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Cause n Consequence

While the Asian Tsunami / Boxing Day Tsunami of 26th December 2004 was quite literally the watershed in firming the resolve of the international community to render resilient -vulnerable populations to recurrent natural calamities, - many countries have legislated laws on disaster management and issued policy guidelines to institutionalise best practices to reduce the risk of disasters to vulnerable populations in calamity prone areas. It is prudent to distinguish between disasters and calamities. While natural calamities are inevitable in the future too, it is upto human civilisation to reduce the impact of the calamities on the human landscape – the disaster. Reducing disaster risk thus implies making the identified vulnerable populations resilient to the impact of disasters.

Man-made disasters on the other hand - can be reasonably agreed upon - that it is not naturally induced, but a plain fault in the complex societies that have incurred deleterious events to hamper human functioning. That said, there is hardly any country / region / territory or state that is spared any or more of the following calamities.

Among the man-made disasters that humanity has suffered from, mention may be made of:

Aviation disasters, Building collapses, Communal strife, Dam bursts, Ethnic Cleansing, Hijackings, Industrial disasters, Multi vehicle road and other highway Accidents, Pogroms, Shipping disasters, Terrorism, Train accidents and Urban infernos, Urban Floods, War induced migration and Mining disasters.

Among the natural calamities disaster managers count Avalanches, Blizzards, Cloudbursts, Coastal Incursion, Cyclones, Droughts, Desertification, (differential impact of) El Niño Southern Oscillation, Epidemics, earthquakes, Floods, Flash Floods, Famine, Forest Fires, Fog, Hailstorm Landslides, Mudslides, sand storm, Sea surge, Storms, squalls, thunderstorms, Tsunamis, Volcanoes.

How to reduce the risk of disasters or impact of calamities is a question that has engaged disaster managers – administrators - who have gathered the intellectual capital of scientists, activists, anthropologists, writers / Media, bureaucrats, political leaders, and researchers to draw up administrative best practices to reduce loss of lives, livelihoods, landscape and livestock.

Serious consultation and documentation of best practices have led to incorporating the development quotient into policy guidelines to reduce the impact of inevitable natural calamities on vulnerable populace. These have manifested as installations of early warning infrastructure for execution of standard operating procedures to effect preventive evacuations; like in seismically active areas where ‘inevitable’ earthquakes often trigger Tsunamis, soil testing before construction of multi storied buildings; financial compliance to earthquake safe architecture, etc. Thus preventive evacuations makes the difference between life and death a welcome development; taking up intensive re-greening initiatives to prevent landslides mudslides and flash floods and floods in areas prone to such calamities where the weak and vulnerable often live cheek by jowl with the might of unpredictable Mother Nature makes it a prescient legislation back green guideline. …

The Philippines has undertaken massive re-greening of the hills for example where landslides are triggered as much by seismic activities as the fearsome hydrometeorological calamities that visit the Philippines ever so angrier and oftener in the day and age of climate change. Brazil has a lot to learn on this score – the need for a sustainable or (a plus green) economy is sorely felt in rapidly rising Brazilian economy. Disaster Risk Reduction – or DRR calls for established protocols.

However seismically active Indonesia – say experts - needs robust DRR protocols. The Tsunami shelters built in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian Tsunami lack effective water and sanitation – a recipe for secondary disasters like water borne diseases amongst the survivors of a future calamity. Earthquake safe housing is also not coded in Indonesia with greater emphasis being given to financial sustainability.

The earthquake shelters in Banda Aceh Indonesia are sited on higher ground keeping view the very real threat of tsunami. These shelters lack infrastructure like water and sanitation, approach roads, broadcasting mechanisms for effective early warning (indeed most sirens in Banda Aceh are reportedly dysfunctional). But Indonesia is vulnerable to multiple hazards like cyclones, floods, droughts, mudslides, volcanoes etc. Disaster risk reduction in Indonesia like much of its planning is a big challenge. © Dr. Sampurnananda Mahapatra / Digital Discourse

Haiti too has a long way to go in terms of DRR infrastructure. Chronic cholera has taken the toll of as many people as 9200 people while the earthquake killed 230000 – as many as who died in the Asian Tsunami of 2004. A New York Times Report in March 2016 < https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/19/world/americas/cholera-deaths-in-haiti-could-far-exceed-official-count.html?_r=0> spoke of 9200 deaths from cholera from the congested water stressed earthquake shelters for the survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It is one of the most powerful stories of corruption taking a human toll.

Lack of clean potable water in earthquake shelters for the survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti has triggered chronic cholera.

However India has a few success stories to boast of in DRR. India’s Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (www.incois.gov.in) an ocean research institute based in Hyderabad in South India has honed its skills of tsunami forecasting and issues accurate early warning of tsunamis in the aftermath of earthquakes in the Indian Ocean region. The early warning is followed up by state administrations affected by the tsunami forecast with the administrators coordinating standard operating procedure. They then report prevention of loss of life and livestock. Similarly the Indian Meteorological Department successfully forecast the path of a very severe cyclonic storm in the first week of October 2013 and the National Disaster Management Authority (www.ndma.gov.in) made all out efforts to switch off power supply, evacuate people in the path of the cyclone in Odisha, prepared cyclone shelters with food, medicines and blankets. However just a few months earlier the Uttarakhand flash floods could not be forecast and the flash floods took a heavy toll of human lives in the peak of the pilgrimage season. Although some attributed it to lack of political will to evacuate pilgrims even after heavy rains and landslides were forecast, the fact remains that the then Chairman of the NDMA admitted to the Media that they had insufficient time to coordinate standard operations procedure because flash floods could not be forecast. The final death count in Uttarakhand – due to the flash floods - could not be quantified at all; such was nature’s carnage.

Nevertheless corruption stalks Indian efforts at DRR too. A planned conversion of a ship into a floating hospital for disaster prone Andaman Nicobar Islands disappeared off the radars of media and Island Administration; transparency activists were fobbed off and Media pushed aside in the near totalitarian, federally administered volcanic Islands as this writer discovered while writing her book Preparing for the Day After https://play.google.com/books/reader?printsec=frontcover&output=reader&id=QoMgAwAAAEAJ&pg=GBS.PA53 in 2014. Tsunami is not the only disaster that will strike Andaman Nicobar Islands. As a consequence of the Mega Earthquake of 26th December 2004 sinkholes are appearing everywhere in ANI. Water spouts from the sea have escaped the attention and documentation of the Administration. No studies have been conducted nor have financial / scientific measures been taken to refurbish earthquake safe construction. Indeed the number of shelters built after the Asian Tsunami lack earthquake safe certification in Nicobar Islands! Mock drills are rare. Media in the Islands is not trained to scrutinise DRR initiatives of the Island Administration. The water stress in a region of heavy rains is ironically the recipe for an imminent water crisis. Drought and flash floods, cyclones are only some of the hydrometeorological disasters that regularly visit the Andaman Nicobar Islands.

In its favour however the Island administration has constructed roads and established evacuation infrastructure for the seismically volatile Islands. Communication infrastructure in the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami is commendable.

Where democratic functioning is transparent – disaster managers agree - that protocols for disaster risk reduction can be effectively implemented. DRR calls for committed scientists, high level of development, good economic infrastructure, indeed a thriving but sustainable economy and development, transparent governance, informed populace, robust civil society, and last but not the least a powerful well informed and active Media.

The most challenging of all disasters to prepare for is the unseen Climate Change, imminent and powerful it has the potential to alter life as we know it across time and space. Forecasters are increasingly challenged by the ferocity and untimely climate change events straddling societies across the globe. Cyclone Pam, Cyclone Nargis, Cyclone Debbie, Cyclone Cook, (New Zealand’s meteorologists are gender neutral thank god!) are the ones from recent years that come to mind. Climate change and disaster risk reduction are closely linked. “More extreme weather events in future are likely to increase the number and scale of disasters, while at the same time, the existing methods and tools of disaster risk reduction provide powerful capacities for adaptation to climate change” says a UNISDR release.

“Experts from around the world are set to launch a drive to improve warnings for an interlocking range of hazards and step up what is known as impact-based forecasting. Both are key aims of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015. They will do so at the two-day Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference, which feeds into the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, also taking place in Cancun, Mexico from 22 to 26 May” says another UNISDR <release> (http://www.unisdr.org/archive/52972).

While the standards of post disaster logistics in the United States of America is the highest, the administration of relief efforts post Katrina – according to some media reports - left much to be desired.

All the same, the United States has – again - set high standards in preventing another terrorist attack on US soil after the 9/11 attacks, thanks to its effective intelligence gathering, standard operating procedures and related disaster mitigation efforts. There are lessons to be shared here with the whole world in this one successful segment of the war on terror.