By Apoorva Pal:
While the events in Japan have left the country devastated and the world shocked, there are many who believe the impacts would have been much worse in countries with less developed disaster management plans. The Times of India editorial on March 14, 2011 stated that “without minimising the tragedy in any way, the damage in terms of human lives has been remarkably contained relative to what might have been, considering that at 8.9 on the Richter scale this was the worst earthquake in Japans recorded history, followed by a tsunami originating close to Japanese shores that was even more devastating.”
Even in the face of a triple crisis, the Japanese authorities have acted quickly and efficiently while the Japanese people are displaying a remarkable calm.
We have faced a number of disasters in the last decade itself, from the Bhuj earthquake in 2001 and tsunami in 2004, to floods almost every year in Bihar. Each event has displayed the lack of preparedness that we display. W. Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the United States, puts it very clearly – “The lesson that you learn from this is that earthquakes don’t come with a warning. And that’s why being prepared is so critical.”
Granted that Japan and the developed world have the financial resources to invest in disaster management plans, but that cannot be an excuse for us. As we have seen in the past, the costs of recovery and rehabilitation after any disaster far outweigh the costs of investing in resilient infrastructure and planning.
It is high time we moved beyond policies and guidelines and towards actual implementation. It is necessary to integrate disaster planning into City Development Plans. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which is working extensively in urban areas across the country, could take a step in this direction. Apart from this, following building safety norms, having Special Forces equipped to handle emergencies and public awareness is essential. Courses on Disaster Preparedness must be made mandatory in our Educational Institutions, as public reaction and response play a crucial role in the ability of the authorities to act effectively.
Most importantly, we must not let this go unnoticed as “just another disaster.” As Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and author of Americans at Risk, said that such incidents are often referred to as “wake-up calls.” But instead of taking them seriously and making changes, for most of us “it’s more like a snooze alarm” and we only take notice of it for a moment and “drift back into a level of complacency.”