Bad disaster management

The Nagaland Emergency Preparedness Exercise (NEPEx) conducted across the State on April 26 last had again brought to light how unprepared Nagaland is to face any major disaster. The April 26 mock drill showed that the problems of communication and coordination, as well as inaudible sirens (alarm) continue to be major concerns that need immediate attention. During the debriefing after the mock exercise, Chief Secretary, Temjen Toy was reported to have said that the communication system was ‘really bad’ even within the vicinity of Kohima. While the April 26 mock exercise was conducted to see how prepared the State is in case of a major disaster, it can be said that we are not even prepared to face any kind of disaster (major or minor), natural or man made. We know that incessant rains during monsoon every year inevitably causes landslides and flash floods cutting off road communication for weeks and destroying houses and properties. This repeats every year, and is a grim reminder of the dismal disaster management mechanism in the State. Despite regular incidents of disaster in recent times, virtually no visible effort has been made in building up an effective disaster management cell to deal with both the fury of nature and man-made disasters. Whether it is natural disasters or man-made ones; the story always is that the administration fails to work effectively in prevention or timely rescue and relief operations. Though no single department of the State administration can be held responsible, the lack of co-ordination as well as clear demarcation of roles is certainly an underlying factor. While the job and scope of the disaster management cell will obviously be limited and cannot be burdened with the onus of everything from prevention to relief work, it is expected to play the role of a good and effective coordinator in times of disaster, rather than simply waking up after much damage has been done and restless victims begin protesting for a better deal. The need here is for the State administration to develop its own understanding of what constitutes a disaster. This understanding needs to be evolved on basis of the threat perception of different kinds of disasters in the State. For instance, considering that the State fall within a very vulnerable seismic zone, earthquake should naturally be included in the list. Every year, we experience heavy landslides that play havoc with life and property, leaving vast chunks of population virtually cut off and marooned and so it is important that these be included. Of late floods in different parts of the State has become a regular affair, with Dimapur experiencing floods every year during monsoon. The State also has a phenomenally higher ratio of road accidents, partly due to mismanaged road traffic and lack of both roads and transport services and partly due to the difficult terrain of the hilly areas. The fatalities in such accidents are high and they easily qualify for disasters that need to be tackled on a war footing. We also have a high vulnerability of fire accidents. The disaster management cell’s task should be to list all disasters, factoring in several other similar disasters, and first of all find ways and means to reduce the risk of such disasters, both man-made and natural, and locate departments who could be tasked for ensuring minimal risk. For instance coordinating efforts between roads and bridges department, transport authorities and traffic authorities for reducing risk of road accidents or ensuring that the departments like power use better quality wires to reduce the risk of fires due to short circuits, which is very common. The next step should be in organizing rescue operations once an eventuality happens. This is where the State always miserably fails and has to rely heavily on the army or civilian volunteers to do the needful. Whether it is rescuing people from flooded areas, from deep gorges where buses and vehicles roll down, from areas caught in blaze, there is no contingency plan to make the rescue operations better coordinated, more timely and effective. This is what needs to be the focus of the disaster management cell, which otherwise comes into picture by the time all the rescue work is over or it is too late to even carry it out. Indeed we must realize that our disaster management ails right from planning to execution.