Ill-prepared for Disasters

KASHMIR was struck by another massive tremor on the night of March 21. The quake lingered for around two minutes, making it probably longer in duration.  The buildings swung, the ground seemed to slip from under the feet, and trees went through a jittery high frequency motion. The people frantically rushed out of their houses, many screaming in panic.  The scene echoed the one witnessed on October 8, 2005. But mercifully, the valley was spared the enormous loss of life and property. In 2005, around 80,000 people had been killed in the quake across the Kashmir divide with the disproportionate loss of more than 75000 lives in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and around 1400 on this side. Thousands of residential houses were toppled, and the public infrastructure was damaged.  But this time with God’s grace, the loss is very limited. This is a positive difference now.  The similarity is in the immediate government response to the disasters. Almost nothing seems to have changed between the two quakes.

True, the devastation wrought by the  2005 quake has since been overtaken by the unprecedented deluge that swept Valley in 2014 but this hardly justifies forgetting an older catastrophe and unlearning the lessons from it. Seconds after the quake on Tuesday night, the communication system broke down for around fifteen minutes, which created panic as people couldn’t get through to their loved ones. However, while the communication infrastructure is a major worry on such extraordinary occasions, an institutional answer to a massive quake calls for an effective immediate response, that in our case is always missing. The reason is that our state has always been lax on disaster preparedness. The older a calamity, the lesser the urge to prepare for its recurrence.  For example, since the 2005 quake, our building codes continue to remain lenient and our builders take short-cuts. Similarly, there hasn’t been any focus on the safety of our schools which are housed in buildings vulnerable to high intensity tremors. If the government needed a reminder, March 21  quake has handed it one.

There is a critical need to enhance the level of our preparedness to face the calamities of the egregious scale, like earthquakes and floods. The fresh quake has come as an important reminder to us to become more mindful of our vulnerability to the natural disasters – flood being the another – and take pro-active measures to lessen the damage should, God forbid, we experience another disaster. It is incumbent on the government not only to get its act together but also create a public awareness to help people to better prepare for a possible future calamity.

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