Nature’s fury in Jammu and Kashmir

By Adfar Shah

The floods in Jammu and Kashmir considered yet another worst natural calamity after Uttrakhand tragedy last year exposes our response and preparation for the disasters both at the state and national level. The continuous downpour for a few days diminished the difference between the residences and the rivers turning lanes, houses and highways into flowing streams. A calamity of such a magnititude taking hundreds of lives and destroying property worth billions is not shocking as the state has already been put in the category of disaster prone zone/seismic zone by experts. Also recent research on climate change predicts an increase in the frequency of natural disasters. But unfortunately we always act aftermath of the disasters and even our acts of disaster management are itself disastrous. We as state administration think of and ask for boats and other material at the time of crisis only. We don’t learn even from the past disasters that hit us not to talk of learning lessons from the disasters of the outer world. The last year’s devastating flash floods in Kargil killing a few lives and the heart wrenching Uttrakhand tragedy (killing thousands) and last year’s ferocious windstorm that hit the valley of Kashmir besides other parts of the state are just some recent examples of the disasters to learn lessons from but thanks to our forgetful nature, every time is our first experience. We even forgot the deadly earth quake of October 5 2005 that choreographed massive devastation across POK and Us. Such natural calamities, besides causing severe damage, expose the deep rooted lacunae’s which make us more prone to damage in such an eventuality and also hint at the lack of preparedness from the administrative point of view.

Not to talk of mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the development planning, we are yet to give the subject of disaster management a due place in our curriculum. Forget the curriculum; we have even not some boats for the people which are now being requested and ferried from other states. In the state of Jammu and Kashmir even we don’t have relevant people for the jobs. Lack of professionalism and reign of amateurs has been taking the toll of almost every institution. We have a Waqf Board but no waqf experts, we have flood control but hardly any trained personal, we have forces but hardly professional, we have hospitals but not able and adequate staff and facilities, etc,. Disaster management as a system reflects an enduring failure here as people as well as the officials shows least concern for such a subject. Even masses in the rural area know the basics of disaster management which need to be taken care of while constructing a house or designing a colony, but such precautions are always flirted with resulting in massive damages when hit by a natural or manmade disaster.

Earlier Seismologists and Geo-scientists had issued a warning  that over eight lakh causalities may occur if an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale occurs in the seismically-active Himalayan belt where Kashmir valley is located. Every time they tell that that the Kashmir valley falls in a disaster sensitive zone (Zone IV) but is the state doing any preparation in case a disaster hits us unwarned like the present one or even when we are warned time and again. Is there any earth quake or other disaster mitigation programme being worked out, still remains a question.

Though PM’s timely relief package of 1000 crore (plus State already having 1100 crore at its disposal for disaster) for the state announced on his visit to the affected State means much for the flood hit people, Provided it reaches them. However, just packages at such critical times won’t work as we have even not been able to contain our drainage system properly right from New Delhi to Kashmir valley where a rainfall of mere one hour creates havoc on the roads. Not just this we even don’t learn from the past statistics of causalities or plight of displaced victims with loss of everything out of such massive disasters. As per national institute of disaster management every year more than fifty million people are hit by natural disasters in the country. Who cares? We have a culture of social dementia in country; we see the worst but forget quickly without a stringent policy formulation. Especially PMO has to seriously consider the vulnerable Himaliyan States and think of the disaster management long before they hit us.

Disasters confront us every time and right now India’s paradise state is under the filthy waters that led to massive mass evacuation. The question remains that are such floods purely natural or we have played a devastative role also. Absolutely yes. The unchecked timber smuggling and a routine work during the peak of the conflict situation during 1990’s, wreaked havoc of our lush green forests and converted them to nothing but the play grounds with stumps. Massive deforestation in Kulgam, Shupian,Ganderbal and other districts is the lie example, how militancy led to law and order collapse and our forests bore the brunt, ultimately punishing us all like this.

The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas with a history of natural and manmade disasters making us more vulnerable in such situations. It is hit by, at least, one major natural or manmade disaster every year that results in heavy loss to life and property. Notwithstanding our efforts to predict disasters, we cannot stop them from occurring but with an advanced technology and skilled manpower, we could reduce and minimize their magnitude of destruction. For doing so, we need a viable and efficient disaster management. However the ground reality suggests that managing a disaster always proves to be, in itself, a disaster. In addition to the manmade disasters such as nuclear radiation leakage like the threat of a nuclear emergency and radiation leakage in Japan, the Fukushima crisis deemed to be a race against time, simply an out of control situation for even a technologically developed country like Japan has sent shock ways round the globe. Similarly, the frightening phases of swine flu, Dengue fever, etc, revealed the actual position and credibility of country’s healthcare system and preparation to combat such pandemic diseases. It calls for a serious attention and need immediate and adequate mitigation and quick redress. Japan with its advanced technology is struggling, one fails to imagine what could happen if, God forbid, India and J&K are struck with a disaster of such intensity. According to a report all the states and Union Territories in India are prone to disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and draughts. Information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that, at least, one state faces all the four major types of disasters, six states face three types of disasters, twelve face two types of disasters and five face one type of disaster. Hence each time a tragedy strikes the Indian society; it exposes the inefficient and outdated disaster management policy. The earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26, 2001 left at least 30000 dead and millions homeless; the super cyclone Of Orissa in October 1999 caused heavy destruction to the life and property. The massive floods in Bihar, Assam and other states and drought conditions in Rajasthan led to immense starvation deaths across India. The incident of snowstorm and ferocious blizzard of Waltengo Nar in Qazigund in 2005 and the massive earthquake on October 8, 2005 left hundreds.

Last word

Sonam Lotus, Kashmir’s chief weatherman though today is a house hold name these days not because of his half correct predictions but perhaps because of his beautiful name. The small ‘Disaster Management Cell’ in the Divisional Commissioners office has been set up to tackle such massive issues, reflecting where we stand being a dangerous zone.
At such a moment of crisis, social and individual consciousness along with the administrative efforts is mandatory for preparing ourselves for any possible occurrence in the future. Disaster management in Kashmir has to be made the part of the curriculum and the subjects like ekistics and architecture need to be introduced in colleges besides giving boost to professional Social work in the University of Kashmir and other universities of the state. Disaster management as a subject needs to be taught at graduate and post-graduate levels. Such courses in Kashmir will prepare and produce an experienced group of people who can prepare masses to face the future disasters and calamities.
At the moment, IGNOU is the only University offering PG Diploma and certificate courses in disaster management, while other institutions offer no such courses which reflect the disinterest of the rest of the institutions regarding such an essential and life saving subject.
The centre can supplement its efforts by providing a major share of the financial support. Under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF), started in 1991, the centre-state contribution has been pegged at 75:25. Technical assistance regarding monitoring of the rainfall and cyclone detection come from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), which works through ten cyclone detection radars located on the coasts. A geostationary satellite (INSAT-IB) monitors the cyclone movements. Centre water commission (CWC) has a flood forecast system at more than 157 centres in India now. However technological and financial means alone are not enough to limit the damage caused by disasters. Beside proper mass education, youth involvement and support a prompt action to deliver relief and initiate rescue operations as effectively as possible and at the earliest. Our response to disasters so far has simply been that we have responded disastrously.

Having said this, we need to be extra cautious after the floods diminish as post-disaster scene always comes with another set of problems like diseases, etc, which the state needs to plan and tackle efficiently. Also the relief amount should reach to people without any politicisation and corruption. Kudos to Army, police, local volunteers, NDRF and CM and his team who are trying their best to help the affected at the moment.

William D’Avenant says, “Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.”

* This article originally appeared in Pointblank7 and is being republished with the request of the author

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Adfar Shah

Adfar Shah is a Scholar of Sociology at India’s Central University Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]

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