Man's folly compunded nature's wrath: NDMA on Uttarakhand

New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) As the toll in the flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand continues to mount, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has admitted that much of the massive destruction caused was man-made.

"We had unprecedented rain within a few hours and as a repercussion, we had a cloudburst and landslides. That was a natural disaster but the huge devastation was due more to local factors. If you build a hotel or a house near a flood plain, a disaster like this is likely," explained NDMA vice chairman M. Shashidhar Reddy told IANS.

Reddy said the NDMA has issued detailed guidelines to the states on river plains and how these environmentally fragile areas should not be tampered with, adding that the authority had only limited jurisdiction.

"NDMA can only give guidelines and alerts. Ultimately, the state government is in charge. With huge devastation like this, after the rescue operations, restoration work would start. We are sure a lot of things will come out, a lot of observations will be made. We are going to document what has happened and how it happened," Reddy said.

He said once restoration work begins, the NDMA will sound out the state government on the preventive measures needed.

"We want NDMA guidelines to be followed. The guidelines should be factored into the re-construction planning," Reddy said.

Talking about the scale of the damage in Uttarakhand, Reddy said: "The situation will take years to normalise. We cannot give a specific timeframe... as of now, we cannot evaluate or asses the kind of damage."

Given the terrain, the restoration effort would be "very difficult", he added.

He, however, underlined that the "immediate focus is now on evacuating people to safer places. Long-term restoration comes after that."

Claiming the the NDMA is always proactive during disasters, whether man-made or natural, Reddy said: "We are not just reactive, but proactive. For example, we have already sent NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) teams as there is a flood warning in Bihar."

Reddy also bemoaned the lack of a viable warning system.

"What happened in Uttarakhand...was like an earthquake without any warning. The IMD (India Meteorological Department) had only talked about heavy rain, but no one anticipated such huge flash floods. We are now looking at implementing a precise weather forecasting system for the region."

NDMA has asked the IMD and the Central Water Commission to evolve an advanced weather monitoring and alarm system to monitor excessive rain that could lead to flooding.

"We are looking into an advanced weather analysing system that would help us get precise forecasts, with details of place, time and intensity (of rain). Instead of forecasting, we will need nowcasting or a real-time monitoring system which gives specific information from a particular location," Reddy said.

He added that attempts were being made to integrate available scientific tools to build a proper advanced weather forecasting system.

"To construct a tsunami early warning alert system it took us 30 months. So we cannot give a time-frame for these things... it will take time. It is not possible to install a doppler weather radar system because of the terrain. There are other advanced radars which can be installed," he said.

The NDMA was set up Dec 23, 2005, in recognition of the importance of disaster management as a national priority. It is headed by India's prime minister. Its formation was first recommended following the Gujarat earthquake of January 26, 2001. After the tsumani of Dec 26, 2004, calls for a national body equipped to act in times of disaster became more strident.

(Prathibha Raju can be contacted at prathibha.r@ians.in)

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