Monday, July 1, 2013

Why Disasters Become Disastrous?

Question: How a disaster in managed in India?
Answer: Disastrously.

I came across this interesting question and answer on Yahoo Answers while researching for this topic. As humorous as it may sound, it is actually a painful truth. The recent incessant rains and the resultant floods and other physical mis-happenings in the Indian state of Uttarakhand has opened a flood-gate of questions on the proper planning, prediction and management of the disaster. There have been many rounds of cross-questions, debated between the government, agencies involved in the rescue, the victims and the rest of the world watching the tragedy unfold before them, Live & Exclusive.

India recently saw one of the worst floods in the Uttarkashi region, leading to a large number of displaced population, submerged towns, deaths and a rescue and relief operation on war footing. The affected area being hilly made it even more difficult to reach out, which delayed the rescue operation which was already hampered by the bad weather. Army was called in to assist amid rising number of landslides, washed off roads and heaps of dead bodies. There were a large number of people scattered around the affected part of the state, all resigned to their fate and some retired to death.

Many of the trapped people lost their lives and some succumbed to the long march to freedom from the clutches of death. The irony played out more as a lot of people were there on religious purpose to pray for their well-being. The temple of Kedarnath still stands tall in a ghost-town which once used to bustle with chaos and sparkled with activity. As with every disaster, the politics too began to warm up. Allegedly after a delay of 2 days, Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna jumped in the rescue operation pulling in disaster relief teams and organisations to clear the mess. Indian Army and Air Force were given the responsibility of fetching out people from areas who lost connectivity to the flash floods. The cloudbursts had crippled many parts of the state, but the army diligently performed its duties with nerves of steel and is still very much involved in the operations. It also lost many of its soldiers to two helicopter crashes which tried to carry on the rescue inspite of the unfavourable weather.

Disaster management is a tough job, and much more tougher in state with harsh terrains and an economy dependent on tourism. To switch the plug of funds, many organisation jumped in. Disaster management turned into a PR activity. Everyone wanted their share of limelight in the 24 hours of telecast. Politicians jumped in to show their sympathy and humanitarian side. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi offered to rebuild Kedarnath temple and some media reports carried the news of Modi rescuing 15,000 Gujaratis from the disaster. Later on, the figure was found to be hugely inflated and everyone distanced from the rashly projected PR figure. Modi persisted on his offer to develop Kedarnath temple, Bahuguna shot down his proposal saying the state is capable of doing so in it's own. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh released Rs. 1000 crore for Uttrakhand rescue and relief program. It is still not very clear as to how much how much of it and how it will be actually implemented. Then there were some recent reports in media about two local ministers from opposite parties of Karnataka who took got into a scuffle over the issue of who would sponsor the return tickets of the victim. Both the politicians got tickets booked for the victims, but the fight delayed the flight, much to the dismay of the wearied people, desperate to go home.

Seeing the vast deficit in resources and victims to be rehabilitated there were other agents too who joined the flood relief bandwagon. Most of them, just for the heck of it, and some of them to make a heck of it. As the flood subsided, and people began moving to safer avenues there was a rise in the number of touts selling a bowl of rice for Rs. 500 and a liter of water bottle for Rs. 250. The demand and supply will always form an equation, it is always humanity which gets subtracted from it. There are also reports of looting, rape and abuse of the already unfortunate victims, which add pain to the injury. here are also many NGOs sprouting across every nook and corner of the state and in fact, all over the country, most of them motivated by political interests. The opportunists are making a killing from the disaster, and it is not limited to this disaster or this geography only. This is a practice followed in the aftermath of every large-scale disaster who leave most of these stake-holders a lot more richer afterwards, while on the other hand the victims piece together whatever is left of them and their belongings.

There have been many many incidences where the saviors have turned into the dreaded, where relief and rescue gets commercialized, and human life becomes the least of the concern. In the aftermath of a devastating tsunami in the Indian ocean, there were relief camps and large scale donation drive across the world with an aim to uplift the victim and the affected area. A few months later those involved in the relief work had bigger homes, more cars and they were leading an affluent, much to the dismay of the income tax officers. And the victims were long forgotten in the vast sea of oblivion with a meager compensation. Even after Hurricane Katrina, there were reports about the widespread looting and raping prevalent in the victims states. These are only a part of the widespread tragic occurrences and the huge figures of corruption which survive even after a disaster. There have been many pseudo-relief camps, the sole-motive behind their functioning being either political or economic mileage, and they become largely successful in their endeavors because of unsuspecting people who take them as a pillar of support in that hour of need. Instead, they turn out to be hollow panels who fall apart as soon as the serve their greed. They don't care about the structure, the system, they don't care whether it survives or just crashes into a pile of rubble. To tackle the growth of such scam groups, Department of Justice, Oregon, United States came out with certain directives which are essential to remember before lending your support to your local disaster relief camp. The points are:

Only give to established charities. Creating an efficient and effective charity overnight is nearly impossible. Make sure the charity was in existence before the disaster occurred. 

Do not respond to email requests from supposed disaster victims. Unless you know someone in the affected area, these requests are almost always scams. Also, be wary of donation requests or videos posted on social media sites by alleged victims. 

Never give out personal information via phone, text or email. Legitimate charities will be pleased to receive a contribution by check or other secure form of payment and will never request your bank account number or social security number.

Beware of requests for fast money. If you are unfamiliar with the charity, always ask for written materials and do your research before you give. No legitimate organization will insist that you donate immediately. Never send contributions by wire or overnight parcel pick-up service - these are signs of a scam. 

Look out for mysterious phone charges. If you make a donation by sending a text message, your donation will appear on your phone bill. Texting your donation to a legitimate organization is a perfectly acceptable way to help those in need. However, if strange charges other than your donation appear on your bill you may be the victim of a scam. Make sure you understand your phone bill and the signs of “cramming.”

I would like to end this with a sincere hope that we all remain safe from the sudden furious acts of nature and more so from the impromptu, inhuman acts of human. I wish for a world  with a better disaster management, a more helpful hand to support the victims, and a credible network of operations which could help in a fast restoration of normalcy to the victims. The human spirit is indomitable and it knows how to cope in extreme circumstances. Let's encourage those who take this brave step forward.