Thorough overhaul

Even 10 days after unprecedented flash floods and landslides devastated large areas of Uttarakhand affecting millions of people, tourists, pilgrims and residents,  rescue and relief efforts are far from complete. Though over 75,000 people are estimated to have been evacuated, there are still thousands of people trapped in remote places.

The entire credit for the work that has been done should go to the defence and paramilitary forces while the civil machinery totally failed to rise to the occasion. Death, disease and hunger stare at many people who have been left behind. While attention should naturally be on the living rather than the dead, the prospect of rotting corpses spreading diseases is very real. Attempts to dispose the dead bodies have only started. The plight of permanent residents of the area is also bad. Cut off from other places they do not have access to food, medicines and other needs. They also need to be taken care of. 

There was clear failure in all these respects and it is continuing. The disaster management machinery has been found to be ineffective in dealing with the situation. Early warnings were not heeded and dissemination of information, which is crucial in such situations, was poor even after the tragedy struck. The civil authorities did not even have good maps of the affected areas. The official machinery simply capitulated. The magnitude of the disaster was not even realised in the beginning. The National Disaster Management Authority, set up to play the lead role in relief and mitigation activities, was not visible at all. In fact, there is a basic disconnect between its centralised role, and the implementation of disaster management plans and guidelines which fall within the purview of states.

The national disaster relief force was found to have no means of efficient communication and speedy transport and adequate number of trained staff. These deficiencies were pointed out in a recent CAG report which was not paid any attention to.

The disaster management system, including infrastructural and personnel requirements, preparedness, actions to be taken and methods to be employed in different scenarios, needs a thorough overhaul in the light of the terrible experience in Uttarakhand. At any given time there is a natural disaster in some part of the country. While the immediate need is to extend help and relief to those affected in Uttarakhand, there is the need to put in place an effective long-term disaster management system.

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