Anil K Gupta
When earthquake hit Gujarat on 26 January 2001and more than 20000 people died, we thought as a society we would learn to cope with disaster better. It seems that 20000 lives were not enough of a price to pay for shaking the bureaucracy and civil society to learn to cope with disasters with greater efficiency. Most disasters after the first 24 hours assume more or less typical characteristics in which the problems can be anticipated and response system can be put in place. We had developed a year later a Disaster Management Information System (www.sristi.org/dmis_cms). The idea was that civil society volunteers will provide information about what kind of support they can extend (material, professional, financial, technological, infrastructural, etc.), within what range of distance from their residence, and whether they will like their details to be put on the website. For instance, about 118 ham radio operators in Gujarat had agreed to put their information through their associations in the database. They can be directly contacted and their services requested for the purpose. The question is, were they contacted in the recent disaster in the south India, perhaps not. Similarly, transporters, crane owners, hardware stockists who have concrete cutters or other devices to clear the debris, medical professionals, mobile x-ray machines, mobile clinics, etc., are well known equipments and services needed in the hour of emergency. We know that water bodies often get affected adversely and fresh water becomes a necessity. In some cases, the water storage structures were damaged. When electricity was resumed, the tubewells would work but where would one store the water.
Many times, the difference between a person buried under the debris surviving or not depended upon the method of removing debris and the time taken to remove it. Some people survived for as many as five to six days without any support from outside. Therefore, the chances of finding survivors even now are high.
Why is it that the civil administration at all the levels in the government does not learn? While talking to the Army Officers after few months of disaster in Gujarat, I had mentioned that the efficiency of the army often masked the inefficiency of the civic administration. Even if immediate relief is provided well, in some cases, the problem of long term rehabilitation receive much less attention. The coastal fishing communities would come under the clutches of money lenders if fishing nets, boats and other such means of livelihood were not provided at extremely soft conditions. Any negligence of this function will mean imposing a second disaster on the people and this would be designed, deliberate and delivered with efficiency.
Large number of students in various academic institutions must learn to share the pain of those who have suffered in an extraordinary tragedy. Without finding fault with government or other agencies, the duty of every right thinking person at this moment is to take initiative and contribute oneâ€™s mite in alleviating suffering in whichever way we can.
I have no hesitation in saying that adequate long term learning measures were not undertaken after Gujarat earthquake. And if these are not undertaken again, we will all have to blame ourselves for not equipping our country with better self help and more efficient information systems. We had issued an appeal given below three years ago:
Natural disasters impart lessons at a very high cost of life and property. But if those lessons do not lead to learning and knowledge generation, then the cost seems even heavier. At the time of disaster recurrence, the failure to learn from the past hurts the most. The earthquake in Gujarat and the subsequent chaos were indicators of how crucial prior planning is in managing relief and rehabilitation during disasters. The Kutchh region required massive and immediate assistance at that time, which came but was very poorly managed. This made the need for a proper disaster mitigation plan very apparent. Learning from experience is essential in building a knowledge resource which would help in being better prepared in the future.
SRISTI & IIMACORE have started an initiative for developing a society based â€œDisaster Management Information Systemâ€ to be accessible to all in time of such emergencies. The system is accessible on SRISTIâ€™s website. We call upon everyone to volunteer and participate in the initiative. You may volunteer your services and/ or resources, and share your experiences, research studies, publications etc at this website. This is an effort to pool resources towards better preparedness at the time of future disasters. www.sristi.org/dmis_cms
Let us wish that such calamities never happen again. But if they do then we must be prepared. (http://www.sristi.org/english/dmis/dmsmessage.html)
We must once again try to nudge the National Disaster Management Authority in supporting civil society initiatives to build a decentralized DMIS so that at least next time our response time is faster, quality of relief better and our preparedness much higher than what was in the last few days.