The government’s indifference towards disaster management and years of neglect were the main reasons for the havoc wreaked by floods in the Kashmir Valley that have claimed more than 200 lives, experts say.
The Himalayan region is vulnerable to natural disasters ranging from earthquakes and floods to cloud bursts, but the government does not have a disaster management plan in place and a 2010 state government proposal on flood management has been gathering dust.
“These were not flash floods but build up due to non-stop rains for five consecutive days starting from Tuesday,” said former bureaucrat Mohammad Saleem Beg, who submitted the Rs. 2,200-crore proposal on flood management to the Centre in 2010.
“Nowadays you get hourly weather forecasts. Why weren’t we prepared for this disaster?” Beg added that the state had the technology to accurately predict rising water levels, which it could have used to evacuate people before the floods hit the state.
But the fury of the deluge caught the administration by surprise. “If they would have told us that specific areas will be inundated by a particular time, the extent of damage could have been substantially reduced at least in Srinagar city,” he said.
Beg said it would have taken about 12 hours for the rising waters to reach Srinagar city from Anantnag district in south Kashmir and a proper alert by the flood control department would have ensured the breaches were plugged and embankments strengthened at various points.
A 2012 Comptroller and Auditor General report said the state’s disaster management preparedness remained tardy despite the loss of 86,000 lives in an earthquake in 2005, the highest fro any region since 2001.
The government did not set up a quick disaster response and relief team despite requests by the National Disaster Management Authority and did not use available satellite technology to evacuate people.
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asian Network for Dams Rivers and People said the state government ignored one of the basics disaster management: communicating the danger to people.
Both Beg and Thakkar said the government did not have an assessment of breaches in embankments, a prerequisite before the monsoons in any flood-prone area.