Dealing with crises

Kashmir Times. Dated: 6/1/2020 12:43:32 AM

India needs to formulate in advance a well defined strategy to deal with disasters and not treat them as administrative problems

The emergency calls from the health ministers of Assam, other North Eastern states and West Bengal asking its migrant workers stranded outside to return by the first week of June so that the governments are ready to deal with impending floods and heavy rains. It appears that these calls have been made keeping in view the number of Coronavirus cases rising in most of these states after some of the migrant workers have returned to their home towns and villages from different parts of the country. The pandemic has posed a dual challenge to these states which have already been affected by the first wave of floods and cyclonic storms in the past one week. The first wave of floods hit Assam and its neighbouring states only last week while the cyclonic storm has also hit West Bengal and Odisha only last week causing extensive damage to the life and property of the people. Assam has a lower case-load of Corona cases compared to other states but floods definitely pose a serious challenge. The Coronavirus cases have been on the rise and have doubled after the return of the migrant workers. The situation on both the fronts not only in these states but also others drives home the urgency of formulating protocols and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for dealing with natural and man-made disasters and health crisis simultaneously. In fact, the entire country needs to evolve a strategy for dealing with such emergencies on war-footing basis to save the precious lives of the citizens instead of waiting for the miracles to happen and think about measures to deal with the crises. The medical experts and policy makers have now acknowledged that the novel Coronavirus is here to stay till there is a vaccine or a cure is found or people across the globe develop herd immunity. The societies will continue to be confronted with droughts, floods and vagaries of nature, which are nothing new to India. Different parts of the country continue to face emergencies on one or the other accounts on annual basis but the governments of the day are not prepared to deal with them and come to the rescue of its people. It is important to note that only last week, two states West Bengal and Odisha evacuated half a million people when cyclone Amphan had a landfall. These measures could have been appreciated to the highest level as a feat in disaster management. But, both the governments fell short of cyclone relief shelters as they also had to ensure social distancing amid Coronavirus crisis. Keeping in view the present situation, such challenges are likely to increase with the onset of monsoons and relief measures will be test for the two state governments. A well-defined SOP can help in dealing with such critical situations in a better way.
The central government used the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005 to notify the Coronavirus pandemic as a disaster. The law was legislated in 2004 after the tsunami of 2004, but it does not mention a public health emergency. A criticism of the DMA is that it looks at disasters from an administrative and law and order perspective, and does not underline their humanitarian aspect. It talks of mitigating the 'hardship of the community' but stops short of involving non-state actors in disaster relief operations. At the same time, the successes in Corona containment in Kerala, Odisha, parts of Rajasthan owe much to civil society involvement and Non-government Organisations (NGOs), which have contributed in a big way in creating awareness among the people. The success of such initiatives cannot be overstated. If India wants to help its citizens in a proper manner in the backdrop of such situation, it should define protocols to involve civil society in post-Corona roles from alleviating the stress of migrants and arranging quarantine to organising flood relief.



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