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Be prepared for natural disasters

Unfortunately, going by precedence, disaster preparedness in its initial phase of distribution of resources underscores existing divides, writes Bharati Chaturvedi.

tech reviews Updated: Jul 23, 2007 01:00 IST

This decade has been one of global large scale natural disasters. Usually, this crank up our charitable selves, and everyone's thrust is on disaster relief for the victims. But what happens when the disaster strikes in conflict zones? The meticulous Worldwatch Institute believes some good can come out of disasters here, because of the space created for traditional foes to be brought to the negotiation table. In their perspective, disasters are a moment of freezing of everyday relations and that instance should be grabbed strategically. For that a range of actors — from diplomats to environmentalists — must work together. Unfortunately, going by precedence, disaster preparedness in its initial phase of distribution of resources underscores existing divides. In fact, Worldwatch’s candid case studies of the Kashmir Earthquake and Tsunami in Sri Lanka show that this ‘moment’ did not happen.

But what after this first burst? We know environmental restoration is important to overcome some aspects of disasters. But, and here’s the thing: when environmentalists make their plans, they have to remember the politics of the place and work in the most equitable ways as resources are, so to speak, redistributed afterwards. Particularly because skewed resource access leads to several conflicts.

I thought about this report a lot. How could we have done this during the Gujarat earthquake, for example, which was followed by the mass killings just a few years later? How could we have done this in Bihar or Assam, frequently flooded and steeped in waves of conflict? My response is this. You can’t do much in an immediate post-disaster situation, unless you already have been working before that and built equitable, non-patronizing relationships with communities already. In part, it’s because of the sheer enormity of the crisis and the everyday stress of handling it. In part, it requires some more information and keen understanding of the situation to make any meaningful intervention, and a crisis is just the wrong place to start collecting that kind of data. In part, it is the situation of the victims, who may be impacted in ways that render them unable to fully participate in the process from point zero at the critical juncture. If you are in a dialogue, then you may have some chance to implement your own disaster preparedness.

Green options

Here is a thought on living green. Although we are moving to ‘greener’ bulbs to reduce greenhouse gases, there is already talk of how the mercury will be handled. Will new systems be created to collect these? Will new facilities be set up? One suggestion is to reduce our dependence on artificial light. Any takers?