ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lessons Cyclones Teach

There is much that still remains to be understood about disaster management.

It is too early to resort to self-congratulation. Just because this time around, early warning systems kicked in and over nine lakh people were evacuated to shelters before tropical cyclone Phailin hit the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha on 12 October, one cannot assume that finally, crucial lessons in disaster management have been learnt in India. While it is true that the local administration and the state governments in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh did respond by the book, and had put in place basic infrastructure such as cyclone shelters to deal with the crisis, this still remains the exception and not the rule. One only has to recall what happened in Uttarakhand in June when torrential rain and flash floods swept away villages and killed an estimated 580 people (although over 5,000 are still missing). In that instance too, as this time, the meteorological department had prior information of unusually heavy rains. Yet no action was taken to prevent pilgrims from venturing into areas that are known to be prone to flash floods and landslides. Instead, the administration rushed around trying to cope with a disaster that brutally exposed its lack of preparedness.

Disaster management began to be taken seriously in India only after the 2004 tsunami hit its coasts leaving in its wake widespread destruction and death. In 2005, the Disaster Management Act was brought in, leading to the creation of a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2006, headed by the prime minister. Each state was also required to have a similar authority. In addition, a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was created to assist state governments dealing with a natural disaster. In fact, if you read the documents explaining Indias disaster response system, you would find little that is wrong with it.

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