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Of Disaster Management And Vulnerable Kashmir

By Adfar Shah

15 October, 2013

The National Disaster Management Authority recently issued a warning that over eight lakh causalities may occur if an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale occurs in the seismically-active Himalayan belt where Kashmir valley is located. Every time they tell that that the Kashmir valley (Indian Administered) falls in a disaster sensitive zone (Zone iv) but is the state doing any preparation in case a disaster hits us unwarned or even when we are warned time and again. Is there any earth quake mitigation programme being worked out or as usual our desi (local) disaster management will be executed i.e. managing disasters disastrously?

Disasters confront us every time and right now India’s Odhisa region is under Cyclone Phailin that led to massive mass evacuation (Now Bihar facing flood warning) and temple Stampede killing hundreds in Datia in Madhya Pradesh state of India .The question is do we remain prepared as a state to avoid loss of lives and property is a question with a big question mark at its end. The recent devastating flash floods in Kargil killing a few lives (second time after 2010 floods) and the heart wrenching Uttrakhand tragedy (killing thousands) and last year’s ferocious windstorm that hit the valley of Kashmir besides other parts of the state are just some recent examples of the disasters to learn lessons from.
The fact is that in a tussle between man and nature, it is nature that emerges victorious. Be it the doom spelling floods, earthquakes, manmade disasters like Japan’s Fukushima crisis resulting in massive causalities, it all has a lesson for us which we, unfortunately, seem not learning easily.

Our Forgetful Attitude

As for as we the people of Kashmir are concerned, we even forgot the deadly earth quake of October 5 2005, that choreographed massive devastation. Such natural calamities, besides causing severe damage, expose the deep rooted lacunae’s which make us more prone to damage in such an eventuality and also hint at the lack of preparedness from the administrative point of view. For instance, let us examine the construction patterns being adopted in Kashmir. Knowing that we are placed over a sensitive seismic zone prone to earthquakes, we should have been highly scientific in constructing buildings, be it residential houses or commercial offices etc. but unfortunately we don’t even bother to cover roof gables, fasten tin sheets properly, leave aside the overall designing of the buildings. We hardly consult geologists or professional architects while constructing our homes and ignore the much needed consultations for any such natural calamity.

On Disaster Management

Disaster management, on the other hand, is another story of enduring failure here as people as well as the officials shows least concern for this. Even masses in the rural area know the basics of disaster management which need tobe taken care of when constructing a house or designing a colony, but such precautions are always flirted with resulting in massive damages when hit by a natural or manmade disaster. The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas with a history of natural and manmade disasters making us more vulnerable in such situations. It is hit by, at least, one major natural or manmade disaster every year that results in heavy loss to life and property. Notwithstanding our efforts to predict disasters, we cannot stop them from occurring but with an advanced technology and skilled manpower, we could reduce and minimize their magnitude of destruction. For doing so, we need a viable and efficient disaster management. However the ground reality suggests that managing a disaster always proves to be, in itself, a disaster. In addition to the manmade disasters such as nuclear radiation leakage like the threat of a nuclear emergency and radiation leakage in Japan, the Fukushima crisis deemed to be a race against time, simply an out of control situation for even a technologically developed country like Japan has sent shock ways round the globe. Similarly, the frightening phases of swine flu, Dengue fever, SARS, etc, revealed the actual position and credibility of country's healthcare system and preparation to combat such pandemic diseases. It calls for a serious attention and need immediate and adequate mitigation and quick redress. Japan with its advanced technology is struggling, one fails to imagine what could happen if, God forbid, India and J&K are struck with a disaster of such intensity. According to a report all the states and Union Territories in India are prone to disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and draughts. Information provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that, at least, one state faces all the four major types of disasters, six states face three types of disasters, twelve face two types of disasters and five face one type of disaster. Hence each time a tragedy strikes the Indian society; it exposes the inefficient and outdated disaster management policy. The earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26, 2001 left at least 30000 dead and millions homeless; the super cyclone Of Orissa in October 1999 caused heavy destruction to the life and property. The massive floods in Bihar, Assam and other states and drought conditions in Rajasthan led to immense starvation deaths across India. The incident of snowstorm and ferocious blizzard of Waltengo Nar in Qazigund in 2005 and the massive earthquake on October 8, 2005 left hundreds dead. Earlier Seismologists and Geo-scientists predicted that a major earthquake could rock Kashmir valley anytime in the next 50 years. Are we prepared for that? Such warning from experts can’t be taken for granted but we are in habit of taking everything for granted.

The Kashmir Scenario

In Kashmir, the ‘Disaster Management Cell’ in the Divisional Commissioners office has been set up to tackle such issues. The Natural Disaster Management Cell is doing a commendable job under its present coordinator who is a dynamic and active person and uses every possible media to disseminate information and educate public about disaster related issues and remedies as well as precautions. The person makes excellent use of social networking sites for educating people about disaster management and disseminates vital information regarding such eventualities. But alone, Mr Coordinator cannot do much, and we, as a society mush not ignore the various nuances that need to be taken care of when it comes to disaster preparedness. The state government must also invest in this field and make sure that people know about various challenges and issues of safety and work towards making Kashmir a stronger and better prepared, when it comes to handling natural or manmade disasters. Mohalla Committees and Panchayats can also contribute in a big way as well.
Social and individual consciousness along with the administrative efforts is mandatory for preparing ourselves for any possible occurrence in the future. Disaster management in Kashmir has to be made the part of the curriculum and the subjects like ekistics and architecture need to be introduced in colleges besides giving boost to professional Social work in the University of Kashmir. Disaster management as a subject needs to be taught at graduate and post-graduate levels. Such courses in Kashmir will prepare and produce an experienced group of people who can prepare masses to face the future disasters and calamities.
At the moment, IGNOU is the only University offering PG Diploma and certificate courses in disaster management, while other institutions offer no such courses which reflect the disinterest of the rest of the institutions regarding such an essential and life saving subject.
The centre can supplement its efforts by providing a major share of the financial support. Under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF), started in 1991, the centre-state contribution has been pegged at 75:25. Technical assistance regarding monitoring of the rainfall and cyclone detection come from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), which works through ten cyclone detection radars located on the coasts. A geostationary satellite (INSAT-IB) monitors the cyclone movements. Centre water commission (CWC) has a flood forecast system at more than 157 centres in India now. However technological and financial means alone are not enough to limit the damage caused by disasters. Beside proper mass education, youth involvement and support a prompt action to deliver relief and initiate rescue operations as effectively as possible and at the earliest. Our response to disasters so far has simply been that we have responded disastrously.

William D'Avenant says, “Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves."

(Adfer Rashid Shah (Adfar Shah) is a New Delhi based Kashmiri Sociologist and belongs to SNCWS AT Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, New Delhi. Author is a guest columnist & Contributor at Eurasia Review, Analyst World, Kashmir Monitor,South Asian idea and also contributes in other reputed international Publications. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com).


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