August 19, 2007

Allocate a few million dollars for disaster management and make the crisis emanating from floods, a trivia of the bygone era!

Whenever it comes to issues of critical importance, our general administrators, both at the Center and the state level, have been in a state of perpetual amnesia. For India, floods are nothing new, as every year, year after year, it is around this time that nature in its fury gobbles up thousands of lives, particularly in the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh; yet, nothing is done about it. It is no secret that we have been the most flood affected nation after Bangladesh, accounting for almost 20% of global deaths due to floods alone. This apart, on an annual basis, more than 30 million people are displaced from their homes, on account of floods, yet our administration, year after year, stands as a mute spectator counting the number of lives lost. Instead of looking for some long term solutions, the customary aerial surveys and announcement of aid packages are made by the central ministers and the powers that be, only to be hit by the same phenomenon the very next year, again! And it is not just about human life (which is priceless), but also about the loss within the agricultural sector that is often to the tune of billions of dollars. In addition to this, there are serious ramifications on physical infrastructure and trade as well. No doubt, the situation is horribly worse this time (killing almost 900 in seven states), but looking at the state of affairs, one can tell for sure that it would only get worse in the days to come with the humanitarian crisis about to reach catastrophic levels.

When an annual disaster of such proportions – where millions of families constituting women and children are marooned without food and shelter for days altogether – is met with utmost cold behaviour by authorities, then it definitely shows a complete lack of political will towards mitigating the crisis. It is most unfortunate that anything even close to the name of ‘Disaster Management’ is completely extinct in our country. Think about it – have you ever heard of any budget allocated towards disaster management? There’s hardly any. In fact, on the face of it, the lack of allocation of funds looks nothing short of a calculated conspiracy, as the ones most affected by the floods are the poorest of poor of the country, based in the rural hinterlands.

The fact of the matter is that the situation is not any better in cities as well. Just a few days of rain is all that is required to put New Delhi and Mumbai to a complete halt; and all simply due to the lack of sensible drainage systems. And the corporations in both cities shamelessly blame it all flatly on the rains. This apart, a look at what our rivers have been reduced to, would justify the crisis in our cities. Be it the Mithi river in Mumbai, the Yamuna in Delhi or Ganges in major cities of east India, rivers in most cases have been reduced to sewage drains or toxic dumps. As if uncontrolled release of unprocessed industrial waste was not enough, vote bank politics also ensures that encroachers and slum dwellers have made river banks their personal fiefdoms and have literally molested the rivers in every sense possible. For decades, none of these rivers have been dredged, resulting in an unparalleled deposit of silt, which has reduced the ability of the rivers to hold water, thereby exacerbating the flood-like situations. For successive governments, dredging has never been a priority as it is not seen as an eye-catching, vote-fetching formula. And the result of such myopic, vote-driven polices is the mess that we have created today.

So even if it means unprecedented economic losses for the whole of India Inc., or outbreak of diseases like malaria or diarrhoea for the general civic society, or for that matter breakdown of our complete communication network, the administration has pigheadedly managed to remain un-moved. And the truth is, it does not require much other than the right political intent to set things in order. But then we should remind such myopic policy makers (who shamelessly take pride in making India a trillion dollar economy) that a trillion dollar economy can allocate a few million of dollars to disaster management in order to save millions of lives and dredge a better future for them. It is only then that the results would pour in and floods would be remembered as a trivia of the bygone era.

The United Nations has termed the current floods as the “worst in living memory.” I can assure the UN that they’ll have to find worse phrases to describe India’s floods in each of the successive years to come, if our utterly insincere policy makers continue with their ignominious ways.

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