, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the disaster affected Himalayan Region: (a)Micro-zonation surveys should be the basis of referred for land use planning, particularly potential areas of urban growth; (b) The key communication centres should be protected from natural disasters, i.e. flood, fire, earthquake, etc. and services restoration should be taken up on priority; (c) Building by-laws should incorporate the aspects of multi-hazard safety and retrofitting. Priority should be given to public buildings such as hospitals, educational, institutional, power stations, infrastructure, heritage and religious structures, lifeline structures and those which are likely to attract large congregation for their ability to withstand earthquake of the defined intensity. Suitable action should be taken for retrofitting and strengthening of structures identified as vulnerable as per earthquake manuals and National Building Code. A techno-legal regime has to be in place for multi-hazard safety; (d)   disaster management centres be established in every city or district to deal with the disasters. Sensitize people by media campaigns and publicity about emergency procedures and promote safety culture and behavior.

Natural disasters, such as earthquake, hurricane, floods and landslides cannot be prevented. Fire, traffic accidents, outbreak of infectious diseases, collapse of structures, stampede, etc. are some of the man-made disasters. The hazards of these disasters are manifolds-loss of human lives, loss of property and, disruption in the daily life. These disasters take place mainly due to the carelessness of the man, improper planning and not observing the preventing measures. By prudent planning and preparedness, it is possible minimize the loss of property and human lives to a great extent. There is a need to adopt safety standards, which should be the basis of the design and planning and in the location and layout of the buildings, specifications and construction materials.

Immediate needs

What we must focus on now included several multi-pronged measures. We should discourage indiscriminate speculative urban growth, ban all construction in eco-sensitive, flood prone areas, landslide and high earthquake danger prone zones.

Safety-oriented planning, location, design, construction specifications and norms should become routine, not aberrations.  Upgrading transport infrastructure, roads, bridges, culverts, drainage, etc. is a must.

Improving security and information infrastructure CCTV, GIS, traffic signals and signage, road markings, information about helpline numbers and persons to be contacted in case of emergency must be ensured. Provision of clean and well-lighted toilets on all public roads/streets and in the schools, markets and public buildings are important.

Ensure adequate infrastructure, drinking water, power, street lighting, police posts, emergency medical help, etc,.Develop network of health infrastructure, dispensaries, trauma and accident centres.
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