Despite 70 years of Independence, our country remains ill-equipped to combat the impact of natural disasters
The recent thunderstorms have brought our country to a standstill. The sheer chaos caused by dust storms, rain, hail, and wind is colossal. May 2 and May 13 witnessed the biggest damage. These thunderstorms took about 300 lives and injured thousands. Hundreds of vehicles were damaged and numerous trees were uprooted. Property worth millions has been ruined and this reflects our poor state of preparedness.
As rightly said, 'If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail'. Our country has no mechanism to combat these disasters. We have surrendered before strong winds, while the administration stood as a mute spectator. Road traffic went berserk while telephone and electricity infrastructure remained paralysed for days. Railway, metro, and airport services were halted for hours together, bringing the country to its knees. These results were just due to strong winds, one can imagine the quantum of damage that can be done by a hurricane or a cyclone if it ever occurs. Another failure was the prediction of the storm. IMD has become a mockery as its predictions seldom meet the result. States like Haryana declared two days of holiday bringing the system to a standstill. Thousands of memes and jokes flooded social media when the IMD's prediction failed to meet its dates. It is our gross failure that even after 70 years of independence we have failed to erect a robust system of weather forecast. For a vast country like ours, we need a reliable weather prediction infrastructure. The worst part is that majority of India is under a seismic zone, yet there is no preparedness. The geographers are of the view that a major earthquake is due, which will jolt India from Kashmir to Arunachal, bringing unanticipated damage. We should ask ourselves, 'Are we prepared for it?'
It is time we learn from countries like USA, Russia, Japan, and China. Despite having atrocious climatic conditions, these countries perform exceptionally well on infrastructural grounds. They make sure that the supply of essential amenities to the affected areas are not halted. Even in heavy snowfall and torrential rainfall, the electricity and communication services are least affected in these countries. Benjamin Franklin had once said, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'.
Indians are among the least-skilled in terms of disaster management. We lack even the basic first-aid training and emergency guidelines. Our households are neither equipped with emergency tools nor the infrastructure to sustain a higher order natural calamity. High-speed winds and a couple of tree falls are enough to trigger panic amongst the population. Disruption in electricity supply paralyses the entire post-accident operations. Every year, our country faces numerous natural calamities like floods, droughts, dust storms, hailstorms, thunderstorms, cyclones, forest fires to earthquakes – yet, we have failed to formulate a comprehensive disaster management mechanism.
The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad, it's preventing the bad from becoming worse. The only solution to encounter natural disasters in a diverse country like ours is to train the people in disaster management. Institutions like Scouts and Guides, NDRF, NCC, and Red Cross should come forward and play a crucial role in capacity building among the common people. Disaster management exercises should be made compulsory at the school level and, if needed, it should be treated at par with the other scholastic grades. Every household should procure an emergency kit equipped with all the essential tools like torch, rope, knife, first-aid box etc. Basic medical training camps should be held at block levels where exercises like administering CPR, dressing of wounds etc. is taught to the citizens. A team of such trained individuals should be constituted at every Panchayat and block level. If needed, the Government of India should formulate a full-fledged department or a ministry for disaster management which would be held responsible for providing men, material, and services during natural and man-made disasters. The recent example of an overbridge pillar collapse in Varanasi is again an alarming call. It took the city administration two days just to lift the pillar from the sight of the accident. There were no machines available and NDRF teams from Delhi had to rush to prevent further damage. Such a sorry state of affairs nullifies all our efforts of becoming a developed nation.
Preparedness is the only way to combat a disaster. If we fail to prepare now, we will only regret the delay. These natural disasters are emanating strong signals of warning that we should stop playing havoc to Mother earth. It seems, while the western world is learning something new with each disaster and equipping themselves with means to tackle the menace, we still prefer to close our eyes and blame destiny.
(The author is an Educationist. The views expressed are strictly personal)