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.
This month we observe the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A lot of change has happened along the coast. We have learnt a lot too in the last ten years and our attitude towards disasters has changed.
Disbelief and shock – two prominent responses when the news about the tsunami hitting the coast first came in. Some of the images are still fresh in mind – the disbelief that on a warm clear day, there were reports of water entering coastal hamlets. How could that be when there was no cyclone in the offing? The rush towards the coast with relief supplies as the scale of destruction got known. The initial chaos followed by coordination and organized response.
What have we learnt in the last decade?
First of all, that a phenomenon called ‘tsunami’ exists. That it is a wave generated (most often) by an undersea earthquake. That tsunamis have hit the Indian coasts many times in the past, but memory being what it is, few remember such rare events. That we can be forewarned about tsunamis – Early Warning Systems have been set up for the Indian Ocean region and have been able to forecast accurately whether we will or won’t be hit by a tsunami when there is an undersea earthquake near Indonesia. The latest proof was just two days ago when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake occurred under the Molucca Sea near Halmahera in Indonesia. Yes, initially we were sceptical – we did not trust the ability of buoys in the deep sea to be able to give us adequate warning. But looks like things have settled down and people have become a little trusting of the ITEWS.
Early this month, Cyclone Hudhud wreaked havoc over the beautiful city of Visakhapatnam, and parts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. It is believed to be the most destructive cyclone ever to hit India because the total damage costs are expected to be at least Rs7000 Crores. Rebuilding must focus on enforcement of norms.
The Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Hudhud which crossed Andhra Pradesh on 12th October not only wreaked havoc over coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha but triggered a blizzard in Nepal apart from causing heavy rain in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. Most tragic was the fact that the Cyclone Warning Centre in Visakhapatnam had to be shut down just as the cyclone was making landfall! The wind tore through the buildings, ripping off Vizag airport’s roof and resulting in bricks flying through fourth floor windows apart from shattering glass of modern buildings. Tall girders, streetlights bent like matchsticks, fallen trees and debris everywhere. There was even a video of a car flying from the top of a showroom prompting someone who did not know the cause to ask if this was some new flying car test. What trees were left standing were stripped of their leaves and branches that could be torn off. A retired English professor who has lived there for 75 years said that she had never seen the likes of it before. After the cyclone, Vizag went for days without power and water and telecom facilities.
Most of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are no strangers to cyclones. The R&R apparatus, cyclone shelters, evacuation procedures and so on are quite organized. The IMD did a fantastic job by predicting the track of the cyclone well in advance. Yet a lot of people were not prepared – one lady said that they were warned about the cyclone, but were not told to be prepared with candles and such emergency stock! Had Visakhapatnam grown a little complacent over the decades since it had not experienced such fury over many decades?
Tamil Nadu likely to get two offshore windfarms soon
In an attempt to harness more wind energy and bail out power-starved states, the ministry of new and renewable energy is gearing to set up offshore windfarms in Gujarat andTamil Nadu with technical assistance from the European Union.
Rapid urbanization worldwide has resulted in a steady stream of people moving into towns and cities. From around 11 per cent in 1901, it is now closer to 31 percent in India. The reasons for the move are many – from economic opportunities to better infrastructure availability and today, the impacts of impacts of ‘development’ and ‘climate change’ that are turning fallow or barren large areas of agricultural land and forcing many to become climate refugees.
Cities have been considered as a drain on the areas around them. However, cities can be made largely self-sustaining. They may have challenging environmental and social issues but they have two important resources – plenty of innovative ideas and money. A couple of months ago, the government announced a plan to set up 100 smart cities across the country. A smart city is supposed to be an urban area where economic development and activity are sustainable. Information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services for citizen. For an increasingly tech savvy generation, it is clearly the way to go.