The Supreme Importance of Disaster Management

santosh-bhartiyaWhen the floods came in Jammu and Kashmir, and when after the floods talks began on how many deaths had taken place, the figure reached only between two hundred and two hundred and twenty-five. Some people are saying two hundred and some people are saying three hundred. In fact, figures from villages are not included in this number. Village after village was wiped out and so far, the Government surveyors have not been able to calculate that if deaths actually occurred, how many deaths were there? Not included in these deaths are the number of people from Bihar who had gone to Jammu and Kashmir to work. Many people from Bihar worked in various places in Jammu and Kashmir. They stayed at different places and their problem was that no contact-relationship could be established between them and neither could their organisation be formed. Therefore, they are not included in any estimate of numbers.
The devastation and damage that the floods caused – whether it was in millions or in billions of rupees, there is no estimate of that either, because the goods that were in the godowns have been totally destroyed. All the stuff in one-and-a-half storeys above ground level, and more than that, the goods stored in godowns were destroyed, because in Jammu and Kashmir, goods, rations and other stuff is stocked for a period of six months, i.e. from November till next March- April. How much currency was destroyed, no data has come from the banks so far. The irony is that the assistance that is being sent from outside is not reaching the people of Jammu and Kashmir because, in the name of voluntary organisations or NGOs a new kind of monkeying around and deception has started. Those people who are asking for money from the whole world, whether they exist or not in Jammu and Kashmir, no one knows. People are giving money according to their inclination, but where that money is going, to whom it is going, where the ‘aid items’ that are being sent are going, nothing is known. There is no accountability. This is the irony of our country that suddenly a section stands up which robs the people even in the name of grief and pain, exploits them.

The irony is that the assistance that is being sent from outside is not reaching the people of Jammu and Kashmir because, in the name of voluntary organisations or NGOs a new kind of monkeying around and deception has started. Those people who are asking for money from the whole world, whether they exist or not in Jammu and Kashmir, no one knows. People are giving money according to their inclination, but where that money is going, to whom it is going, where the ‘aid items’ that are being sent are going, nothing is known. There is no accountability.

But today, I do now want to tell you about this corruption. I want to tell you that in Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the Valley, the joint family system or tradition is still continuing. Members of the whole family live in the same house. When the flood came, then people first went from the ground floor to the first floor, and after that to the second floor. In the houses there, there is a small floor between the second floor and the roof, which is where people took shelter after leaving the second floor. And when the water reached there too, they went onto the roof top. These roofs are of tin. Everybody held each other’s hands and together, did not allow any one to drown, to die. That is why there were fewer deaths in the Kashmir Valley because of the floods. Damage to goods could not be prevented or stopped, it was not possible to run away with the goods, because within five minutes the water was touching the first floor.
Many such incidents were seen where a father waited in a car outside and the son went to an upper storey to fetch goods, which could have included money-jewellery, and the water came in so fast that the son said to the father, you go, otherwise you will drown. I am trapped in the top storey. The father drove away in the car and reached the Jhelum dam. The son was trapped in the house and the father, sitting at the Jhelum dam in his car, was praying for his son’s safety and security. Many such instances were narrated in the Srinagar Valley. The joint family system or tradition saved the lives of people. People broke a ‘roti’ (Indian bread) into ten pieces and shared it. Our correspondent too was saved from this flood.
But what this correspondent related is an epic example of guests. He said that 18 people came to his house who were victims of the flood and in whose homes everything had been destroyed. For three-four days they all ate and drank together in his house. Then the guests said we will eat separately, cook separately on a ‘chulha’ (wood stove). The reason behind this was that food in the house was beginning to run out. Those people said that if we continue to partake of it, all the people here will starve to death. Some of them ate pulses, some ate rice and passed seven-eight days. The last two-three days they went totally hungry, because nothing was available. Leave alone milk for children, there was nothing available which could sustain survival and it was here that the most positive aspect of the joint family system or tradition came to the fore – that by dividing one roti into six or eight pieces and sharing it with each other people went through those seven-eight days somehow or the other.
Out of the things we saw, in those all the things necessary for living, be it foodstuff, be it medicines, be it clothes for wearing or covering, all had been destroyed. Those people who had come from outside Srinagar and were trapped by the water in hotels, many were above the age of seventy, who suffered from acute diabetes and were on insulin – they ran out of medicines. There was no way of reaching medicines to them. Former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s wife told me in Delhi that she had called Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and told him that the eighty year old father of someone she knew who was on insulin was stranded in a hotel – please find some way in which insulin can reach him. I think that though the waters had not come to Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s home, he was at such a place where no one had any contact with each other any longer.
In Jammu and Kashmir the entire communication system was destroyed completely. The Jammu and Kashmir communication system, in which telephones are the chief form, is not connected with a satellite, but is linked with above ground technology and therefore the rumour market there became very hot. Everyday rumours would spread that today so many died there, so many died there, and there. Nobody had any way left of verification. The people of Srinagar radio placed their equipment on a hill top and from there started broadcasting in some manner, but Doordarshan telecasts have not started till the time of going to press. They are able to create only a two hour programme and telecast it locally. The entire infrastructure, whether it is of radio or of Doordarshan, has been destroyed. In all these situations and conditions there is a need to learn disaster management, because amongst the priorities of Governments, the lowest priority has been given to disaster management. It may have been the floods in Uttarakhand, it may have been the floods of Kashmir, nowhere is there a thing called disaster management. So far, we have found only a little success, that too only in the face of cyclones in Odisha and in Andhra Pradesh, because it had become known three days before that the cyclones would strike. Therefore, people found some way of leaving their village or homes and saved their lives by taking shelter in specially set up camps. But there too, there was more of damage to goods, less to lives.
But it is not called a ‘disaster’ which gives warning or information before coming. ‘Disaster’ is called that which comes suddenly, as in Srinagar. If the Government had wanted, it could have reduced the damage and devastation because the water took three days to come down from Anantnag, but the Government ignored it. Similarly, at Uttarakhand, a lake had formed at a higher altitude and could burst but the then Government did not give attention to it and the result was that the whole of Kedarnath was washed away.
Therefore, we request State Governments and the Central Government to give the most preference and priority to the work of Disaster Management and engage such people in it who are dedicated, who do not retreat in any way, and who have a complete map with them. In Srinagar such people came from outside who had no knowledge of the streets and roads and localities in Srinagar. And the State Government did not take the support of the local people in the disaster management. As a result, the effective manner in which people should have been helped did not happen, because the people who came to help from outside just did not know the geography or topography of affected areas.
In Srinagar there were no pumps to pump out the water. All these things happened and we have forgotten. We must be prepared for a big disaster, we must prepare ourselves for a big disaster. If we keep the Disaster Management machinery in every State active and on high alert, then we can save the biggest assets of the country, i.e. the lives of people. Can our seemingly ordinary voice reach the ears of the Chief Ministers of the States of the country or the ears of our Prime Minister? We do not know. But we certainly wish that this voice reaches the ears of the Prime Minister of the country and the ears of State Governments Chief Ministers and they get the strength to understand the supreme importance of disaster management.

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