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Devastating Earthquake Uttarakhand Essay Topics

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On June 16, an orbiting Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) meteorological satellite captured imagery of dense cloud formation building over Uttarakhand. An analysis of the imagery uploaded on an isro website the following day predicted 'extreme rainfall/cloudburst' and marked 11 places in

On June 16, an orbiting Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) meteorological satellite captured imagery of dense cloud formation building over Uttarakhand. An analysis of the imagery uploaded on an isro website the following day predicted 'extreme rainfall/cloudburst' and marked 11 places in Uttarakhand in red. Barkot, Kirtinagar, Munikireti, Narendranagar, Pauri, Raiwala, Rishikesh, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Tehri and Uttarkashi would be deluged by rainfall in a few hours. It is still not clear whether the images were transmitted to the India Meteorological Department in time. ISRO recaptioned the images an 'experimental run' after the story was broken by Headlines Today. Less than 24 hours after isro got these images, these towns were devastated by a cloudburst. Over 1,000 people have been killed and more than 5,000 are still missing in India's worst natural disaster since the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The stench of stacked bodies is still in the air even as the disaster has left a massive question mark on India's preparedness for calamity.

A boy surveys the scene in flood ravaged Sonprayag. (Photo: AFP)
A 2009 home ministry report is unambigious about the danger the country faces. Twenty-seven of 35 states and Union Territories are disaster-prone, the report says. Almost 58.6 per cent of India is prone to earthquakes; over 40 million hectares (12 per cent of land) prone to floods and river erosion; and of the 7,516 km coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought, hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. Last year, British risk analysis firm Maplecroft ranked India fifth most vulnerable to natural disasters after Bangladesh, the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Myanmar.

On paper at least, India seems well prepared to handle a natural disaster. It has one of the world's largest civilian remote sensing constellations, 11 satellites which can detect a build-up of meteorological phenomena in near real-time; a national disaster management authority chaired by the Prime Minister, with an annual budget of over Rs 800 crore. This Central machinery is inter-linked to the first responders to any crisis, the state governments. Yet as Uttarakhand has now revealed, the wheels of this gigantic civilian disaster response machinery turn painfully slowly. The armed forces were called in by the state government on July 17, and only after Union Minister for Water Resources Harish Rawat spoke with Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Armed forces liaison personnel with the state government could have given an accurate assessment of the crisis and reduced response time. But this is only one of several unlearned lessons.

Early warnings save lives

In June 2008, the government sanctioned two Doppler radars which can accurately gauge the size of clouds and provide immediate forecasts, down to eight hours, called 'nowcasting', for Uttarakhand. They were, however, not installed because the state government was unable to allocate land for them in Nainital and Mussoorie.

When the worst floods in a century hit Andhra Pradesh's Krishna river in October 2009, the state government was prepared. Flood sensors warned them of rising water levels and computer simulations mapped out areas which would be flooded. Over 100,000 affected persons had already been shifted into temporary shelters before they were deluged by flood waters. There were only 37 casualties.


Reach disaster site swiftly

Uttarakhand, a state located in a fragile Himalayan zone, had not bothered to raise its own state disaster response force (SDRF). Only Bihar, Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Nagaland raised one SDRF battalion each with 1,000 personnel trained to rescue people in an emergency, as mandated by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

It took the Uttarakhand administration nearly two days to realise that a response to the June 14-17 cloudburst was beyond the ability of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) that had already been sent in by NDMA. By then, June 19, several lives had been lost. One of the major reasons for this was that several parts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh were cut off when mobile phone towers were uprooted. At least two critical projects for emergency communications, envisaged for exactly this sort of emergency, continue to remain stuck in red tape. A satellite-based communication proposed by the Department of Space in 2003 was to have been set up by 2005. It is still in the planning stage though equipment worth Rs 6 crore was acquired by 2006. A national disaster communication network has been at a conceptual stage since 2007.

Even simple off-the-shelf solutions like satellite phones haven't been bought: One week after the tragedy, the home ministry scrambled to buy 200 satellite phones from Hong Kong and rushed them to the NDRF battalions engaged in rescue operations in the state. Even cheaper local broadcast solutions have not been thought of. An FM  transmitter that costs a little over Rs 1 lakh can be fitted in each district to broadcast messages to mobile phones.

Create centre-state synergy

In 2005, the home ministry created an apex body headed by the Prime Minister to centrally supervise national disaster relief in India. Eight years and five major disasters later, NDMA is a miserable failure. "NDMA was found ineffective in its most core areas," says a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General tabled in Parliament in April 2013. Ten critical projects had been either left incomplete, left midway or were running years behind schedule. A senior NDMA official says they are running behind schedule because they have no control over the state authorities. "We have no audit powers, we cannot pull up bureaucrats for non-implementation of projects, we can't even ask them to enforce the guidelines we put out," he says. The National Plan for disaster preparedness has not been prepared even six years after the National Disaster Management Act had been notified. Among the most important of these was the need for a Unified Command to integrate all resources, men, material and machinery in a crisis. A national disaster preparedness audit has not been prepared because the National Executive Committee, an apex body headed by the Union home secretary, had not met after 2008.

Build rescue infrastructure

Rescue helicopters in Uttarakhand had no means of communicating with stranded people in marooned areas. For several years now global disaster relief teams have used helicopter-mounted acoustic devices that can cover large disaster-hit areas transmitting relief instructions; basket-like extraction platforms suspended from helicopters have helped save lives around the world. In Uttarakhand, there was one. The list of life-saving equipment which the aid agencies don't have is long: Portable bridges that can be airdropped, ready-to-eat dry rations, gas masks, large solar-powered water filtration plants and ultra-light thermal blankets and waterproof sheets. Where equipment was purchased, it was not put into action: A synthetic aperture radar that can be used to forecast floods was bought for Rs 20 crore but has still not been used.

Even basic early warning equipment that was to have been purchased after the December 2004 tsunami is not in place. Nicobar islands are yet to get 147 sirens installed that will give residents precious minutes to escape a tsunami. It is symbolic of a disaster management system that has atrophied.

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