New Delhi, India
The flash floods triggered by very heavy rainfall and cloudburst in Uttarakhand on 16-17 June 2013, affected 12 out of the 13 districts in Uttarakhand. The 4 districts that were worst affected were Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh.
The deluge has washed away roads, bridges and other infrastructure. So far about 1000 deaths are reported and many are still reported missing. In Kedarnath alone about 75,000 pilgrims had been stranded due to landslides and flash floods.
In view of the devastating impact of the heavy rain fall in the state of Uttarakhand, Secretary General, Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) held a meeting on 18th June 2013 in his office with the senior officials from IRCS NHQ, IFRC and ICRC.The Indian Red Cross Society (National Head quarters) mounted an immediate response to the disaster by deploying relief and assessment teams to Dehradun, Uttarkashi, Rishikesh, Pithoragarh and Rudraprayag. Shri Gulam Nabi Azad, Hon’ble Chairman, IRCS (The Minister of Health and Family Welfare) flagged off the trucks carrying relief materials for the flood affected victims on 21st of June 2013.
Relief materials in the form of Non food items has been despatched to the Uttarakhand state branch by road for further distribution to the affected areas. Till date more than INR 2.2 crores worth of relief items has been sent.
Indian Red Cross responds to the Uttarakhand disaster
The Indian Red Cross responded to the Uttarakhand disaster by mobilising the National disaster response team (NDRT), Regional disaster response team (RDRT) and National disaster watsan response team (NDWRT) members who were alerted for possible deployment. The National headquarters despatched a two member team to Uttarakhand on the 19th June 2013 for carrying out assessment of the needs of the community in coordination with the officials of the Uttarakhand state Red Cross branch and to follow it with the organisation of relief work.
The General Secretary, Uttarakhand State Red Cross branch activated the Certified First Medical Responders (CFMRs) at the various districts of Uttarakhand. There are 151 trainers and more than 4500 CFMRs who are trained in First aid, psychosocial support, search and rescue, dead body management, PhiE etc with the Uttarakhand Red Cross state branch. A meeting with 30 CFMRs was held at Dehradun on the 19th June 2013.
The team deployed at Dehradun established contact with FMRs and Patwaris in these affected Districts and the FMRs prepared lists of people who were stranded in their region. The list had details about the place they were stranded in, the contact person they wanted to inform their whereabouts, a message they wished to convey, phone number etc. Around 50 such messages were delivered about these stranded people to their families that were waiting for information about their loved ones. A tracing request from Tamil Nadu was received regarding a group of pilgrims, their location was found out and medical assistance was organised for them. A meeting was held in state branch where around 30 volunteers participated who committed their time for relief operation activities. The NDRT team reached Uttarkashi on 21st June 2013 and met the 30 FMRs working since the day of disaster.
A high level team from the IFRC and National Headquarters consisting of the Head, IFRC; Deputy secretary, IRCS, NHQ and Advisor (DM) has also visited Uttarakhand for an on the spot analysis of the situation. IRCS is in close coordination with the Director (EMR), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for any requirement that may need to be addressed. On request, IRCS despatched 1600 body bags to Dehradun.
Relief materials in the form of 1050 Family tents (to accomodate upto 8 persons each), family packs (including kitchen sets, clothings, buckets etc.), stoves, lanterns and tarpaulins etc. worth INR 2,21,99,300 have been despatched to Uttarakhand.
A Red Cross camp has been set up near Vikas bhawan in Joshiyara, Uttarkashi. 40 tents have been erected and 24 families are at the camp presently. 35-40 CFMRs are working at Uttarkashi. Further as reported by the state branch FMR and Red Cross life members gave first aid, navigation assistance, medicines, etc to 1720 people. Assessment to document impact of floods on the local population is underway.
Another team of two National Disaster relief team members of the IRCS (NHQ) has been deployed at Pithoragarh on the request of the Secretary, Uttarakhand State RC Branch. The team went to BALWAKOT, NAYABASTHI, DARCHULA, GHOTI after walking for 5 – 8 km.The people are living in tents, administration is providing them ration. No major health issue has been reported. 5 FMRs are working in temporary shelters here since 17th June. Around 3000 people have been evacuated to safer places by ITBP. Mobile health unit has been set up by the government and Red Cross hospital at Balwakot is also functioning. A ’Restoring family links’ expert has reached Rudraprayag along with the NDWRT expert for assessment of needs and coordination in relief measures.
Daily review meetings are being held by the Secretary General in the control room set up at National Headquarters.
Devastating floods in Uttarakhand were a disaster waiting to happen
By Anoop Nautiyal
Published: 23:49 GMT, 26 June 2013 | Updated: 23:49 GMT, 26 June 2013
Uttarakhand is in shambles. Disaster, with most people calling it more man made than natural, has exposed the fragility of this beautiful, yet ecologically vulnerable region. Though the fury of nature has been unprecedented, many questions are being asked about the role of the state government.
These questions, based on equal doses of frustration, sadness and anger, are mainly being raised about the lack of disaster preparations and the development model pursued by the government.
By now several facts are well known. The Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority, constituted under the chairmanship of the chief minister, has had no meetings in the past six years. Successive CAG reports have made scathing remarks on the lack of disaster management preparations in the state. Indiscriminate mining, haphazard urbanisation, rampant cutting of trees and forest covers, use of dynamites for road construction, encroachments, buildings, hotels, guest houses and travel lodges on the river bed, too many hydropower projects, changing river courses, poor structural safety - this was clearly a Himalayan tsunami waiting to happen.
The Kedarnath Temple amid damaged surroundings by flood waters at Rudraprayag in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand this week
Locals in the affected areas claim that this is only the trailer of the massive destruction that is lurking in this region of the country. Many are calling it a 'Human Tsunami'. Uttarakhand is prone to frequent flash floods, landslides and cloud bursts. Climate change is impacting rainfall and cloud bursts in the Himalayan region which have already seen increase in temperature that are two to three times higher than the average global temperature rise of 0.9 degrees.
Against this background, the state has miserably failed to develop any systems of early warning, forecasting and disseminating rainfall and landslide related information. Technology is available that can predict cloud bursts at least three hours in advance but no such sophisticated equipment is used in the state.
In 2008, the Doppler radar system was sanctioned for Uttarakhand but due to lack of coordination between NDMA, IMD and the Uttarakhand government, it was not purchased.
There are other challenges. Uttarakhand is politically as fragile as its mountain ranges. With six different individuals holding the chief minister position during the last 13 years, since the formation of the state in 2000, the average tenure of each has been two years. This has resulted in lack of continuity and failure in getting a firm grip on the issues plaguing the state.
Locals in the affected areas claim that the floods are only the trailer of the massive destruction that is lurking in this region of the country
These figures look even more ominous when compared with Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand's Himalayan neighbour. Himachal has had five chief ministers during the past 60 years. Only two, Virbhadra Singh and Prem Kumar Dhumal, have held the reign of the state since the past 20 years.
The political fragility has resulted in ad-hoc and unplanned development. Successive governments have failed in creating any sort of medium term or long-term plan or vision for the state. Most decisions appear unconnected and lack coherence. They are mostly random in nature and pander to the demand of the moment. Political instability and inexperience have also resulted in lack of articulation about the firm and correct position to be taken by the state in several matters that are most important for them. Programmes and policies are started but often get stopped due to frequent changes. In this scenario how is sustained development possible?
Who is responsible? Clearly, the major defaulter is the political leadership of the state and the government of the day. The political leadership in Uttarakhand, with the exception of a few distinguished and sincere politicians, is widely perceived as being either corrupt and/or incompetent. Internal squabbles hardly leave any time for senior party leaders to give any quality time for public issues, strategic planning and the long-term development of the state.
Just before the massive disasters struck Uttarakhand, five MLAs of the ruling party were camping in Dehradun, for a few days, protesting against their own government and complaining about the lack of development in their respective constituencies. Bureaucracy is being adversely affected. When politicians frequently complain that bureaucrats are not listening to them and the bureaucrats retort that the politicians do not let them work, the leadership deficit at the highest levels becomes clear.
The government is now staring at mammoth challenges. They need to act and act quick on multiple fronts. As Uttarakhand continues to grapple with inclement weather affecting rescue operations and identification and disposal of dead bodies, the next set of action items need to be ready. Detailed impact assessment of affected areas and the learnings from this tragedy need to be documented. Immediate compensation of the locals needs to be finished on a war footing. Roads and bridges need repairs. Hospitals and food supplies need strengthening. Livelihoods dependent on the Char Dham Yatra need to be restored. It's a long list that requires serious planning, coordination and execution.
What next? Where does Uttarakhand finally move from here? This is not only a time to mourn, but also to reflect and create a blueprint for its future and destiny. The policy makers can move in either of the two directions-either follow the path that they have taken earlier and rebuild Uttarakhand on the poor foundation of unscrupulous and unplanned development. Or take a radical, new path and come up with a innovative and inclusive model of development built on the foundation of modern disaster management techniques and equal concern for the environment and livelihoods. This needs to be the starting point for this development strategy. This path will further require an open mind, belief in science and technology, exemplary leadership and genuine compassion and empathy for Uttarakhand. Let's see who is listening and will stand up to the challenge.
(The writer is the former COO of 108 government emergency services in Uttarakhan)