Huge catastrophe

The impact of the flash floods in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand last week is much worse than feared, though even the first estimates of loss of lives and property were considerably high.  The toll may run into thousands  and  it is unlikely  that there will be even a fairly accurate  figure. Most of the affected people are visitors and residents of remote villages and it will be difficult to estimate their number.  The loss of property and infrastructure is colossal. Most roads in the area, almost all the bridges and a large number of buildings and houses have collapsed.  Townships were washed away. The entire road transport system in Rudraprayag and Chamoli has collapsed. The calamity, by its size and impact, is of national proportions.

The rescue and rehabilitation efforts have proved very unequal to the requirement. Even the rescue exercises are incomplete;  rehabilitation is much less in the picture. There are still thousands of people trapped in various places. Even a week after the disaster they could not be safely evacuated, and many of them might succumb to hunger and diseases. The disaster management system has failed to rise to the needs of the occasion. The government has itself admitted that the efforts have lacked co-ordination.

The army and the air force personnel did a commendable job by reaching help to the needy and undertaking efficient evacuation efforts.  They were almost the only the visible part of the efforts. But even the limitations in their facilities have come to light as there were not enough number of helicopters suitable for the job.   Volunteers and non-government organisations were also active.  But the civil rescue and relief system of the government, which had the biggest responsibility to extend help to the people,  was exposed as almost absent or inefficient. The disaster management authority has not been able to make its presence felt because of lack of adequate facilities, skilled personnel  and  expertise. The experience is Uttarakhand should be an object lesson for the agency.

Since there are victims from all parts of the country, other states have also mounted rescue and relief operations.  These are not often co-ordinated.  Unfortunately  some politics has also entered the picture though this should be strictly avoided in a situation like this.  More rains have been predicted in the next few days. The immediate need is to complete the evacuation process before fresh rains and floods add to the present problems.

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