| Disaster management is a war, a fight against nature. The only way to remain on guard is to be prepared, against the forces of nature. We shall soon be reaching the anniversary of the ill-fated Tsunami-2004. It is the time, for us to assess the score sheet, and evaluate our process in disaster management.
Rescue, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction - the famous four R's of disaster management, have long become outdated. In fact, these four R's are nothing but a reactionary mechanism, more like when the house is on fire one starts digging a well.
The first R is rescue the affected - alive or dead. Next in the cycle is that of providing them with immediate relief, be it that of food, shelter, clothing and medicine or any such emergency assistance. Followed by this, is the process of rehabilitating the affected, as their natural/usual mode of habitation is not suitable any more. We might as well call it temporary sheltering for the victims. The final step in the cycle would be that of reconstruction. Reconstructing their old mode of habitation, and relocating them.
Tsunami-Sri Lanka, is somewhere between the third and the fourth stage, that is people are either leaving in temporary shelters or are waiting for the assistance, for their houses to be rebuilt.
What comes after reconstructing their houses? Is the cycle complete until we wait for another disaster to strike and again we begin with our reactionary circle of rescue to reconstruction? Or is their any other mechanism to be followed by the end of this cycle? This next phase is the most crucial phase of disaster management.
The major task of disaster management comes in the form of mitigation. Preparedness is the only key to unlock this struggle of man and nature imbalance, which unfortunately results in a disaster.
Theoretically, we might put all the disasters in two categories, natural and man made. Cyclones, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc. being the natural disasters and 9/11, Chernobyl, Bhopal Gas tragedies etc. being the man made disasters.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that even natural disasters can be attributed to human intervention or non-intervention.
Humans would build dams, engage in massive deforestation, and eventually blame Mother Nature for floods. Humans would destroy the mangroves, the shield provided by the nature, and would blame mother earth for the eventualities, like tsunamis.
From what I had seen in the Tsunami affected areas, be it in India or in Sri Lanka, I could uncomfortably see the destruction of the seaside flora and fauna. Had the mangroves been there, human habitation been away from the coastal belt, loss would not have been as substantial.
Yet, a very important exercise to be carried out is that of mitigation efforts. What shall be the modus operandi, if it is known that a Tsunami is going to strike in an hour’s time?
This was the solitary question I asked various victims, trying to survive in various rehabilitation camps. One such camp was at Wathuregama, Balapitiya. Out of the 500 families dilapidated by the Tsunami, in that village 20 were fortunate to be assisted by the Post Graduate Institute of Management, Colombo, who constructed that temporary shelter. “We shall wait for a phone call or some information and then run,” said MD Cyril, head of the temporary housing project. Unaware, which direction to run, where to get early warning and communication, many like him have resigned themselves to fate.
What shall the local people do? Well, when we talk of preparedness, as mitigation, whom do we prepare? And how do we prepare? What has been observed after any disaster is that, it’s the local people who act in the golden hour. It’s the locals who are the first responders.
They should be first sensitized about the need for disaster management. After sensitization, a methodical PRA should be conducted, where in the hazard profile of the village is prepared.
There is a need to form village committees like:
1. Search and rescue
2. First Aid and emergency care
3. Early warning and communication
4. Mob control
5. Emergency shelter and food
6. Damage assessment and relief
These village committees may be called DMTs, disaster management taskforces. And these village DMTs shall be trained in their respective areas of operation using locally available resources.
Mock drills shall be conducted to access the level of preparedness of the community.
Apart from this PRA exercise, extensive awareness generation campaign shall be carried out involving children/students and women, the most vulnerable group at the time of disaster.
The key is in creating a disaster resistant culture within our society, and we shall have to strive to achieve it before we rest.
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Siddhartha Dave, is currently in Sri Lanka on Fredskorpset's programme. He has been associated with UN Development Programme (UNDP), India as Disaster Management Officer, where in he had worked in India’s most Disaster prone state of Gujarat. He had been working with Government of Gujarat, NGOs and Community on comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme. Awarded with President of India’s Scout award, Siddhartha Dave had been with media, both electronic and print, before getting into India’s prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM,A), as Academic Associate in Communications Area. Masters in Communications Studies, he is currently pursuing his M Phil in Peace Studies from Gujarat Vidhyapith, an institution founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920.
He has worked in Israel/Palestine, and has participated in Peace process between India and Pakistan. Siddhartha had been to Pakistan twice in the last one year, for the cause. He has traveled extensively, in India and abroad, and attended several International Conferences
Presently, Siddhartha is pursuing his research work, trying to explore the triangular relationship between, Mass Media, Conflict Transformation (Peace building), and Conflict Generation. He aspires to work extensively in the field of Peace and Conflict Transformation, with UN.
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