How India should be prepared for natural disasters in light of the current pandemic situation of Covid-19

Updated: May 13, 2020 3:17 PM

During such natural disasters, every year, large scale temporary evacuation to Village/ Tehsil/ District level shelter homes is required to save human lives.

covid 19, natural disasters, ndma, floods, earthquakes, disaster management , gsi, Saibal GhoshCovid-19 disasters have already taught us the most fundamental lesson that a massive scale of preparedness in the health infrastructure is essential in any country to tackle such types of disasters. (Bloomberg image)

Dr. Saibal Ghosh

The entire world is now witnessing a unique situation of unprecedented global health emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic after a century since the outbreak of the Spanish Flu which took a global death toll of about 50 million people in 1918. Under the current situation, the entire human civilization of 210 countries is busy tackling this pandemic situation amidst a lot of uncertainty about its continuance in the future and had already suffered a death toll of more than 2.5 lakh people worldwide till 6th May 2020.

Covid-19 disasters have already taught us the most fundamental lesson that a massive scale of preparedness in the health infrastructure is essential in any country to tackle such types of disasters, which emerged suddenly and affected a large number of people irrespective of geographic boundaries, wealth, caste, creed and religion with tremendous pace and virulence. Adequate preparedness in such health and related infrastructure is never wasteful because the same can always be used during any type of other disasters – whether natural or human-influenced or for any such health pandemic in the future. Since COVID-19 is a very contiguous disease, relevant reframing of health infrastructure planning may be required to tackle such type of community health disasters dealing with contagious diseases.

While discussing the natural disasters, apart from the earthquake, the other common natural disasters such as cyclone, flood, drought, tsunami do allow some variable lead time to occur so that for all these categories of disasters, early warning systems are already in place in India. Issuance and dissemination of such early warnings in India are well institutionalized by the respective nodal agencies and National/ State Disaster Management Agencies and the standard protocol exists for all such disasters in case of preparedness and mitigation and the same are definitely on alert mode as usual.

For landslides, due to gaps in historic data, prediction of its time of occurrence is difficult and that is why India is still not ready yet with any operational temporal prediction model for landslides to be used for early warning. However, for 60% of landslide-prone areas (2.55 lakh km 2 ), India is now aware of the fact about the spatial locations where future landslides are likely to occur due to the presence of a trigger, which in most cases are the higher amount of monsoon rainfall. GSI, being the nodal agency for landslides has already prepared and uploaded such geoinformation on landslide susceptibility maps on its Bhukosh web portal for use by all in 17 landslide-prone States.

Apart from the earthquake (and the resultant tsunamis if any), all other common natural disasters in India are mostly influenced by the monsoon rainfall and also by a large number of weather disturbances developed over the oceanic surfaces surrounding the Indian sub-continent. However, all the above climatic triggers are more or less concentrated within a particular time domain of a year in India, which is well known despite a few spikes and anomalies experienced in recent years due to the effect of climate changes. This particular period in India generally starts from June onwards and continues till late October, also known as the active monsoon period in India. Therefore, India must be prepared like earlier years for any such hydro-meteorological disasters (e.g., Flood, Cyclone, Landslides, etc.), which are very common in this country mostly during such active monsoon period in almost every year.

Since COVID -19 pandemic is currently active and is being tackled under the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act 2005, there could be some operational difficulties by our disaster machinery (NDMA/ SDMAs & NDRF/ SDRFs) to simultaneously act in full strength to tackle other such natural disasters. For this, NDMA/ SDMAs may require more resources and the same must have already been planned.

During such natural disasters, every year, large scale temporary evacuation to Village/ Tehsil/ District level shelter homes is required to save human lives. Due to the possible continuance or uncertainty in the continuance of the effect of COVID-19, maintaining social distance (a basic
requirement in case of COVID-19) would be an issue in such shelter homes. This may result in an obvious space crunch in such shelter homes and may lead to additional expenditure in acquiring and managing more number of temporary shelters. While planning, such parameters should always be taken into consideration.

It is always useful to accept the fact that the annual recurrence of such natural disasters that are affected due to monsoon rainfall will remain similar even this year too therefore, extra caution and adequate preparedness must follow in case of each of such natural disasters by all the agencies concerned including disseminating awareness to the citizen living in such disaster-prone areas.

(The author is Director (Geology), EPE Division, DGCO at Geological Survey of India. Views expressed are personal.)

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