There is no defence against natural calamities which usually happen unannounced. One has to be prepared to face these. There are sometimes ways and means which can prevent accidents in times of natural disasters. Such as avalanche prevention on dangerous mountain slopes. Landslides on mountain slopes during rain or even earthquakes and so on. With certain preventive measures, it is possible to avert serious damage. Also one can even avoid panic which accompanies disasters, if one has been prepared mentally and physically to face thesenatural calamities. It is also possible to lessen the after effects of a disaster through advance preparations and proper management.However, in our case, quite a few disasters are manmade resulting from what one can call, the “Disastrous Management!”
There are three major natural calamities which need disaster management both as a preventive measure before occurrence and rendering succour after the event. The first is the earthquake. Kashmir has faced many severe ones in the past. Being in the most dangerous seismic zone, there are apprehensions that a big one may strike any time in future. Many experts have advised that all building construction in Kashmir should follow strictly measures prescribed for such seismic zones. In fact, an American expert has written a book on this subject stating that the traditional brick and timber structure is most ideal for Kashmir. These structures are more flexible compared to cement concrete and are thus safer in earthquakes. With the onset of modern reinforced cement concrete constructions, hardly anyone is following these norms. The cement concrete structures can be made safe by taking earthquake safety measures. Column-beam structures need expansion joints. Similarly, concrete slabs on brick and timber walls become death traps in an earthquake as happened in 2005 in Muzaffrabad. Government needs to issue mandatory guidelines before a building permission is given for incorporating earthquake safety measures.
Next in the line of natural disasters are the floods. Kashmir is prone to severe floods and there have been many devastating ones in the past. For last decade or so we have not had a major flood. This has made us neglect both the flood prevention measures and the subsequent control/relief measures. The most important prevention measure is the dredging of River Jhelum, the main channel traversing the whole valley. During Maharaja’s time the river used to be regularly dredged right from Khadanyar to Khannabal. However, during the modern progressive development oriented regimes we have seen not only the river bed filled up by sedimentation but even the basins have been encroached and filled up. Wular was a huge basin which could take a lot of water but it has been now reduced to miniscule size by willow plantation and paddy fields all around. To save Srinagar city during floods the river embankment at Kandizaal used to be breached and the water would spread in a large area by- passing the city. All these basins of wetlands and paddy fields have been turned into residential colonies. There are also flood channels to by-pass Srinagar. These too have got filled up or encroached. So we are waiting for a disaster due to our greed, negligence and above all the disastrous management.
The third calamity is a very heavy snowfall during winter. This calamity has already struck us during the current winter. The only positive side was an early warning given by Mr. Sonam Lotus(becoming a household name these days). However, he too can improve by monitoring the weather continuously and updating it to all concerned.Even though the snow falls we are witnessing now are nothing compared to the ones we had in the earlier times yet these completely disrupt the life throughout the valley. In our childhood one would witness snow up to almost first floor windows but now a days we only get a couple of feet in the city. In the Kashmir of the good old days even though people were mostly confined to their homes, yet they were fully prepared to face the rigours of the winter. From dried vegetables to firewood for bukharis, and the charcoal for kangris used to be stocked in advance by every household. Then came the modern revolution and we were shown the proverbial light, the electric power! Everything changed.
We forgot all the old ways of heating, cooking and washing. Hot and cold air-conditioners, microwave ovens, washing machines and what not? Everything running on electric power. Unfortunately, the power started playing hide and seek and we were left in the lurch. We can neither go ahead nor move backwards. Stuck in a time machine with frozen speedo-meter! That is simply known as the “Disastrous Management”! Firstly, the fault lies with the archaic distribution system. Had we a state of the art distribution system with underground cables, the power authorities would not be forced to switch off power with the start of the snowfall or even in a strong wind. Ours must be the most fragile system in the world! In spite of all these difficulties the ground level workers did an excellent job of restoration in the most trying conditions and deserve appreciation. The major sore point has been water-logging caused by choked drains and failure of dewatering pumps. This did not happen because of the negligence of the staff involved but due to mismanagement of the schemes meant for installing a fool-proof drainage system.
There are two lessons from the recent winter disaster. These calamities do not occur often and come unannounced. However, all departments need to have contingency plans to face these and these have to be refreshed every now and then even though nothing may strike. Secondly, the basic causes of disruption such as archaic power distribution system, defective and lopsided drainage and standby arrangements in case of drainage failure need to be revamped. The disaster management would be much easier if we pay attention to set right our basic disastrous management!