Mon, 18 Nov, 2019

We’re in state of readiness only on paper

State’s disaster response system flatters to deceive; It also lacks teeth, has been reduced to mere ‘mock drills’ and there’s nothing worthy about it

04th November 2019, 03:44 Hrs

PACHU MENON

These days it has become common to have unseasonal weather attributed to depressions over the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.
Changing patterns in weather conditions will soon be a regular feature.
One does not have to travel as far as Norway and Alaska to see some breathtaking natural spectacles. In the past few days, the weather in Goa has not been less spectacular!
Tending to dispel all notions of seasonal climates, the region is in the grip of a rare phenomenon where we have winter setting in at early dawn, scorching summer commencing mid-morning and the monsoon in its full fury in the evening every day. The latest weather warning by the IMD of a cyclonic depression in the Arabian Sea did not help lift spirits either. Overcast skies and intermittent showers made it look certain that rains this year would play spoilsport and the festival of lights was heading towards a complete washout.
When cyclone Kyarr moved away from Goa coast, the locals heaved a sigh of relief. Under the influence of the cyclone which had developed after the withdrawal of the monsoon, squally weather condition with high wind speed along the Goa coast prevailed till late Oct 25th evening.
After two tense days before the Diwali weekend when the entire state was brought to its knees by the knockout punch delivered by cyclone Kyaar, Goa was getting a taste of nature’s fury as never before.
Besides torrential rains and heavy winds taking its toll with water levels rising in several places leaving roads flooded and trees uprooted and cutting parts of Goa from the mainland, it very vividly brought to the fore the limitations of the administration when faced with the prospects of tackling eventualities arising out of destructive natural phenomena.
As usual, power supply was the first casualty. Besides disrupting traffic, the toppling trees which brought down electrical poles along with them triggered outages and many areas across the state went virtually dark for hours at a stretch.
It is, however, the unflinching manner in which the electricity department personnel went about attending to faults and restoring power in various areas that should definitely come in for special mention. Even with the inclement weather and the shortage of essential equipment and the required manpower impeding their progress, the untiring and patient efforts put in by the electricity department staff saved the day for the residents.
It is said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going! Despite the limited resources made available to them, the power department personnel nevertheless did a fantastic job. The engineers, linemen and the contractors deserve our gratitude. This, however, does not absolve the administration of the onus to envisage better disaster management strategies and evolve contingency plans for the future.
For the moment though, a lack of farsightedness seems to afflict the government and has proved to be its undoing.
Goa has always remained vulnerable to natural calamities and man-made disasters. Flash floods, recurring cyclonic storms and such other calamities have time and again exposed the state’s unpreparedness whenever threatened.
The state’s disaster response system flatters to deceive. As with all other precautionary steps envisaged, Goa’s disaster management plans also lack teeth and have been reduced to mere ‘mock drills’. Without any seriousness being shown for the task at hand, the risks are only magnifying ten-fold.
The mining debacle and the rampant exploitation of natural resources indulged in by various ‘stakeholders’ have placed Goa in a very precarious position vis-à-vis the calamitous situations which have the propensity to strike unannounced.
And with the state’s highly-hyped disaster management programme coming a cropper faced with the abnormalities due to irregular weather patterns tending to be more catastrophic, Goa may well be on the way to chartering a disastrous course.
According to reports, while Goa’s disaster management may look adequate on paper, the gaps in the state’s preparedness to tackle calamities may be exposed if disaster strikes. The lack of quick response from the authorities is indeed alarming.
Disaster management plans are multi-layered and are planned to address issues such as floods, hurricanes, fires, mass failure of utilities and epidemics. As India is a very large country and because of its unique geo-climatic conditions, different regions in the country are vulnerable to different natural disasters. While it is well-known that during the rainy season the peninsular regions of Southern India are susceptible to flash floods and cyclones, what is Goa’s state of readiness to face such eventualities?
In the foreword to the Disaster Management Response Plan, Government of Goa, the Director of Fire and Emergency Services mentions: “Disaster management is a dynamic process involving many organisations which must work together to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from the effects of disasters.”
It needs to be admitted that the Directorate of Fire and Emergency Services is doing a commendable job by upholding its cherished motto “We serve to Save”, and living up to its reputation as a dependable civil emergency force of the state.
Yet, haven’t the shortage of adequate fire tenders for that matter been a matter of great concern for the department? If news reports appearing in a section of the press are to be believed, with only one fire tender at its disposal, the Old Goa fire station operations were severely handicapped during cyclone Kyarr. Hence one is led to believe that Goa’s disaster management plan is ready, but only on paper.
But the state cannot forever project the fire and emergency services and the electricity department as that face of the disaster response team which can evenly combat the perils of natural calamities. Let us accept the fact that the government has to be in a state of ever readiness, and complacency will only create problems for the future.

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