Uttarakhand calamity a wake up call for Arunachal!

Itanagar, July 2 (ANI): North East India, particularly Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, are located in a high seismic zone and are part of the Himalayas with same topography.

The Kedarnath disaster is the most glaring example where nothing worth the name was in place for the safety and security of lakhs of pilgrims who travel to the holy hill terrain driven by divine power every year.

The correct number of deaths or missing would never be known, albeit official figure much less. There would be media brouhaha about the tragedy and steps taken by the state and central governments for disaster management. Crores of rupees would be pumped in for disaster awareness, preparedness, safe shelter construction etc. But when anther disaster would strike god knows what would be in place with the Kedarnath disaster becoming a forgotten chapter soon.

Arunachal Pradesh is a hilly state which every year experiences heavy rainfall that causes landslides and landslips claiming many lives. But the collapse of an artificial blockage in Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet had caused catastrophe in state's East Siang district HQs Pasighat on 9th June 2000. The water level of Siang rose to 30 metre during the night, inundating almost the entire township when the residents were fast asleep and causing widespread destruction to property besides claiming seven lives. That is a forgotten chapter today. If such natural disaster occurs, I am confident the loss of life and properties would be much greater than 2000.

Yarlung Tsangpo or Yarlung river takes the name of Siang in Arunachal and joined by many tributaries before its enters Assam as Brahmaputra and finally passes through Bangladesh as Meghna and Padma rivers before submerging into the Bay of Bengal.

Yarlung river, which flows in the world's largest and deepest canyon (bigger than Grand Canyon), Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, described as "the highest river in the world" by the organizers of a kayaking expedition, causes catastrophe every year in the downstream.

Come the monsoon rain, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments keep their figures crossed as they hardly have any preparation to face natural disaster of higher magnitude.

In 2013, over 30 were dead, 10 lakh rendered homeless in the flood in Assam - the worst in more than a decade. The death figure is usually low in Arunachal because of sparse population.

On September 18, 2011, Sikkim was rocked by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 in the Richer scale and it had also affected across NE India, Bangaldesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and southern Tibet.

At least 111 people were killed in the earthquake, mostly in Sikkim, several buildings collapsed in Gangtok, 11 were reported dead in Nepal, while structural damage occurred in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and across Tibet; another seven fatalities were confirmed in the latter region.

The 2011 Sikkim earthquake had proved about the ill-preparedness in the entire NE India as usually teams of National Disaster Response Force are rushed by air from Kolkata for rescue operation, whether its is Assam or Sikkim.

In more cases than one, environmental impact assessment and risk assessments have been ignored, though there are so far only three major projects under construction. "I am complaining about mega dams coming up on river Siang because it is submerging all livelihoods of the people. In totality we will be annihilated by these dams," said Taram, an environmental activist.

Sikkim has 26 hydel power projects. Extensive tunneling and construction in its earlier visit. Almost like in a traffic jam one has bumper to bumper cars, you have bumper to bumper dams and tunneling in Sikkim and parts of Arunachal Pradesh and that makes the geologically fragile landscape weaker and more vulnerable during a natural disaster.

It is something Sikkim witnessed during the earthquake in 2011. So is it too late in Arunachal? "The GoI needs to take a pause and actually put these systems in place, the impact assessment, the risk assessment, consult people both in upstream and downstream area," Vagholikar said. That is crucial since the line between man made and natural disaster is a very thin one.

NE India has been hit by many natural disasters but every time the authorities who are caught off guard totally unprepared to justify their follies with - 'Such tragedy was unexpected'.

How long should we take lame excuses instead of preparing to face such disaster and lessen its impact?

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Pradeep Kumar, Editor-in-Chief of Arunachal Front (ANI)

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