Avoidable misery

What stands out clearly in the devastation brought about by flash floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is that the state authorities were ill prepared to deal with the havoc.

 There were predictions that the monsoon would be normal and set in ahead of time. After an early onset it travelled quickly and covered a good part of the country in over three weeks.  But this did not prompt the authorities to take adequate preventive measures against floods. The situation in the Himalayan states is dire and cataclysmic. Flash floods have taken many lives and caused huge damage to property. Over 70,000 tourists and pilgrims have been stranded in Uttarakhand due to destruction of roads in landslides. Most of the state’s pilgrimage centres  are under water.  Disruption of communications is adding to the problems.

Other states like Haryana and Delhi have also been affected. In Delhi and  Mumbai road traffic and train services  were affected and even the Delhi international airport was hit by waterlogging. Every year floods cause much damage in many areas in the country but flood control plans or steps to minimise the damage are hardly implemented. The army or the air force is called in every year, as it has been done now, for rescue and relief operations. The simple lesson that it is easier and cheaper to take preventive measures than to deal with disasters after they have struck has not been learnt yet.

 The National Disaster Management Authority’s working leaves much to be desired but even whatever protocols it has prescribed are not followed. Travel warning and advisories to intending visitors,  strengthening of protective systems, timely evacuation of people from flood-prone areas and a general alert would have helped to reduce the losses and inconvenience being seen now.

The sight of multi-storeyed buildings collapsing into the rising river also poses the question why they were allowed to be built right on the river bed in the first place. The rules about construction in areas like river banks and coastal zones are themselves lax. They are flagrantly violated also. The entire Himalayan region, which is the youngest mountain range in the world, is ecologically fragile. This should be considered when construction and human activities are undertaken there. While relief and mitigation efforts should receive attention in the affected areas, authorities in the lower stretches of the rivers should be prepared now. 

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