Begin Disaster Drills

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    The earthquake that hit east India with epicentre in Sikkim, the full devastation of which is proving to be much more than what was initially expected, should serve as a warning to all the states of the Northeast of the uneasy truth that the region is sitting on one of the most seismically fragile zones in the entire world. It is not exactly in the “circle of fire” as the most dangerously seismically positioned regions such as Japan are often referred to, but it is still in a high danger zone. The prudent thing for the NE governments is expected to do should come across as obvious. They must prepare their people to face any eventuality if major and destructive earthquakes were to hit them. There is nothing to lose even if no big earthquake ever hits, but the price paid for being prepared for the worst is well worth it. In a way it is like the premium paid for buying insurance policies. It should surprise nobody that a majority of the people who buy these policies do not ever meet the consequences they had insured themselves and paid premium for all through the years until policy maturity, but the sense of security they lived with because of their investment is itself a reward in itself. In the case of the insurance policies, it is a business so those who sell these policies would push hard to sell and once the policies are sold would do everything to ensure their clients do nothing that would entitle them to claim their insured amounts, for if all clients were to begin claiming their insured amounts, the insurance companies would go bankrupt. Contrasted to this scenario, in the case of drilling for disaster preparedness, the sellers as well as the clients are the same and therefore nobody would anything to lose but everything to gain.

    A decade or two ago, when the NE region was first declared officially as a seismically prone area, government publicity departments in practically every one of the seven states went on top gears doing campaigns on how the people must prepare themselves for any possible earthquake disaster. One of the recommendations was for every family to keep some matchsticks, candles, lengths of ropes and torch lights aside for emergency uses. This would be something like the extremely internalised and good practice in most families to keep a medical first-aid box with the most commonly needed drugs and implements to meet health emergencies, the most common of which are injuries and burns. The earthquake preparedness publicity had not been heard of for decades, and the people have also become complacent to the idea of possible future disasters. If a disaster were to strike anytime now, quite predictably, not only would the consequences be much more than what should have been, but the people by and large would not know how to do meet even the smallest challenges thrown up.

    The reminder then is, the government must not take the matter lightly or for granted. It can happen, and to be a realist to the extent of being cynical, it would do well not to forget Murphy’s Law which says that if something can go wrong it will go wrong. We are in such a situation as Murphy predicts. Things can go terribly wrong so let us presume that they would go wrong someday sooner than later. Let the government take the attitude that everybody must prepare for the worst although without giving up hopes for the best. It has a full-fledged publicity directorate with a cabinet minister in charge. We suggest this department be briefed to take on this challenge of spreading awareness of ways to prepare for possible future cataclysmic natural events and their immediate aftermaths. We are told that the Northeast region is struck by thousands of small earthquakes each year which may not even come to public cognizance and these small quakes have been releasing the tensions in the earth’s crust beneath the region thus saving it from major tremors so far. We should thank dame luck for this, but let us also be realistic and not come under any impression that this luck can be forever. The government should also regulate the manner in which people build their houses and other constructions. At this moment, this is not happening and everybody builds the way it pleases them in total disregard of their own as well as the safety of their neighbourhoods. It should be a lesson that a relook at the disasters caused by earthquakes in the past few decades all over the world reveals that it is in poor unprepared nations that tragedies have been most severe. While in poor countries casualties can be in lakhs, among prepared populations, in California or Japan for instance, though bad, the casualties suffered have seldom been more than the absolutely unavoidable.

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