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Counting catastrophes

A robust economy will help recuperate faster from disaster. A healthier approach is to be institutionally foresighted and effectively disaster-proof development.

Counting catastrophes

Disasters do not quite come unannounced and the degree of devastation can make restoration a tedious task. Damage to personal and public property, destruction of basic crucial infrastructure, and sudden extreme environmental set-back in the event of a natural calamity are losses that directly affect common people who are actually not responsible for the situation. Abruptly cut services and supplies have a bearing on even those who are beyond the affected area. Reaching across borders and seas, the impact of a disaster can open up Pandora's box. The floods inundating Kerala tell a compounded story.

For a state that receives more than abundant rainfall, a thirty per cent excess might not have caused the magnitude of destruction that it did. The sensitive Western Ghat region was already underlined for special protection and particularly restricted any pursuit that would require tampering with the environment, using the land for non-forest purpose including quarrying, cultivation of yearly crops on hill slopes and even fruit-bearing trees. This was a true-to-geography report of ecologist Madhav Gadgil that received no serious attention as it was a significant roadblock in the pace of development and economic progress n the state. Yet, Kerala's plight is not the only example of the ignored signals of a foreseeable calamity.

The perils of rapid and blinkered urbanisation have made themselves known earlier when Chennai was hit by massive floods in 2015 and Uttarakhand in 2013. The reduced capacity of land to absorb rainwater due to concrete structures that have replaced natural sponges aggravates the chances of floods. Kerala, in part, is guilty of such lop-sided development. Rapid growth and a semblance of progress are too enticing to spare any thought to the resilient but unforgiving environment. With respect to restoration and rehabilitation, it becomes an economic challenge in more ways than monetary. The cost of damage from disaster only increases with every occurrence. To put that in perspective, the Centre released Rs. 600 crore relief against the request of Rs. 2000 crore; a Rafale fighter jet costs Rs. 670 crore and India intends to buy 36 of these from France. This makes for a case of compromising national security to address a national disaster. Certainly, mobilising resources internally is a task that demands tremendous balanced allocating of finances.

While courted natural disasters in India have had prominent countries offer help, it is UAE's announcement of relief assistance that has made Kerala seem like a special case. The Centre provided less than requisite relief to the needy state and UAE acknowledges the value of services that Keralites give adding to the success story of the Gulf nation. The government has sound reasons to turn down such assistance in the interest of diplomacy and international relations, but it is the other reason that bears far more weight. The policy to not accept foreign aid instated after 2004 Tsunami is to establish and convey that a government is capable of surmounting a national disaster internally and independently. The self-sufficiency of an economy is for all times, notwithstanding bilateral relations otherwise. UAE is, however, free to provide aid to individuals and NGOs without bringing the Central government in the picture at all.

There is bound to be a fall in income and output following a disaster. An already robust economy will help recuperate faster. Resources are expended anyway. An even better and healthier approach is to be institutionally foresighted and effectively disaster-proof development. Like most calamities in recent times, Kerala floods too could have been prevented from being so drastic. But the lesson apart from not violating environment is that there ought to be an optimal and judicious deployment of resources to further development. It takes just thirty per cent extra rain to wash away progress and big money earned phenomenally fast.

(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Kavya Dubey

Kavya Dubey

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