REMEMBERING THE ‘TSUNAMI’: NEED FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT

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Nature rules us all. The bountiful nature that sustains the entire living world on our planet has a furious face as well. Traumatized by the towering waves of Tsunami – the most savage force of nature – that hit the South-East Asian Coastlines, humankind is reminded of it’s helplessness in the face of Nature’s fury, although timely warning of such unstoppable disasters can surely help in lessening the overall devastation.

Have you ever imagined gigantic sea waves, moving nearly at the speed of a jet plane, appearing without a warning and hitting the coastlines like a ‘water bomb’. Loaded with enormous energy, the killer waves wreck havoc by flooding several kilometers inland, as they flatten houses and wipe out villages, uproot electric poles, throw cars into swirling waters and toss boats ashore all in a mad furry and finally, drag thousands of hapless victims out to the Sea as they recede. Sounds of pathetic wails engulf the area as loved ones are separated from each other and some forever… Leaving a trail of total destruction, the ruinous waves simply spell disaster. Unfortunately, this is not a scene from a horror movie but is a real life happening.

This natural disaster, known as ‘tsunami’ (soo-NAH-mee) – a destructive, ocean-riding wave created by an undersea disturbance – struck the coastal areas of South-East Asia in the early hours of Sunday, 26th December, 2004. Caught unware by the waves of doom by the fury of sea waves were scores of human lives and suddenly as the hell broke loose, the beautiful beaches brimming with life a few hours ago, transformed into graveyards with dead bodies lying amid torn fishing nets, smashed boats and debris strewn all around.

Millions suffered the terrifying burnt of the assault while thousands of people died an unnatural death. The worst hit nation is Indonesia where a staggering one lakh are estimated to have perished in the wake of this mammoth devastation. Sri Lanka was also hit very brutally by tsunami; as the death toll has been about 31,000 in this island nation.

Tsunami is a Japanese word represented by two characters; tsu and nami. The character tsu means ‘harbour’ while the character nami means ‘wave’. Most tsunami is occured in the Pacific Ocean. Some deadliest Tsunamis are: November 1st, 1755 (Lisbon, Portugal and much of Europe) killed 60,000 people. August 27th, 1883: Eruptions from the Krakatoa volcano fueled a tsunami; killing 36,000 people. June15th, 1896: Sea waves as high as 30 meters, spawned by an earthquake , which swept the east coast of Japan killing 27,000 people. March 27th, 1964: known as ‘Alaskan Good Friday’ earthquake that measured 8.4 on Ricter Scale, generated a tsunami and killed many people in Cresent City, northern California. July17th, 1998 an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 generated a Tsunami in Papua New Guinea that killed 2,200 people.

Though Tsunami’s are often referred to as tidal waves but this is incorrect as tides can also happen due to gravitational influences of the Moon, Sun, and Planets. A point to note is that tsunami’s are not always due to ‘Seismic sea waves’, as they may also be generated due to landslides, volcanic eruptions and quite rarely by the import of a large meteorite falling in the Ocean.

The Asian toll took over 1,50,000 lives, the death toll in India rose to 9,451 by January 2nd, 2005 with 5,511 persons missing. The number of deaths stood at 812 in the Andaman and Nicober Islands, 574 in Pondicherry, 166 in Kerala and 106 in Andhra Pradesh. Around 5,421 were missing in the case of Andaman and Nicober Islands; out of this; 4,657 were missing from Katchal Islands alone. An estimated 10,000 people are said to have died in the Nicober group of islands. The islands were badly hit, both, beacuse of their proximity to the epicentre of the earthquake and the fact that the tectonic activity actually led to the subsidence of the islands. Great Nicober, the southern most island in the group is about 150 km from the epicentre at Banda Aceh in Sumatra in Indonesia. A good indicator is the fact that the light house at Indira Point, the southernmost tip of Great Nicober Island, now stands in the ocean waters, when earlier it was at least about 100 metres inland from the high tide line.

In the first few days of the tragedy, little was known of the destruction that had occured further South in the Central Nicober group comprising the inhabitated islands of Nancowry, Camorta, Katchal, Trinket, Chowra, Peressa and Bompoka and the Southern group where there were human population on Great Nicober, Little Nicober, Pilomilo and kondul. The worst hit region by the Tsunami was Indonesia, which lost more lives than any other country. Dozens of bloated bodies littered the streets of Banda Aceh city as soldiers and desperate relatives searched for survivors of the earthquake and tidal waves. Several hundred bodies collected by the emergency workers lay under plastic tents and rotting on December 27th, 2004. Dozens of bodies were laid in ruins in Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh province. In sumatra a million people were left homeless. Villagers in Sunadon district were picked through the debris of their ruined houses amid the smell of decomposing bodies. Atleast 4,491 persons were killed on Sumatra island and on Nais, an isolated island that lies west of Sumatra. So, apart from India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, countries affected are Thailand, Malaysia, Somalia and Maldives.

The titanic tsunami that wrought unprecented death and destruction in South and South-east Asia will go down in history as one of the greatest natural calamities of modern times.

The Titanic Tsunami that wrought unprecedented death and destruction in South and South-East Asia will go down in history as one of the greatest natural calamities of modern times. The great disaster caught the people and the Government off guard and in a matter of minutes, snuffed out more than 1,50,000 lives across more than twelve countries. The number of people rendered homeless might run into millions as no estimate is immediately available as to how many children have become orphans or how many women have become widows and how many families have been wiped out in a single sweep. The biggest ever International relief operation was on; as the fear of an epidemic loomed large.

The catastrophe spawned by tsunami once gain underscored the need for a well-planned disaster management; it did show that we are totally ill-prepared to cope up with such kind of crisis, natural or man-made.

Years passed but still that old question comes to my mind; Are we ready for another Tsunami?” If History repeats itself; shall again our brothers and sisters have to meet the same fate, which was faced by the people on 26th December, 2004?”

The enormity of the tragedy that overtook South Asia would have been eased the countries had a good international warning system and good awareness programs about the do’s and don’ts in the fall out of a deadly disaster (Pre-disaster management policies).

The Department of Space, India have already established more than 250 cyclone warning receivers that can be activated via satellite; all these is very useful for tsunami warning. more such receivers is the need of the time. The time has also come to stress on community education keeping along with the disaster management theme of this year that “disaster Management” should begin at School. This will enable the people to know exactly what they should do; when the warning is sounded.

Disasters like cyclones, droughts, floods, earthquakes, Tsunamis and now biological and along with man-made tragedies along with communal riots due to race, ethnicity or religion is leading to Social disasters, may become burning issues in the years to come. We have to join hands to stop it happening and celebrate with the true spirit of humanity to make a disaser free world for us as well as for our future generations.

So, what is required is a comprehensive blueprint as to how to cope with such crisis in both the short-term and long-term manner. There need to have good mass awareness programs stressing the importance of pre-disaster management policies; along with that there needs to be social, physical, emotional or physcological and economic rehabilitation in the wake of a massive disaster. Ever step need to be taken to help the victims forget for ever, the trauma they have taken gone through.
Its true that this is not an easy task.

The orphans need a home and parents who can adopt them. Most of the victims have to start life a fresh begining with a new home and a new vocation. Its a gigantic task where the fortunate ones who have escaped the fury of nature must contribute their mite so that the calamity struck brethen must feel that there are others who care for them.

Lastly I just want to stress on the point that It’s not the Government agencies alone, but every citizen must act to help others in distress.

Thanks a lot for taking your time and reading this article. Please ‘Sign in’ at the Guestbook and place your views. Lets join hands to make a better world for us; as well as for our future generations.

Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Writer

Website:   http://www.theideas.in/

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DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND RISKS

Risk Assessment is about identifying the potential hazards and risks associated with any substance, process or activity and determining ways to manage those hazards before the adverse effects become evident.

Risk Management takes a more multifaceted form if a system becomes more complex. This is what happened in Bhopal. It was in 2-3rd December, 1984; the World’s worst industrial disaster killed at least 20,000 people and left thousands maimed and helpless. The medical follow up done by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), based on diverse multi-institutional projects over a 10 year period between January 1984 and May 1994, on the communities that were exposed to the leak provides a reasonably comprehensive viewpoint on both short and long-term health effects. Epidemiological studies formed the core of the study that included 25 research projects, including two multi-disciplinary ones on pathology and toxicology to determine the effects of inhaling noxious gases. The investigations also included clinical and toxicological studies. The entire work was coordinated by the Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre (BGDRC).

An International Journal stated earlier that the findings of the study were not made public till 2004. It was of belief that about 42 tones of Methyl Isocyanate (and other gaseous products of the runaway reaction) were leaked from the storage tank in 1984. Approximately about three-fourths of the storage tank population at that time was exposed to the leak. Large part of the populations were affected to different degrees and when experts debated on the ways to find solution, people died like flies. A total number of approximately 80,000 people were studied at severely, moderately and mildly exposed areas and compared with controls from unexposed areas. Later it was found – of the total population, 3.9 percent was affected severely, 8.6 percent moderately and 50.1 percent mildly, while 37.4 percent was not affected. Most people included in the study had no fixed occupation or fixed source of income. Nearly 70 percent of the people, lived in Kuccha houses, in the severely affected as well as control areas (areas where the gas had not spread), and prevalence of the smoking habit ranged from 0.2 to 14.3 per cent.

If one goes through the ICMR report then one could come to a conclusion that the three-fourth of the deaths occurred within the first 72 hours of the leak, which happened around mid night of December 2-3, 1984. It was the post-exposure phases that is now considered as depending on the varying clinical features, the different post-exposure phases have been classified in the study as acute (first month of exposure), sub-acute (one to three months) and chronic (more than three months). The ocular symptoms during the acute period were related to the effects of the gas(es) on the eyes and the respiratory tract. In the acute phase, in addition to respiratory complaints, including chest pain and breathlessness, there were complaints of muscle weakness, febrile illness and vomiting. After examination of blood, it was found that in this phase there were increased white blood cells and higher than normal hemoglobin levels. Situations of these types of can be termed as EXTREME EVENTS, which is beyond the natural capacity of the individuals to cope.

If we look through the doors of history then one can find that risk and crisis management is lettered with narratives about the ways in which the organizations failed to deal with the demands of ‘extreme events’. Extreme events by definition are a class of outcome that have very high consequences (often exceeding the perceived worst class scenario) but also a low probability of occurrence. These factors make them difficult areas for analysis and investigations. These may lead some individuals to come to a conclusion by dismissing their significance by stating that they are not representative of the ‘normal’ state of affairs within the ‘system’ under consideration. Extreme events call into question our understanding of the various classes of phenomenon in which they are found and the strategies that organizations have in place to deal with them.

Thus they confront the secretarial claims and their control systems and can often call into question many of the fundamental assumptions that are held about the nature of hazard. These types of extreme events are also found in Natural Disasters or catastrophes or go-physical phenomenon, extreme weather conditions and also for long term phenomenons like global warming.

For example, a region receives a clear warning about heavy downfall and the same place receives enough rainfall in a 24 hour period (which is equivalent to months of precipitation in the given region) then the scale of the event will definitely surprise many people and will cause situations which may be difficult for the local population to cope. Again, a clear look states that it is often the scale of the events that present challenges around prediction. These leads to elementary complexity in the provision of mitigating advice to those, who are exposed to these type of risks. However there are attempts to provide early warning systems to warn the people against the upcoming disasters.

‘Extreme Events’ are typified by being both high consequence and low probability events. They are events that have the potential to overpower our resistance and yet they occur so uncommonly that we are powerless to develop enough experience from them and expand effective management control strategies that are grounded in the normal trial and error learning process that characterize organizations.

Extreme eventsare however also characterized by the various attempts to ‘manage’ them so that one can prevent the process of its escalation that has the power to move a system within its boundaries of its normal perturbation towards an extreme position, where it can no longer be controlled and has the potential to cause considerable levels of damage. Here we need to understand the consequences of an extreme event rather than seeking to search for developed technologies of prognosticating their occurrence.

If we understand the possible harm that such ‘extreme events’ can cause, it would lead the outcome administrators to reflect on the process by which incidents can shoot up to generate considerable damage and how inadequate our understanding base is, which often depend around these processes.

Some organizations consider the nature of their past histories as evidence that they are ‘crisis prepared’ or ‘resilient’. The lack of sufficient information and evidence about the exact understanding of the possible harm of a particular catastrophic hazard is often seen as a ‘justification’ that the organization is prepared for such crisis. But what if these crisis takes the shape of an extreme event. The coping capacity of such organizations is largely a function of the assumptions that exist around controls, which work under a range of conditions and to an extent that they are able to cope with the task demands that they are generated by emergence.

If we look into the details then one arrives at a conclusion that there are few handful of managers who have an ‘Hand on’ experience of ‘crisis’ not necessarily an extreme event and that would allow them to manage these events with their own past histories he/she had undergone. Therefore the organizations need to engage in simulation exercises in order to ensure that managers have some experience of dealing with those processes around which the hazard might escalate. It would help if the mangers are also willing to consider the experience of other organizations, which are having similar experiences around such types of events. As crises are in essence, extreme events, our understanding of them will be a function of the observations that we can make ‘at a distance’ rather than by direct experimental learning.

However, what these extreme events do is to point to the manner in which managerial assumptions around control can generate the conditions in which catastrophic failures can occur. As such, they serve an important role in allowing us to develop strategies for coping with the consequences of extreme events or crisis by considering the range of impacts that such events can generate.

My assumption goes that these factors stated above may be lacking for what happened in Bhopal Gas Disaster in 1984. A deep look into these aspects and significant research with proper implementation of policies in these areas can help organizations, corporate and other agencies to tackle ‘extreme events’ more professionally and effectively.

Please Note: Incase, there is any mistake in the above data, kindly feel free to mail me at the e-mail address given below.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

RELIEF GUIDELINES: AN ESSENTIAL PART OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT

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EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF DISASTERS:

In any emergency, the response by Governments and Aid organizations can be successful if AID reaches in time and to everyone in need. But in disaster zones worldwide, despite the best efforts of many, a great need remains.

The main factors that happen in the disaster areas are:

1) Importance shifting to other points.

2) There is a clear lack of dialogue during the distribution of relief as a result there is discrimination based on the reasons of sex, ethnicity, religion etc.

3) The people of above sixty and disabled have difficulties in getting relief. The older persons and the disabled may find it difficult to travel to distribution sites and often do not have strength to carry the goods back to their shelters. This is the case, when the sites are located high above due to some security reasons. Mobility is also a big problem for these people, where flooding or other type of disasters is regular.

The elderly are often deemed helpless. When the Iranian city of Bam was destroyed by an earthquake in December 2003, killing over 26,000 people, disaster response experts were helped by local elderly men of influence who organized community responses across the city.

When relief material was distributed following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, An older people stood alone in the remains of his thatched roof and refused to join for collection of relief for him. Asked why he did not join in and he shook his head and said that’ it’s of no use. I’ve been pushed out before and have fallen on the ground.

There is also same problem in Haiti Earthquake Relief Response (2010)

These are the challenges which are faced in general:

1) Use of untrained or unqualified personnel, lack of adherence to quality and accountability standards, as well as humanitarian principles and values and the non-utilization of local response capacities and skills.

2) Sometimes delayed entry of foreign relief workers or goods and equipment, lengthy procedures for gaining legal status to operate in the disaster-affected countries.

Special emphasis should be given to Women during a disaster as they are most vulnerable. So, whether disabled or not, young or old, of whatever colour or race, women remain the most vulnerable and discriminated category, whereas the first local response comes from women.

At Banda Aceh, over 70 % of Staff of local NGOs delivering relief in Banda Aceh were women. There are instances where women were denied their rights to relief. Then there is violence against women at conflict areas. Alongside contraventions of women’s rights, disaster after disaster produces irrefutable evidence that with displacement- be it as a result of natural hazards or conflict- the risks of physical abuse to women and girls rises substantially. The nature of the discrimination varies but commonly includes sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, forced prostitution, domestic violence, trafficking, forced and early marriage and widow inheritance.

In general some disaster prone communities are also vulnerable to discrimination. This happens especially with some groups, households and individuals. A disaster can reinforce various forms of discrimination. May it be social or may it be political or may it be racial.

Another challenge, which is faced by the agencies are lack of continuous focus on the affected areas. This is due to the fact that when a disaster happens, in general the Media of the World focuses its attention to it. But at times, when things almost are half done, a different quite similar type of incidence occurs in some other part of the World and Journalists based there are given marching orders. This does hamper the development and the aid work, which was conducted in the area. Not only the agencies loses there focus but the obvious question that arises is that the Job/task remains half done. Later, we again bring some rehabilitation project into the area and that again involves lots of money. In the mean time, the persons involved in the first task loses there attention and thus lot of motivation is required for the new project officers to conduct the task. This is from my personal experience. Hence Journalists should be on board on disaster relief committees.

How to meet this challenge?

We have every reason to see that this is really a great challenge, which need to be addressed. We have to take some time and think on these lines. So, any international organizations should have separate regions and separate force ready to tackle the issues.

The international community needs to agree on clear definitions of all potential minority groups to prevent opposing interpretations and to ensure a common understanding of the vulnerability of minorities. Aid agencies need to improve initial need assessments by sharing information learning from experience and developing indicators on the impacts of discrimination. Minority and vulnerable groups need to be supported and enabled to participate in the planning; design and implementation of all emergency and non-emergency programmes. Agencies need to advocate within communities to change existing negative attitudes towards minority and vulnerable groups.

It’s a tough task, but if these can be done then, we can move one step towards a sustainable world. Agencies need to advocate within communities to change existing negative attitudes towards minority and vulnerable groups. Government and Non-Governmental agencies must also identify and address obvious and hidden discrimination, within their organizations.

On the other hand disasters do not discriminate. They strike indiscriminately, affecting minorities and majorities alike. However, there are various impacts to discrimination. The vast desert and semi-desert region in northern Kenya is home to 3 million people ‘ most of whom are pastoralists. By 2006, there has been drought in the region. In Wajir in north eastern Kenya, visiting journalists reported that many grazing cattle had died by March and that two-thirds of the people were dependent on food aid. The crippling drought was then followed by floods. The appalling infrastructure seriously hampered the food and medical aid distribution programme, as the only road to the worst affected area had reportedly been washed away. The United Nations now has sophisticated early warning system in place, based on factors such as expected rainfall and crop yield, which can forecast when critical food shortages are likely to arise in advance. Then the obvious question comes to one’s mind is that why the Government did not act in time. There may be many reasons but one may be due to the fact that Kenya’s political elite consider or regard the pastoralist way of life as an anachronism. Often it is seen that geographically distant from the capital cities; pastoralists are also sidelined politically, lacking the influence to press their case in the corridors of power.

Now with the effect of climate change felt in most parts of the world, we have a problem in the desert areas of Africa. It is also clear that the long term impact can be catastrophic. Hence, the more we go on neglecting these issues; we are going to make our fellow brother’s and sisters’ more and more dependent to disaster relief assistance. Not only that there are evidence of caste based discrimination in some parts of the World. After the Indian Ocean Tsunami, ‘Dalits’ who are treated as ‘untouchables’ in the Hindu caste system, were forbidden by other castes from drinking water from UNICEF water tanks because sharing with Dalits would, in their view pollute the water. So, discrimination can be deep rooted, not just for operational relief work but also for recovery and further rehabilitation work.

So, what could lead to a better relief?

a) The donor agency should see and include minority peoples in the team. Ideally the ratio of minority peoples in the organization should equal the ratio of minority peoples among the public.

b) Educate minority peoples with the aim of developing community resilience as well as obtaining professionals from the communities.

c) Be aware of discrimination against the minorities in humanitarian work, by self examination as well as through consultations with people from the community and human rights specialists.

d) Participate in advocacy in domestic, regional and international forums. Humanitarian organizations can also play a vital role in human rights advocacy.

e) Develop indicators on the impact of discrimination against minorities in disaster management with the co-operation of human rights.

Now the donors and the funding agencies should look into these aspects:

a) Put more value on the issue of discrimination in humanitarian operations. Disaster Relief and discrimination are inseparable issues.

b) Examine the possibility of introducing special measures for minority groups, particularly those who do not have access to basic materials.

c) Understand the vulnerability of minorities, especially those who are prone to being affected by disasters. If the region has a history of disasters, then there is an absolute need for disaster preparedness.

I visited Assam India and I found that the State Red Cross Branch, under Indian Red Cross Society have built orphanages out of their own resources. Kids in the age of 1-3 years are their occupants at ‘Sishu Gram’ (Sishu in English means Children and Gram in English means Village).

Recent floods have washed out everything. The donor attention should also focus into these aspects while funding for any program. Disasters bring along with them lots of trauma and pain. Especially the Children are the most affected. They are the living dead. A small contribution for their education and care in good shelters can make wonders. It’s not an emotional statement, but a fact which is hard to ignore.

Media:

In a disaster, it is common to see images of children, often vulnerable, unwell, used by humanitarian agencies to generate compassion and funds. While the images can create the desired effect with donors, children’s protection and special needs are rarely incorporated within budget lines and programmes, resources are not prioritized and there is a lack of clear strategies to support and protect children.

Children are too often used to generate support, but they do not always enjoy the benefits.

So, what can be done?

Prioritize prevention of discrimination and violence against children. This means clear budget lines for prevention programmes and services.

There is also a need to enhance the capacity of all humanitarian personnel through education on children’s rights.

Create accessible, safe and child-friendly reporting systems and services. This includes safe, well-publicized, confidential and accessible mechanisms for children, their caregivers and others to prevent and report violence against children.

Help to improve collaboration between humanitarian agencies. This includes developing clear systems and standards to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children at all stages of a disaster ‘ preparedness, response and recovery. Children don’t get the support they need.

Hence, separate funds should be allocated solely for the purpose of children. Community Recovery Committees ‘ a diverse group including different ethnicities, backgrounds and genders that are well trained, with adequate resources and able to communicate with the formal humanitarian system- can greatly assist equitable assistance. An oversight mechanism to ensure that discrimination against poor and neglected groups is minimized in the committees is needed and their assessments have to be cross-checked.

I do believe that a little attention to the above mentioned problems and its solutions can help us to create a Safer World for us as well as for our future generations. Hence, we need to have effective Relief Guidelines for proper management of disasters.

I faced the situations.  Heart-rending situations in a disaster area bring tears in ones eyes. I am not emotional, but what is stated above are true facts. Please put a comment, if your time permits. I will be glad to see your support on the above issue.

Let’s together join hands and create a Safer, Stronger, Greener and a Disaster Free World for us as well as for our future generations.

Thanks a lot for reading.

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Please send your feedback in the e-mail address given below.

Thanks and Regards,

Mr. Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/