Disaster Unmanaged

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The din in various government circles in recent years on raising awareness as well as skills of disaster management, in the face of the predictions that the Manipur and the northeast are in a very seismically sensitive zone, were exposed to be hollow by events in the past few days. A flash flood resultingout of unseasonal torrents during the latter half of last week, inundated large tracks of land in the valley area, including many thickly populated residential areas of Imphal East and West districts. The floods first became imminent in Imphal East when the Imphal River flowing above danger mark through the night of October 8, began breaching its banks near Hatta Golapati towards dawn of October 9. By early morning, the New Checkon area was under 3 to 4 feet of flood water, and the median divider along the main road was acting as a dam to hold up the flood waters to raising water level unusually high on the western side of the road. The sheltered eastern side was relatively far better off. The situation was similarly grim in the case of Nambul River in the Uripok, Sagolband areas, and the Imphal River in the Yaiskul area. Among the severely affected in the Checkon Road area was the office of the Imphal Free Press, forcing the newspaper to suspend its print as well as internet editions for the next two days. Thankfully, we had in anticipation raised the plinth level of the platform at the time ourexpensive printing machines were installed, hence, they were undamaged this time. We are back at work, but still acutely short of manpower as the residences of many of our staff too are still inundated. This editorial is also an apology to our readers for the two days break in service on account of the floods, and for possible lacunae in the coming days as we recover from the effect of the calamity.

There is nobody to blame, not even the government, for natural disasters. However, it is the preparedness for predictable natural calamities, the handling of the calamities as and when they occur, as well as the follow up action of helping affected people overcome the difficulties they have been put into, where appropriate action, or the lack of it, of the government must be put up for scrutiny. In the present case, on most of these counts, the government miserably underperformed, if not totally abdicated its responsibility. Just to take one incident of which many of us in the IFP were witness, even as the water level rose in the New Checkon area and the median divider was acting as a dam to raise the flood level in areas lying to the west of the road, residents on either side of the road nearly came to blows when those in the flooded side wanted to create an outlet for the water so that the level on their side dropped, even if it meant passing on some of the water to the other side. This was objected to vehemently by those on the eastern side. Under natural conditions, before the road median was constructed, the water would have flowed freely, not allowing flood level to rise too high on any side, although wetting a larger area on both sides. This was a matter the government should have, and could have arbitrated with ease. However, the government was conspicuous by its absence, and the drama was allowed play out as it pleased. In the end, residents on the west side were forced to take the law into its hands and forcefully breach the median at several points. Thankfully though, saner public judgment prevailed and no violence resulted.

Natural calamities do not happen every day. Some allowance therefore may be given to the sloppy handling of the situation this time, but let this be a lesson for the future. The government must take the lead role in the management of public order during such calamities in the future, and it would do well for it to begin the drill immediately. It must remember that while natural disasters do not happen every day, it can happen any day with little or no warning. According to experts, floods are the less grave of the threats. Earthquakes would be much more serious. High up on the list would also be diseases. The state has had a feel of these too, especially in the shapes of the bird flu and swine flu epidemic scares, although in the end they proved alarmist in nature. Providence be thanked as nothing serious happened on those occasions too, but had things turned for the worse, disaster would have been compounded by the government’s unpreparedness. To underscore the point, the government must prepare to be proactive rather than be reactive, if its intent is to prevent catastrophes in the face of such natural calamities in the future.

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1 COMMENT

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