Preparing for disaster

Preparing for disaster

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 12 December, 2015
Although the Paris conference on the steps being taken by various countries to reduce the impact of climate change has dominated both television talktime as well as print media coverage across the world, the reality is that the measures agreed upon are unlikely to do more than have a mildly palliative effect for at least a decade. As Chennai has shown, a climate crisis is upon us, and while pointing fingers at those countries whose reckless growth path has led to the present situation, efforts need to be made to ensure that disruptions in the everyday life of the ordinary citizen get reduced. An effective way of doing that would be to ensure that each of the lessons of major disasters such as Chennai or Srinagar be studied, so that courses of action be devised to prevent the consequences of any future such event from becoming as calamitous. In the case of Chennai, there is debate on whether the higher officials in the state were lax in taking action, which could have mitigated the flooding, steps such as releasing more water before the rains hit the city. Hopefully, such questions will not be forgotten but will be pursued, more to ensure that a guidebook be create.d which would assist policymakers in similar situations. At present, the level of official preparation for a disaster on the scale of Srinagar or Chennai is low, so that hours and even days get lost before responses begin to show results. Care needs to be taken to ensure that storm drains and other facilities needed to cope with weather disturbances are brought back to functionality after decades of neglect. The next time there is that much rain in Chennai, the water needs to be steered towards locations where it can be used later by the residents of the area.
It is shameful to compare the response of the authorities to the 26/11 attack in Mumbai in 2008 and the recent terror attacks across Paris. In the first, four days went by before the situation was brought under control, while for several hours, the police seemed clueless as to how to respond, with the head of the Anti-Terror Squad steering his vehicle into a trap. Given the sophistication in communications as well as in equipment designed to locate vehicles within a city, it was an extraordinary display of incompetence on the part of the Mumbai police. The situation was no better at the national level, with NSG commandos reaching the scene only after the terrorists had killed dozens and dug themselves in, that too without even building plans showing the layout of the hotels affected, something that those controlling the terrorists from GHQ clearly possessed, through sources that went uninvestigated in a political culture where suspicion of local involvement was seen by those in authority in both the state as well as the Centre as a lapse of democratic etiquette and secular values. The fact is that terrorists have no religion, and hence should be hunted down in the most comprehensive fashion, something that the French police have realised only after the terror attack and not before, when they designated large parts of the capital of France as “no go” areas for those in uniform. However, once the attacks took place, the response was immediate. While relieved that for some time, there has not been a mass terror attack in India, every effort needs to be taken to ensure that fiascos such as 26/11 or allowing the Kathmandu hijackers of the Indian Airlines aircraft to escape from Amritsar avoid being repeated. Disaster has become a constant, so should measures to ensure that the impact remains minimal.
 

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