Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Living on God's Mercy: A Public Servant Attends a Training Program on Disaster Management and Finds Vulnerability all Around

Kashmir is on the brink of a disaster: We can’t avoid it but we can take measures to minimize the amount of damage it is bound to cause, comments Tanvir Sadiq.

(Mr. Tanvir Sadiq, 30, was born in Srinagar and attended the Burn Hall School. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Information technology and management from Orissa University. He is the youngest Municipal Corporator of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and was elected from Zadibal Constituency. He has contributed regularly to local newspapers like the Kashmir Times, Kashmir Images, Greater Kashmir, and Kashmir Monitor. He was associated with many programs on Disaster Management of J & K and did a couple of programs on highlighting urban poverty. He hopes to be a candidate in the upcoming State Assembly election in 2008 on the National Conference platform from Zadibal assembly constituency. His interest are writing and social work.)

Many people must still be wondering whether to cry over the death and devastation that has wrought havoc on both sides of the State or thank Allah that they are alive. The wrath and fury of nature is always selective. There is no answer why some lose their lives and some are spared. Those gory and gruesome pictures the idiot box exhibited day in and day out since October 8 has terrorized even the steel hearted persons and it is difficult to fathom or comprehend how the survivors will overcome the trauma. There were conflicting reports about the death toll and while the governmental agencies were busy accessing the figure, snow tsunami struck. Many things happened since then but the result was that we are where we started.

I as Municipal Councilor of Srinagar had an opportunity to attend a training program about disaster management. I was so perplexed that for a week I couldn’t sleep. It’s not over, you, I and the world knows. It can happen any time and any where, Kashmir is an earth quake prone area we all know. The houses are built so adjacent to each other that if one falls, the others will follow. In Srinagar itself, Go towards the down town Srinagar and look at the houses built there. I do agree that the older houses are stronger then the new ones but we hardly are left with any traditional houses. And the new construction, thanks to the building authorities are so criminally constructed that you hardly have any scope for the fire gap , leave apart the earth quake .

Habakadal , Zainakadal , Mahraj Gunj , Rainawari interiors , Zadibal and many such places where such construction are so rampant that god forbid if some thing unusual happens , It will be a catastrophe ! . How many times does any body check whether he has adhered to the rules or in that case how many times have the authorities checked? In my opinion, Never. For every tragedy and abnormal circumstances also arises opportunity to correct what has gone wrong before, and such a lesson should not be forgotten.

Now is the time to manage crisis and disaster, Instead of putting blame on each other every one should voluntarily come forward to help who help the victims. No body should oppose others to score points. We have to be bacon of light for the people who have suffered immensely. Have we learnt a lesson from all this … I wonder? Because we are too preoccupied in our own backyard issues of survival we forget that there is a God up there who decides things and not we. We just can’t live in a friendly atmosphere. As if the 19 years of tumult was not enough that we had to face even the natural calamity. Kashmir is not the place which was struck by the earthquake of 8/10 for the first time.

We all know that the most of the areas have been disaster prone and in addition to the earth quake we have had floods, heavy rains and snow falls with regular intervals. One would have expected that the state would be ready with a comprehensive disastrous management apparatus in place to cope with any eventuality. But surprisingly we are always taken unawares and wake up when it’s always very late.

Just to add, two very prominent seismologists warned that a major earth quake could rock Kashmir valley anytime in next 50 years. Roger Biham of University of Colorado, who has been studying Himalayan region for 20 years has made this observation, what’s more important is that he states that the epicenter could be the Pir Panjal region and it could be 7.8 or above. Dr. Susuan Hough has also stated the same.

I am suggesting certain things out of my little experience I had while interacting with officers and people who know about disaster and the ways we can minimize the outcome. The Government of India has already enacted the National disaster management Act. 2005, which envisages the formulation of the national disaster management authority (NDMA) already in place under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The ministry of Home affairs is the Nodal Ministry for the Disaster management at the national level. The state disaster management authorities are under the chairman ship of the respective Hon. Chief Minister and the district disaster management authorities (DDMA) are headed by the respective deputy commissioner. These authorities at various levels are supported and assisted by a number of institution agencies.

While the search, rescue and relief operations are to be carried out by the involvement of disaster response task force created already by raising specially trained 8 battalions of Para military forces at the national level. However the capacity building has been found as the most crucial aspect of disaster management. Keeping this in mind the national institute of disaster management has been set up under the Disaster Management Act -2005 at the national level to guide and assist the central and the state government.

As a supplementary initiative the state government have also been assisted right from the 8th Five Year Plan by inducting a faculty in all the state administrative training institutes including the IMPA Srinagar. However, in J&K state the scheme has not been adopted in full and has been launched with no permanent arrangement although IMPA has had a number of trainings programmes/workshops. The present faculty head has some other assignment to look after and the disaster management training course are in addition to his routine activities.

Earlier I am told that the GoI assistance was given to one faculty position now raised to four. However, this scheme has now been transferred to the national institute of Disaster management Delhi and will now be funded for the entire 11th Five Year Plan taking care of both, programme component as well as the establishment cost . It has been decided that the govt. of India will continue supporting the programme beyond the 11th five year plan also.

As already stated above Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most vulnerable Multi Hazard prone states of India which faces most of all natural and man made disasters. If we haven’t learnt a lesson or two from our own disasters but we have seen through out world that preparedness, awareness and a responsible administrative mechanism is the only way to minimize damage. I therefore once again suggest that a FULL FLEDGED disaster management Venture is operational while as I learnt that UNDP (GOI) has made a committee in which the Div. com is the chief for Urban earthquake vulnerability reduction project (UEVRP) but its tenure is coming to an end sometime in September , while as its role was limited to capacity building, trainings constitute ward level teams and above all awareness and vulnerability assessment , its shameful nothing has happened till date except a press briefing that no one can predict an earthquake so just chill, how irresponsible is that . It seems they are busy in other issues.

It is time to create a Full Fledged Disaster Management Agency for emergency, equipped with all necessary Gadgets, and with some Helicopters even if that means begging any one inside or outside the country . If the establishment proposed is shifted and put under a directorate of disaster management authority, which can be under the control of state disaster management Authority or any officer who can contribute. It will help It should be a constant affair of the government to store Blankets, Fabricated Sheets, Fully Equipped Ambulances, Snow Clearing Machines, Motor Boats, Shikaras, Tinned food Stuffs, and Water Bottles .What’s more important is that the relief should be available within the shortest span of time. Department of housing must entrust the job to the department of R&D to prepare a building design that can withstand any future tremors .In this regard I suggest that we collect information from KOBE Japan, where they have devised low cost earth quake prone dwelling units . The governments must dis-courage settlements of singular units and instead encourage settlements of not less then 10-15 units at one place. For any relief distribution in future this can work out better and save lives. May be if we invest a little now, it may be help us save much more in future.

I am not an expert on disaster management, but as a responsible citizen I think it’s high time we think and think fast. Opportunity knocks at the door once; we may not get a better chance next time. We still have time and we have to avail it! The message is clear, the conclusion is obvious.

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