On September 7, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “This [floods in Kashmir] is an unprecedented situation and we are doing the best we can under the circumstances. Please don’t panic, we will reach you, I promise.”
In another tweet, he called for an “energetic, extensive and the most effective rescue plan for saving human lives.”
But looking at the flood devastation in the state, it is clear that this natural calamity of colossal proportions has been compounded by the state’s unpreparedness to tackle such a disaster.
This is criminal neglect since reports, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have repeatedly said that the Himalayan region is susceptible to such extreme weather events.
Even then, the state government, claims the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), sat on its disaster management plan for the last two years.
This could be a case of passing the ‘blame parcel’ and a counter question could be raised: Why didn’t the NDMA push the state to come up with a plan within a stipulated timeframe? Just passing orders to states, most of which have limited human resource and technical capacity, will never be enough.
In fact, now the NDMA must do a quick check on what other states are up to with their plans. The next problem that happens during disasters is ensuring round-the-clock connectivity.
Like in 2013 Uttarakhand, in J&K all telecom services have collapsed, making it difficult for reaching out to those in distress and also coordinating relief measures.
It is only now, after several days of devastation, that the State-owned BSNL is restoring the lines in a phased manner. In circumstances such as these, dedicated information and communication technologies (ICT) could have helped immensely.
According to the India Disasters Report II, which was released earlier this year, besides alerting us to a crisis, ICT can help us in diverse ways: In 2005 during the Kashmir earthquake, Sahana, an open source/free software tool, was used to find missing people, managing aid and volunteers, tracking camps and coordinating the needs effectively among government groups.
After the flood waters recede, the next big challenge will be preventing communicable diseases. The disaster-hit would not only need medical help but also psychological support to overcome the trauma.
There is increasing evidence of disasters affecting the mental health and psychological wellbeing of the people who survive as well as the personnel who help the victims. The state government must ensure that there is no shortage of medicine or health professionals to take care of the affected.
With the assembly elections round the corner, any deficiency in confronting this challenge will not go down well with the voters. Hopefully, the under-performing Omar Abdullah government is aware of this reality.