Disastrous Management

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: Aug 26 2018 9:41PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 26 2018 9:41PM
Disastrous Management

J&K’s disaster management preparations are in a shambles despite the State being highly vulnerable to multiple natural catastrophes, writes Shabir Ibn Yusuf

 

The State of Jammu & Kashmir has witnessed several natural disasters in the recent past such as the earthquake of 2005, the floods of 2014, the cloudburst of Leh 2010. A detailed look into disaster management preparations clearly reveals that the Disaster Management Act 2005 is not being implemented and there are wide gaps in theory and practice. The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), constituted in 2007, has held one meeting in six years.

Kashmir has been historically vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. Floods, droughts, earthquakes and landslides have been a recurrent phenomena. About 59% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005, provides for a disaster management framework that envisages a continuous and integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures for prevention of disasters, mitigation or reduction of their risk and severity, capacity building and preparedness to deal with any disaster, prompt response to disaster and undertaking evacuation, rescue, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

A vibrant ‘disaster operation mechanism’ for handling situation post-disaster is altogether missing in the state. That was evident when the devastating floods struck Kashmir in 2014 and there was a total breakdown of the state administration, with even the then Chief Minister remaining disconnected from his cabinet colleagues and administration for several days.

In case of a natural disaster, all rescue and other operations are supposed to be managed from the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) which, three years after the devastating floods, is still in a two-room prefab hut that has a designated bathroom/toilet without water supply.

One of the two rooms of the centre, situated in Humhama near Srinagar Airport, is meant for holding official meetings. Clogged with newly-bought furniture, it remains closed most of the time.

The second room of the EOC doubles as bedroom-cum-living room of a few staffers.

The EOC has an “emergency landline connection” that turns defunct during the rainy season or snowfall because it is connected to the main line by a substandard cable.

There is also a “store room” - the size of a bathroom - where the staffers keep their clothes and other belongings. “This is an Emergency Operation Centre? A servant apartment has far better facilities than this place,” an official lamented, adding that the government hasn’t learnt its lesson after the 2014 devastating deluge.

An EOC or disaster management centre is usually equipped with a control room, hospital, SDRF unit, satellite-based wireless telecommunication facility and a range of life-saving equipment and facilities that are used in case of a disaster.

The centre must have a secretariat and a cabinet room to function in case of natural disasters. It is supposed to be the alternate base for the state government to operate from in case of an eventuality and provides the necessary back-up support to it in its response to various natural calamities.

But none of these facilities have been set up at the centre. According to a disaster management official, some equipment that has been procured has either been dumped at the divisional commissioner’s office or at the headquarters of the SDRF at Bhagat here.

A two-year deadline was fixed for building the state-of-the-art facility in Srinagar and an EOC each in Jammu, Kargil and Leh, to begin with. It was to be followed by construction of a centre in each district. But, 10 months on, there is no clarity about who will set up the full-fledged EOCs.

Professor Shakeel Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences department at the University of Kashmir, says, “In Kashmir we don’t have a culture of disaster preparedness, neither at individual level nor at the government level despite the state being highly vulnerable to earthquakes. That is most worrying.”

There is a Chief Minister-headed state disaster management authority (SDMA) that was set up in 2007, two years after a deadly earthquake caused devastation on both sides of the Line of Control, killing thousands of people.

Under the SDMA, which is assisted by chief secretary-led state executive committee (SEC), there are divisional and district-level disaster management authorities headed by divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners respectively. These bodies have a pivotal role in creating awareness by holding programs at public places, educational institutions and are responsible for educating people about the importance of disaster management. Also, the SDMA has to oversee implementation of the disaster management policy that lays focus on professional responses to disasters, operationalize functionaries at all levels and enhance capacity building.

But these institutions have limited their roles mostly to holding indoor meetings and conducting occasional programs. The SDMA hasn’t even a single specialist expert on the panel.

A disaster management official agreed that there was a need for holding massive awareness programs to make society disaster management-conscious. He said that it should be the prime job of the authority. “The government wakes up only when a disaster strikes. For rest of the time, it happens to be sleeping,” the official said.

In earthquake-prone countries like Japan, regular mock drills and false alerts are conducted to sensitize people. But this concept hasn’t even been tried in the state even when the government informed the state assembly in January this year that almost all districts of Kashmir and Chenab Valley fall in zone-V and rest of the districts in zone IV, hence the threat to life and property.

In case of any eventuality, the public infrastructure like schools, hospitals and other government buildings often serve as shelter places. But post-2014 deluge, when this infrastructure remained marooned under flood water for weeks together, the government hasn’t conducted any safety audit of these places.

When official records are accessed, the disaster management is disastrous. This can gauged through official records and figures. 

 

The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), though established in April 2007, was not fully constituted as its full time members were yet to be appointed as of July 2016. Further, as against the stipulation of holding at least one meeting in a year, the SDMA had met only once, in 2012, in the last six years.

The State Advisory Committee (SAC) responsible for making recommendations on issues relating to disaster management has not been constituted. The State Disaster Management Policy, approved in February 2012, has not been fully implemented.

No Disaster Management Authority has been constituted at the divisional level (Jammu and Kashmir).

While Disaster Management Authorities had been constituted at district level, they were non-functional. District Disaster Plans had not been formulated except in Leh district. Even the Leh district plan that had been approved in May 2011 had neither been implemented nor reviewed.

Official records maintain that the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) was the primary source of funding disaster related activities. An amount of 571.35 crore was available with the State in the SDRF during 2010-15. Of this, 1,369.16 crore was spent on disaster related activities during the same period.

Additionally, an amount of 1,000 crore was received as Special Plan Assistance (SPA) during October 2014 from the Government of India for restoration/re-building damaged infrastructure. Furthermore, an amount of 833.44 crore was received from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) and an amount of 8.29 crore from Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF).

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 was enacted by Government of India (Gol) to provide effective management of disasters. It defines disaster as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.”

The Act provides for a disaster management framework that envisages a continuous and integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures for prevention of disasters, mitigation or reduction of their risk and severity, capacity building and preparedness to deal with any disaster, prompt response to disaster, assessing the severity of a disaster and undertaking evacuation, rescue, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Vulnerability and impact of disasters can be mitigated by risk assessment, pre-disaster warning, hazard mapping and adequate preparedness through adequate and effective policies, institutional mechanisms and adequate financial resources. These pre-disaster activities complement post-disaster activities of emergency response, recovery and relief as well as restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir is a multi-hazard State falling in Seismic Zone-V and in Seismic Zone-IV2. Low lying areas of Kashmir and parts of Jammu are flood prone and upper catchments of all the tributaries of the Jhelum, Indus, Chenab and Tawi rivers are prone to flash floods.

Areas in high reaches including Leh and Kargil are prone to avalanches and the hilly areas to v-cloudburst; areas alongside highways are prone to landslides and most parts of Jammu are prone to drought.

 

In the last ten years, the State has witnessed several disasters:

 

1 February 2005, snow blizzard at Waltengu Nad (Kulgam District), 175 deaths and hundreds of families affected

October 2005 Earthquake, 953 deaths and 418 injured mostly in Baramulla, Kupwara and Poonch districts

September 2009,18 districts affected

August 2010 Cloudburst at Leh, 257 deaths and 424 injuries

September 2014 Floods in Kashmir and Jammu. More than 307 deaths and damages to thousands of houses

 

Officials admit that relief and evacuation were not provided to the victims of floods in a timely and effective manner due to the absence of adequate damage and need assessment, lack of effective coordination and monitoring by any nodal agency for procurement, transportation and distribution of relief materials, diversion of funds and irregular spending or spending on ineligible items in contravention of SDRF guidelines. Inadequate and inaccurate damage assessment coupled with inefficient management of projects and diversion of funds also hampered restoration and re-building of public utilities and infrastructure damaged by the floods.

 

Witnessing disastrous disaster management, auditor general of India has given several recommendations:

 

Establishing and operationalising the institutional structures and disaster related policies envisaged in the Disaster Management Act, 2005, for efficient and effective management of pre-and post-disaster activities.

Conduct vulnerability, hazard and risks assessment especially in the 13 multi-hazard districts and prepare risk maps that would enable formulation of informed strategies and prioritization of resources for disaster preparedness including an early warning system.

Ensure that personnel of the State Disaster Response Force undergo the mandatory trainings in a time bound manner and that they are thereafter used solely for the intended purpose.

Formulate and implement a time bound plan for capacity building including promotion of general awareness and community training and building capacity to combat disasters as an important pre-disaster activity.

Strengthening the mechanisms for pre-release scrutiny and post-release monitoring of SDRF funds to ensure that funds are released and utilized only for the purpose of providing relief to persons affected by disasters and are not diverted for other purposes.

Strengthening mechanisms for monitoring movement and distribution of financial assistance and relief materials to ensure that they reach the intended duly identified beneficiaries. Procedures should also be in place for accountability of administrative officials for any unjustified diversions or avoidable losses.

Director disaster management J&K, Amir Ali said that they are equipped to meet any eventuality. He said SDRF and Fire and Emergency Services are two important arms of the department. “Both are equipped and it means disaster management department is in a position to handle things,” he said adding that every effort is being made to disaster-management stronger.

The senior official said that Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) established in Humhama is being expanded and tenders have been floated. Ali said that good news is that after a very brief period disaster-management won’t depend on Meteorological Department for updates or predictions. “Now we are going to install Decision Support System (DSS),” he said adding that will be linked to Indian Meteorological Department and other automatic weather update systems.

Director disaster management said that 140 boats will be added to fleet of already existing system. “Those are being procured and will soon be added to the fleet,” he added.