Govt unnerved on disaster preparedness despite Vohra’s missive


Srinagar: Even as Governor, NN Vohras send a missive to Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti with regard to the preparedness to deal with any severe earthquake as recently apprehended by a US-based survey, the SoS from Raj Bhawan has only unnerved the ill-prepared government.
While the Chief Minister is expected to a chair a high-level meeting on the issue in the coming days, sources said the top officials in the Civil Secretariat are unnerved due to lack of preparedness, primarily on their own part.
“From human resource to other infrastructure needed on ground to tackle any such eventuality, ‘administrative’ slumber is a major cause of ‘disaster mismanagement’,” official sources said.
Policy stuck in paperwork
Even though in 2012, the NC government had approved a disaster management policy, officials said ‘the implementation didn’t move beyond paperwork.’
On February 1, 2012, the Jammu and Kashmir State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) had approved a three-tier draft disaster management policy for the state ‘which is vulnerable to natural calamities’.
The then Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah presided over the SDMA meeting and laid “importance on professional responses to preparedness, prediction and prevention of disasters.”
Omar had made specific reference that Kashmir is prone to natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, snow-storms, landslides, cloudbursts and droughts and that there was a need for a “fool-proof mechanism to rescue, provide relief and rehabilitate disaster-hit people.”
He asked the authorities to strengthen operational functionaries at all levels, enhance capacity building and educate people about the importance of disaster management. 
“We need a comprehensive strategy with befitting command and control to be in place to face any exigency befittingly and in a coordinated manner,” Omar had said.
The First Shock
Two years later, it was the test of the SDMA when September 2014 floods punctured the claims of preparedness on the part of government.
After the major deluge, which left around lakh houses devastated in Srinagar alone, the then government admitted that it was “non-existent at least for the first four days of the deluge”, when people needed rescue and relief measures the most.
It was mostly the brave heart people of Kashmir, who managed relief and rescue, something which miraculously kept the death toll comparatively low.
Soon thereafter, when relief and rehabilitation was supposed to be the priority, Assembly elections were “pushed on the flood hit state.”
The Peoples Democratic Party which was into opposition that time had supported the elections. Pleading that  postponement of elections would be “blackmail”, the party had promised “better future” for the flood victims.
But while the PDP-BJP alliance allegedly failed in rehabilitation of the flood victims, officials said, there was equally no progress on much-needed strengthening of the disaster preparedness.
SDRF in infancy
The SDMA’s dedicated first line of action is to be through, the State Disaster Management Response Force(SDRF), the government wing dedicated for the first line of action in case of any eventuality.
But SDRF continues to be ill-prepared, ill-equipped. In the coming editions, Kashmir Observer will highlight the deficiencies in the SDRF and how successive regimes slept over the issue, though in the past around a decade alone, Kashmir witnessed atleast three major disasters in the form on 2005 earthquake, snow-tsunami of 2006 and the 2014-floods.
Earthquake threat
As of now, the state is again sitting on a time bomb of natural disaster. On May 19 Oregon State University in the US said a major earthquake, of magnitude 8 or greater, may strike Jammu and Kashmir, endangering the lives of as many as a million people.
Scientists have known about the Riasi fault in Jammu and Kashmir, but it was not thought to be as much as a threat as other, more active fault systems.
However, following a magnitude 7.6 earthquake in 2005 on the nearby Balakot-Bagh fault in the Muzaffarabad region- which was not considered particularly dangerous because it was not on the plate boundary – researchers began scrutinising other fault systems in the region.
They found that the Riasi fault has been building up pressure for some time, suggesting that when it does release or “slip,” the resulting earthquake may be large – as much as magnitude 8.0 or greater.
“What we set out to learn was how much the fault has moved in the last tens of thousands of years, when it moved, and how different segments of the fault move,” said Yann Gavillot, lead author on the study who did much of the work as a doctoral student at Oregon State University in the US.
Raj Bhawan intervention
Prompted by the expert alarm, Governor NN Vohra has urged Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to take immediate cognizance and issue firm directives to “each and every stakeholder” to forthwith start preparing for dealing with a deadly earthquake.
In his letter to the CM, the Governor re-iterated that J&K is predominantly located in Seismic Zone-V “and our people had, as recently as, in the 2005 earthquake, suffered considerable losses.” Noting the response of the administrative system to the September 2014 floods, the Governor expressed concern that “we were totally unprepared on all fronts.”
The Governor urged the “SDMA must take urgent and time bound steps for strengthening all possible structural/non-structural mitigation measures to reduce the risk vulnerability in every part of the State, particularly the two capital cities and all the other densely populated high risk urban areas.”
“Side by side,” Vohra said, “the various urban administration authorities, governmental and elected, shall need to strictly enforce a techno-legal regime to ensure earthquake resilient structural measures in every new construction, and, side by side, retro-fitting of all life-line structures, particularly hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, railway stations, airports and buildings housing important government offices.” 

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