Dealing With Calamity

The devastating earthquake in Nepal last week could not but have deepened anxieties in Jammu and Kashmir, a state that has been categorized among regions with the highest vulnerability in terms of seismic convulsions,  and thirteen of whose districts are prone to multiple hazards. The 7.8 quake in Nepal, where the death toll has crossed 5200, brings to mind the destruction wrought on both sides of the line of control in October 2005 which, for a people still struggling to rebuild after last year’s deluge, is suddenly become a prospect not to be dismissed too lightly.

A Draft Disaster Management Policy framed in 2011, envisaging to make all bodies linked to disaster management functional within one year, has seen no follow up, with results vividly demonstrated in the lack of preparedness even for ‘normal’ flooding in September 2014. With abnormally high precipitation over the past two months, a flood threat had loomed large over Kashmir once again this season, but if disaster was averted, it was because the rains chose to lift almost in the nick of time. Plugged with sandbags and soil, breaches the river had made last year need to be strengthened further along with all stretches of its embankment deemed too weak to withstand the pressure of its swollen waters.

The 2011 Draft had aimed to have an effective disaster response mechanism ready by 2012, but when the occasion rose for it show its mettle, the state was not in a position even to muster enough pumps to drain water out of submerged areas. Government employees were unable to operate equipment rushed in by neighbouring states, and if the local administration’s pumps were intact in some areas, there was no fuel to make them run.

The Draft Policy, which had also stressed on the need of having Emergency Operation Centers in every district pooling resources and coordinating with the State Disaster Management Authority, would, according to a top government officer, be implemented after clearance from the finance and revenue ministries.

The Nepal earthquake has once again underlined the urgency of a comprehensive disaster management policy and apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir, for, as recurring events across the globe have shown, damage caused by natural calamities can be significantly minimized with planning and preparedness.