Shaken Just five days ago, a massive earthquake in Nepal with a magnitude of 7.8 resulted in massive destruction of iconic heritage sites in the country’s capital apart from a growing death toll which may cross 10,000 due to people caught in the rubble as well as in avalanches and landslides including in Mount Everest and nearby areas. While an earthquake of this magnitude can be a disaster anywhere, it showed up the poor state of preparedness for such an event in a country that is sitting one of the biggest geological collision zones in the planet for geological stress builds up along the Himalayas and releases itself periodically in earthquakes. The intensity was so high that it was felt in many places in north India, especially in Bihar where many building were reportedly brought down. Relief has poured into the Nepal, starting with India’s Operation Maitri, from many countries. Earthquakes are not random events, nor can they be forecast like a cyclone, for instance. They are continuously happening as can be seen from the earthquake maps and data. Today, there is plenty of understanding about which are the areas that are earthquake prone. It is clear that preparedness and being pro-active is the only way with respect to seismic events. Time and again, it has been emphasised that it is not an earthquake per se that kills but poorly constructed buildings in earthquake prone areas that are shaken to the point of collapse trapping people within then.
Ten years after the “Build Back Better” mantra, a short study was carried out in the tsunami affected villages of Tamil Nadu which had seen a frenzy of construction in the last decade. The houses along the coast were largely kutcha, according to the census information of 2001. So it was not surprising that the houses of fishermen living in fishing hamlets located mostly within 500 m of the shore line were damaged/destroyed by the tsunami, on an unprecedented scale. The damages were assessed at over 53,000 with around 45,000 of them fully damaged and the remaining partially damaged. Considering that the coast receives repeat visitations of hazards, especially cyclones, it was decided that a multi-hazard-resilient house would be provided for those who lost their homes in the tsunami. It resulted in cost escalation but that did not matter too much as plenty of funds were available. In fact, because of the huge humanitarian inflow of funds, the government decided to use some of the funds made available through a World Bank loan package to buy land and let the NGOs do the construction, though adhering to certain basic specifications. For those areas where there were no NGO takers / they backed out for whatever reason, the government stepped in and built houses. Then the government decided to go beyond providing houses to those affected by the tsunami by deciding on replacing houses that it had constructed earlier (but were now dilapidated) and others who lived in vulnerable houses (read kutcha houses) in vulnerable areas (e.g. riverbanks). Thus in reality, there are multiple phases of construction, though for an outsider (and even for many beneficiaries), they are all part of tsunami reconstruction.
Protection of Coastal Areas from Rising Sea Level
Recently released Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that global mean sea level has risen by 190 mm over the period 1901-2010.
The first time many of us heard of Disaster Risk Reduction was probably in 2005, a month after the tsunami struck. The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held at Kobe, Japan, adopted the Hyogo Framework of Action 2005-2015.
This was the time when post-tsunami reconstruction of the affected areas had begun – people were being moved into temporary shelters and discussions about rebuilding houses was going on full swing. The tsunami was an unexpected, new threat from the sea, an addition to the cyclones and storm surges. How did one ensure people’s safety by the sea?
The announcement of HFA’s three strategic goals at this time was thus most appropriate: The integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning; Development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities to build resilience to hazards and the systematic incorporation of risk reduction approaches into the implementation of emergency preparedness, response and recovery programmes. Ah, here were directions that could be followed. Thus, Slowly, wherever possible, these ideas were integrated into the rebuilding process. For example, multi-hazard resilient houses were built and Early Warning Systems were put in place. There were a number of sessions conducted by NGOs with communities where PRAs helped the locals (and the outsiders) understand threats, risks and methods to build a resilient society.
In 2008, BEDROC carried out a study to look at the state of disaster resilience among tsunami affected communities using a framework created by John Twigg with reference to the HFA’s five thematic areas for disaster resilience. One of the most obvious findings was that there was a heightened awareness of disasters and the need for disaster preparedness. But it still continued to be top down rather than a bottom up approach in terms of building disaster resilience.
Scientist alleges illegal export of Rs.1 lakh crore beach minerals from TN
An accomplished ocean scientist, who explored the entire coast of the country for sea minerals at the Centre's behest, has filed a PIL in the Madras high court saying rare beach sand minerals worth at least 1 lakh crore had been illegally exported from Tamil Nadu with the connivance of central and state agencies and officers.
It appears now that final decisions on environmental clearances depend more on political directives than the environmental impact assessment reports. This means that, if you want to protect the environment, it is extremely important to influence the right politicians. How is this best done? A major player is the media, by highlighting issues that are likely to have extensive adverse impacts on the environment. Prithi Nambiar’s study “Media Construction of Environment and Sustainability in India” takes a look at this.
10 yrs after tsunami, India still needs to fill in disaster management gaps
"We never knew the ocean could leap towards us in such a way," says Chettiar, the well-known face of Swept, a documentary film on the tsunami. Ten years later, India looks better prepared although some serious gaps remain.