Natural Disaster and Strategies for Management with particular reference to Tripura

Biswanath Bhattacharya

November 20, 2023, 07:42:14   

Natural Disaster and Strategies for Management with particular reference to Tripura

The recent Cyclone Midhili has shattered the state and has exposed to the world how unprepared we are to combat any national calamity.

We may recall the massive earthquake in several states of India and the NE Region in particular, and the continued tremors, quakes and aftershocks of various intensities that continued that whole year, spanning Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. You will be aware that more than 10,000 people lost their lives, more than 100000 people suffered medium to severe injuries and thousands of homes and other structures, including priceless cultural and religious systems, were destroyed. Losses are estimated in tens of billions of dollars, and reconstruction works have yet to be completed.

We may recall the media outpourings, the mass hysteria among the public and the enormous efforts made by the international community to help the affected areas.

We may also recall that a significant reason for the horrific extent of damage, injuries and loss of lives was that local administrations were underprepared and caught off guard. The result was complete chaos and knee-jerk reactions to the crisis.

The most destructive of these earthquakes in 2021  was nearly eight on the Richter scale. I shudder to think about the situation if an earthquake of this magnitude or higher should strike the northeastern states, especially Tripura. 

We should  bear in mind that, like Nepal, Tripura and other NE states lie in a seismic zone, Zone V, and the occurrence of a devastating earthquake cannot be ruled out. There is universal agreement among international seismologic individuals and institutions that our part of the world is due for a “big one” and that there is no way of accurately predicting when and where it may hit.

We urgently need to assess our preparedness and identify and eliminate all cavities so that if nature ever unleashes her seismic force on our state, we can absorb the blow and ensure minimum damage to property and lives.

Here are some of the areas we need to focus on:
a pragmatic analysis of our building by-laws, identifying gaps and adopting measures to seal the cracks.
development and revision of building codes.
establishment of hazard-safety cells at appropriate levels in the state.
contribution to and participation in a national programme for capacity building of engineers and architects, with particular emphasis on earthquake risk mitigation;
training of rural masons and other craftsmen.
adoption of specialised earthquake engineering courses starting from the undergraduate level in engineering and architecture-related academic and training institutions;
Adopting specialised emergency health management courses starting from the undergraduate level in medicine and health-related academic and training institutions.
extensive equipping of hospitals, clinics, health posts and other health-related outlets and training of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in emergency health management.
retrofitting of all buildings, including domestic residences and especially lifeline buildings. The old domestic buildings may be retrofitted on a 75:25 basis. The Government shall bear 75 % of the cost and the rest 25 % by the owner of the domestic structure.
establishment/ strengthening of a state earthquake and landslide risk management project to include a detailed urban earthquake vulnerability reduction programme.
mainstreaming of earthquake and landslide risk mitigation in rural development schemes.
Sustained campaigns to generate and maintain public awareness, including in-person and online seminars, conferences, symposiums, television documentaries, etc.
making disaster awareness and essential response awareness part of school curricula;
media and online sharing of experiences and instructive information on disaster management.
mock drills and exercises.
strengthening the police, fire-fighting and other public service immediate and long-term response bodies.
prominent display of emergency numbers in all public places and periodic messaging of these numbers to people’s phones and emails;
equipping state control and district control rooms with state-of-the-art equipment and in-depth personnel training in the equipment operation.
Establishment and equipping relief material centres in adequate density around the state.

These are the primary areas of focus, and there are bound to be other areas that need to be included.
It was expected that the state government would take steps in the above directions and take significant steps towards achieving peak abilities to combat any disaster. However, visiting the site has left me dumbfounded at what appears to be a pathetic state of preparedness. The entire exercise speaks of amateurish measures that lack any professional touch despite the expense of crores of UNDP funds.

Much was to be accomplished, and unfortunately, much remains. Work on the Disaster Management Plan was started way back in 2004 under the active guidance of Shri V. Thulashidas, former Chief Secretary; Shri Sudhir Sharma, Principal Secretary; and Shri R. P. Meena, Secretary in Charge of the Revenue Department, the nodal department for disaster mitigation. Their work did achieve some rhythm, but unfortunately, the momentum could not be sustained, and now it is evident that nothing concrete has been completed.

Most of our state’s private residential and commercial buildings do not conform to acceptable, minimum seismic zone building standards. Retrofitting may be borne by the state and owners on a 75:25  ratio. Failure to retrofit may result in grievous magnification of the degree of devastation a major seismic event may wreak. Given its present poor infrastructure and poor preparedness, the state government will be found severely wanting. This question haunts me: why must a natural calamity become a large-scale human tragedy if it can be avoided? Earthquakes are natural calamities, and while we can do little about preventing them, we can do a lot about being ready for them when they should strike. I am not a doomsday soothsayer, and my constant prayers are that my state will remain safe and secure, but we must face reality and be prepared for the worst. It is the least we can do for our people.

I conclude by stressing again that we cannot predict or prevent calamitous acts of god and nature like earthquakes. Still, we can ensure these acts leave behind a minimal trial of death and destruction.

I pray for my state of Tripura and the whole NE Region. My heart aches for Tripura in particular.

 I have worked in the Revenue Department for a considerable period and thus gained substantial expertise. The State Control Room (SCR)  was set up under the guidance of  Shri V. Thulasidas, Chief Secretary and Shri Sudhir Sharma, Principal Secretary, Revenue, for the first time in my period.  We had to report every morning and every evening to the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary. They carefully examined our reports, and the District Magistrate and Collectors were excited about SCR. They regularly contacted the SCR.  The SCR  had then become a meaningful entity. All the information collected was at the fingertips of the top echelons of the State Government. 
May God be with all of us!