NDMA Drill Had Exposed Gaps in State’s Disaster Management Plan
Uttarakhand government took no step to address shortcomings in three years.
A mock drill organised by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in May-June 2011 in three districts of Uttarakhand had raised many crucial questions. After the drill, that was conducted in Dehradun on May 27, Haridwar on May 30 and Tehri-Garhwal on June 1, many solutions were offered to reduce damage in the state in the event of a disaster. None were implemented. The report of this drill is not public yet.
An important observation following the drill noted the gaps in communication between government agencies in the event of collapsed roads and linkages. It also noted that the coordination between various agencies at state and district level was better than at the local level—tehsil, block or town. This, in effect, meant that practical implementation of disaster management would have gaping holes.
“We found that the communication failed due to damage to roads and the kind of terrain the state has, and that it is not possible to have alternate communication routes either,” said Jyoti Kumar Sinha, member of NDMA. He said as nothing can be done to ensure that this communication does not break during natural calamities, NDMA made some suggestions.
Food shortages could have been averted
“There is one linear road which connects different villages in Uttarkashi and Chamoli. We suggested locations on roads should be identified where stock of food and supplies can be stored. Storage should also contain relief material for disaster situation,” said Sinha. Though landslides have crippled the road, it is still usable, he said. At least the food shortage that many pilgrims are facing today in cut off areas could have been averted to an extent.
(NDMA was constituted under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to draft policies and guidelines on disaster management, approve and coordinate the implementation of plans for disaster preparedness and management at the Central, state and ministerial levels. However, so far it has limited its role to only issuing guidelines. The state government has taken no measure so far to work on the solution. NDMA also did not ensure implementation resulting in disaster and death.)
Uttarakhand follows a “seven desk system” to deal with a disaster situation. Officers supervising seven areas—operations, logistics, communication, resources, health, services and infrastructure—sit together to make a plan and allot specific responsibilities for efficient management. This also reduces the possibility of gaps in operations due to misunderstanding among various agencies. The report said that Haridwar’s command, control and communication system is the best in India and can be emulated elsewhere.
No system in place below district level
However, the system works only till the district level. “But to control the disaster at the sub-divisional and tehsil level, no system is available,” stated the report. It suggested the state to follow an “incidence response system” under which the sub-divisional officer or the block development officer or the tehsildar becomes the “incidence commander” during a major disaster. In this system, district magistrate coordinates activities of incidence commanders.
This system, along with the seven desk system, can increase efficiency of management and timely communication manifold, said another official of NDMA. The recommendation, as part of a general guideline for all the states, was issued in India in 2003-04. Most states, including Uttarakhand, are yet to implement it.
How Government Neglect Caused The Himalayan Tsunami
Himanshu Thakkar and Parineeta Dandekar reveal how government actions and neglect created such massive disaster from a natural phenomenon in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand is facing a truly humungous, unprecedented tragedy, the full dimensions of which are still not clear. It is feared that thousands could be dead and missing and state could take years to get back to normalcy.
Analysing a natural disaster is a complex and hazardous task. Many a times, a natural disaster and its human impacts are a result of multiple things occurring together. At the same time, disasters, like the one being faced by Uttarakhand currently, highlight the stark anthropogenic reasons which contribute towards causing the disaster as well as increasing its impacts manyfold.
While the calamity is natural in the sense that the region did receive extremely heavy rainfall and cloud burst, the root causes which increased the human tragedy include unchecked and unplanned infrastructure development along the rivers and development of hundreds of hydel projects in the fragile zone without any proper checks and balances, transparent studies and participatory decision-making processes.
No specific and timely warning of the impending disaster
The first failures:
The first thing that strikes you when you analyse this disaster is that there was no specific and timely warning of impending disaster from the India Meteorological Department or any other body (their claim to the contrary not withstanding).
In fact we do not have a system in place to forecast cloud burst events, when technology is available to achieve that at approximate cost of Rs 15 crore, as I was informed by IMD Director General, Dr S K Srivastava. In this failure, along with IMD, the National Disaster Management Authority and Central Water Commission share the blame. It is good that NDMA vice-chair is now holding meetings to put such a system in place, but had he done that before the disaster, the destruction could have been significantly reduced.
Secondly, even after rainfall started, till date, six days after the event started on June 15, there is no account of how much rainfall occurred at what specific locations, and what was done to alert the populations that were at risk. This is again a failure of IMD and local administration.
In fact Kedarnath, one of the most affected areas, has no rain gauge, says the Indian Express. In the whole of Rudraprayag district where Kedarnath is situated, there is just one rain gauge at the district headquarter, it reported.
This shows how agencies like IMD, CWC, NDMA and SDMA have failed to put in place basic systems of warning, forecasting, monitoring and information dissemination that can greatly reduce disaster potential of any area.
In a state like Uttarakhand, which is prone to disasters like cloud bursts, flash floods, land slides, the indiscriminate building of hundreds of hydropower projects, each project entailing dam, massive underground tunnels that need to be blasted through, the roads, townships and deforestation, the disaster and damage potential goes up multi fold, particularly when there are no credible environment of social impact assessments at project or basin level, no credible compliance system in place, nor any carrying capacity study.
Even the wrong operation of projects can add to the disaster potential, as happened in case of Tehri in September 2010.
Too many hydropower projects, underground tunnels, roads, encroachments of riverbeds by buildings coupled with deforestation have worsened the impact of the flash floods manifold. These are places where there is a heavy tourist influx.
The collapse of buildings like a set of playing cards next to the river shows these were encroachments on the riverbed and floodplains. The river needs path to flow and when it takes the path it needs, the disaster for these buildings was inevitable.
There have been seven similar flood-related disasters in Rudraprayag in the last 34 years. The administration should have learnt, this is not the first time such a disaster has hit us.
Both Uttarkashi and the Chamoli-Rudraprayag-Kedarnath area faced monsoon disasters last year in August-September 2012, killing several people.
Flash flood of Hydel Projects:
Uttarakhand is witnessing unprecedented development of hydel projects along its rivers: mainly Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and their tributaries as well as Ganga, Gori Ganga, Kali Ganga, etc. Though exact estimates are not available, activists like Ravi Chopra have said that there are close to 680 dams in various stages of commissioning, construction, planning in the hill state.
Inter ministerial Group’s Report on Upper Ganga Projects:
Continuing its modus operandi of appointing a committee when one committee’s decisions are unpalatable, in June 2012, MoEF appointed the Interministerial Group on Upper Ganga Projects, to study reports of IIT-Rourkela and Wildlife Institute of India under the chairpersonship of B K Chaturvedi.
The committee was overshadowed with bureaucrats with three non governmental members: Rajendra Singh, Dr Veerbhadra Mishra (who passed away) and Sunita Narain.
The report is largely biased towards hydro projects in Uttarakhand and does not say a word about recommendation of the WII for dropping 24 projects, without giving any explanations.
The IMG report does not go at all into the issues of environmental destruction that such projects would cause and how they will increase the disaster vulnerability of the region, already prone to multiple disasters. IMG report did not even mention that the state is vulnerable to disaster in so many ways and how the projects would influence that.
IMG report also did not even mention the increased vulnerability of the region to climate change and how the projects would affect the adaptation capacity and increase the disaster potential.
Unfortunately, CSE Director General Sunita Narain, member of the IMG, filed what she called “An alternate view” but closer scrutiny reveals that it is not much of an alternate view.
It says adoption of three principles would make hydropower development in Ganga basin sound (which is clearly unsound claim in the first place), but does not bother to apply two of the principles to the projects under review.
She also does not mention the numerous environmental destruction these projects would cause, how it will impact the disaster potential, nor the increased vulnerability of the region to climate change. She is the member of the prime minister’s advisory committee on climate change since 2008 and in that context, this is most glaring.
The IMG report is not even in public domain, nor has any of the members of the IMG demanded that it be placed in public domain.
Authors: Himanshu Thakkar and Parineeta Dandekar are activists of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.
Climate Himalaya: The Himalayan region consists of extremely fragile ecosystem, and source to 10 major Asian river systems, on which over 1.3 billion people rely for sustenance, water, livelihoods and prosperity.
A recent flash flood on 16-17 June, affected over 50,000 people in the mountain state of Uttarakhand, while it is estimated that over 5000 people are missing with 1000 as reported deaths.
During the rainy season (August and September 2012) two major flash floods in Okhimath and Uttarkashi townships led to death of over 120 people and huge losses. During fall of 2010 floods in North Western part of Indian Himalayan region affected over 3 million people and killed 300, in Pakistan left 14 million homeless and killed 1500, and in China killed at least 1,117 people.
..One of the scientific studies of 1,317 glaciers by Indian defense research organization in 10 sub-basins since 1962 of Indian Himalayan region finds 16% glaciers shrank during last 50 years. This study finds that in 100 years period there is 1.6°c rise in temperature, the precipitation rate has increased and rate of snowfall decreased, leading to reduced river discharge.
Death Toll Increases, Relief- A Disaster
22 June: The day flood hit Gaurikund on 17th morning, I, with my uncle fled to Gauri village then to Munkatiya. We waited for food and water…., nothing came to us. We were about 200. I drank rain water. No food. My uncle’s mobile once worked, and we informed our family! We waited long, nothing came to us. Then on 20th morning we decided to take risk and walk on foot! After four days, I could just eat food at Fata (a small township)!” Rahul Ruwari, (Male, 18 year) stranded in Gaurikund and Munkatiya from Nag village in Rudraprayag.
“On 17th morning, I was sitting at my shop, I saw flood water with huge boulders hitting the temple and coming towards me….I just ran towards Bhairavnath side…,as I jumped I found myself stuck in marshy land…. I just could remember Discovery channel’s one of the programmes, where a person shown tells how to come out of swamp’…..I left my sleepers and crawled…! I ran for my life, and could reach home on 18th evening walking through jungles and tough terrains…! It was horrible…!” Dhruva (Male, 40 Yr.) from Lumgaundi village in Rudprayag who was in Kedaranath on 17th morning .
The Uttarakhand State Weather Forecast office Director Anand Sharma says that “we release forecast on daily basis, and on 14 and 15 June, the warnings were about heavy rains starting from 16th onwards! It’s up to the respective departments to convey these messages at appropriate levels“
In 1998 there was a huge landslide in Mandakini river that originates from Kedarnath in Rudraprayag district. In 2001 a detailed study was done in this region by Uttarakhand Space Application Centre and Physical Research Lab Ahemedabad titled ‘ Land Slide Induced Floods in the Upper Alakananda Basin’ that mapped various sensitive zones in the region and forecasted about heavy flood in near future.
Dr. Kimothi, Director of USAC during September 2012 flood in Okhimath said to a news paper “I think several precious lives, as well as property worth crores of rupees wiped out in Okhimath cloudburst…could have been saved” He further said ” ..the loss could have been prevented, had the planners cared to implement the measures suggested by twin scientific studies conducted in Okhimath after 1998 rainstorm” !
While looking upon the number of tourists in the region on 14 June a total 44591 visited, so they might be around during the rains of 16-17. The early warning could have saved thousands of lives, those are dead and reported missing.
Inadequate Preparedness Measures
In the state of Uttarakhand that is now affected due to cloud burst and flash floods, generally gets large number of pilgrims and tourists between May and till mid July every year. It is known as peak tourist season in the region, and the state government is generally expected to remain prepared for all such tourist influx, and any calamity or disaster that might happen due to the frequent rains in higher reaches of Indian Himalayan region.
As the flood hit the region on 16th and 17th June, we met the officials and elected legislators to assess the situation and suggest way forward for immediate relief. During our meeting we got following assurances and updates at different levels in the state government, which is responsible for taking care of the tourists coming to the state:
Mr. Yashpal Arya, Minister Disaster Management, Government of Uttarakhand on 17 June
“I understand the situation and 18 helicopters with all required supplies of food, medicines and relief material are ready and the disaster relief teams are looking for clear weather condition…! As we get clear weather, they will move quickly in most affected parts of Kedarnath first tomorrow morning”
Status on 18th: There 2 helicopters those went to Kedarnath area, but they could not land. All tourists and locals were evacuated by the choppers provided by 8 private companies voluntarily. Government didn’t sent any food or medical supplies till 18th evening.
Mr. Harak Singh Rawat, Minister Agriculture, Govt. of Uttarakhand on 17 June
“It’s a tragic. What can we do, expect praying to God! We are prepared with all supplies and as the weather is clear tomorrow (18th) we will rush things quickly. I am very concerned about this event.“
Status on 18th: He himself visited the area in chopper rather sending supplies, and the relatives of local and tourists agitated against poor government actions. No action by state government on food supplies, medicines or rescue operation.
Mr. Bhaskar, Secretary Disaster Management, Govt. of Uttarakhand on 18th evening
“If you have photographs of Kedarnath, show me! We have evacuated 500 people from Kedarnath, and the number you are talking over 1000 deaths in Kedarnath and equally stuck in Garurchatti are not correct..! We have sent food to all places in Gaurikund, Kedarnath, Munkatiya, etc..! ” Garhwal Commissioner sitting next to him informed that he personally went their and things are moving quite fast.
Status on 19th evening: Reports came that government did sent a set of biscuits to Gaurikund, which was dropped in wrong place and almost 5000 people stranded in that area could not get any food.Topographically chopper can’t land in Gaurikund, there were no action on this front to build one or give adequate food and medical supplies. Local people in Gauri village gave food to some, while till 19th no food was supplied, nor any evacuation happened in Gaurikund.
An Officer at Police Disaster Control Room 18th evening
“We didn’t get any information about the people those are stranded at places like Kedarnath and Gaurikund, and we have noted your point to supply food and rescue and we will communicate the message”
Status on 19th: No food supplies to any of these places.
Mr. Subhash Kumar, Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand 20 June morning
We gave a letter to him stating that there are about 5500 people in Kedarnath and Gaurikund region those need to be evacuated and given food, medical supplies and blankets.
“We are doing our best to send supplies to affected people and I have noted your points, we will take action on them”
Status on 20th: While our interaction with the people coming from Kedarnath, Gaurikund, Munkatiya and Ramwada area we were informed that there were no food supplies by government, but a few religious organizations and individuals helped the stranded in giving some food in places like Gauri gaon and Garur Chatti. No plan of action in place.
Mr. Rakesh Kumar Sharma, Principle Secretary Aviation, Government of Uttarakhand on 20 June morning
” A team of 80 people from NDRF (National disaster relief forces) has been sent by road and also air in places like Gaurikund, Kedarnath and Ramwara..! They have taken control of situation. As you know, in India we only have 32 helicopter, so one can understand that how problematic it is to rescue. I don’t make false promises, but believe in the action on ground….!”
Status on 20 evening: Only two choppers sent by government were working, most were working with the visits of politicians and bureaucrats and in the search of their relatives and connections. During our meeting someone called him over phone from Punjab, to rescue some relatives,. Mr. Sharma immediately asked his subordinates to give priority to it. Till 20th evening food supplies were not sent adequately in the places and reports came that 40-50 people died due to hunger in Gaurikund. There was no plan of action with him.
What is happening Now (22 June)
The Indian army and Indian boarder forces have now reached to places by road, as they were not given adequate helicopters to go in disaster hit areas, and the roads were washed away starting since 16 June. Now the army is working effectively in the region, but, the problems they face are related to inadequate food supplies and swelling numbers of tourists and pilgrims in the region that will take some more time to evacuate them completely.
After waiting for almost 4 days for food supplies and evacuation through helicopters, the stranded people didn’t get any help and are now taking risk to walk their own and reach safe places. The early warning of another set of heavy rains has also reached to them. It has been said that people in groups are slowly moving to downhill sides and local people, Indian army, voluntary organizations and religious organizations are providing food and shelter free of cost.
In few areas the road network has been cleared by Boarder Road Organization, people are taking roads to reach Rishikesh and Haridwar the nearest Railway stations.
The Mountain Tsunami
20 June: The post disaster situation in Uttarakhand mountain region is becoming worst as the information is coming related to death toll due to the impact of heavy rain fall and cloud burst. It has been recorded that huge number of people are stranded at places and are seeking help for food, shelter and evacuation to reach safe places. Many are stuck in remote places and forest areas.
Slowly, the Indian army is taking control of the situation, and are reaching by roads to these places, which took almost 3-4 days. Still the food items are in shortage, and it might become worst in next few days. All road networks collapsed due to huge land slide and river bank erosion from flooding.
During the rainy season of 2012 Uttarakhand state also faced two huge disasters where almost 120-150 people died due to land slide and flash flood. We covered all those issues, and one can read them here:
Disasters In Mountains: Increasing Catastrophes In Indian Himalayas (Video) Flash Floods Are Man-Made: Prof. Valdia Landslide Kills 68 in Indian Himalayas Cloud Burst: Disaster in Uttarakhand India-Updates and Photos 2 Hot, Too Soon: Multi-Model Climate Change Projections Updates On Uttarkashi Cloudburst and Flashflood 2012 The Reality Of Climate Change In Our Hills The Disaster Emergencies in the Indian Mountains GLOF Part 1– A Threat Present And Real: Indian SummaryA Video CHI team Covered during 2012 Disaster in Okhimath Region of Uttarakhand
Our team is working in Kedarnath area, and the updates are following, based on our communication with those came back from flood hit area of Kedarnath and around:
- In Kedarnath at Garur Chatti 1000-1500 people are looking for help for rescue, food and shelter, as till yesterday they could not get food supplies,
- In Gaurikund area 3000-4000 people are stranded and are looking for food, and witnesses reported that between 40-50 people might have died due to hunger,
- In Munkatiya region about 150-200 people are stuck and they didn’t get any food supply for last 4 days, and there is no information about them,
- It is said that about 1000 people are missing in Kedarnath city, 100 in Ramwara and 1000-1200 in Gaurikund township,
- Today the weather is foggy and only 2 government run helicopters are plying, and it’s impossible to evacuate almost 5 to 6000 people at present pace of rescue operation.
The Reason Behind Kedarnath Flood
It has been said that on GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood) could be one of the reason behind the flash flood in Kedarnath township, that washed away almost 200 houses and affected thousands of local inhabitants and tourists. The Gandhi Sarovar lake, also known as Chorabari lake, is one of the well known Glacial lake in the higher Himalayan region of India. The Chorabari glacier lies between latitudes 30°44′50″N and 30°45′30″N, and longitudes 79°1′16″E and 79°5′20″E, from an altitude of approximately 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) at the slopes of Kedarnath peak, to 3,800 metres (12,500 ft).
The glacier is around 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) in length, while the basin area of the glacier is approximately 38 square kilometres (15 sq mi) and the glacier ice cover is 5.9 square kilometres (2.3 sq mi). The glacier slope is around 11 degrees and faces south. The glacier has two snouts. It is hypothesized by R. K. Chaujar that an original single glacier covered the area, which while receding, split into two snouts. One of the snouts is the source of the Mandakini River at 3,865 metres (12,680 ft). The other snout, at 3,835 metres (12,582 ft), drains into the Chorabari Tal..
On 17th morning between 7.30 a huge flash flood that originated from Chorabari lake devastated the Hindu pilgrimage city Kedarnath, that was housed by over 3000 people. The debris flow was such that it had huge boulders and mud that washed away almost 150-200 houses and other were under rubble of 10-12 feet high.
During last flood in 2012 many scientists from various organizations warned about the possibilities of such calamities in future, but, things were not taken seriously by planners and policy makers at state and central government. No early warning systems were placed in this highly sensitive state Uttarakhand.
The situation seems not in control of the government in terms of rescue operation and covering huge number of affected people.
19 June: A number of flash floods and landslides in different places in the mountain state of Uttarakhand, India that boarders to China and Nepal, took place between 16-17 June.
During our visit and interaction with natives from different regions of this mountain state, it is expected that thousands (over 70,000) of local and tourists are stranded, and many washed away or missing (over 1500) due to flash flood in places like Kedarnath, Gaurikund, Ghangaria, Joshimath, Tehrai, Uttarkashi, Bhaironghati, Pithoragarh regions.
It was the result of a continuous and heavy monsoon rain for 3-4 days during last week. A tragic disaster in Uttarakhand that shattered the region, the local inhabitants and governments, at national and state level.
Our review for the preparedness measures for Kedarnath region of Uttarakhand finds that the Government at state and centre were completely unprepared for such a disaster.
In our meeting on 17th with Yashpal Arya, Minister looking the portfolio of disaster in Uttarakhand state, and Harak Singh Rawat, Agriculture Minister representing Rudraprayag district, have claimed adequate preparatory measure, to help and rescue people in the affected region.
The Minister Disaster during our meeting claimed that 18 choppers were ready with NDRF (national disaster relief force) with all food supplies and medical facilities, and they were looking for clear weather condition to drop through air to help and start rescue operation in Kedarnath region, where almost 5000 people are stuck at different place and about 2000 in Kedarnath only.
Next day on 18th (Tuesday), the sky was clear whole day. When we met and also interacted with stranded people over phones, it was said that there were no rescue teams in place from state government nor from NDRF, while only 2 choppers of Army were rescuing people and could just helped a few, major help came from private helicopter companies and during and overall they could rescue 400 people out of 2000.
Almost 1500-1600 people are standing at places in the hope of getting some food, shelter and medical help, which the government could not do on both days 17-18 June.
While we continuously are in touch with people and found that for last 2 days they are hungry and didn’t get any help from anywhere in terms of food, shelter and medical facilities.
In Kedarnath only, it is said that almost 1000 people are missing from Kedarnath township. All bridges and walkable roads are blocked, and the topography of the region is such that people are not able to move from their present places, as flood and land slides have destroyed all routs.
Our meeting with Secretary Disaster Bhasakaranand and Commissioner Garhwal Subardhan on 18th evening also confirmed that from Kedarnath a total of just 400-500 people could be rescued and official death toll claimed between 40-50. In reality the situation is that in Kedarnath, Ramwara and Gaurikund region alone over 2000 people are missing.
The phone numbers provided by the state government are not picked up, there is complete communication gap between affected and government run disaster management cells and control centres. People and representatives are struggling to get through and speak to state Secretary Disaster, Commissioner, District Magistrate and Chief Secretary of the state to know about the situation and seek help for the affected people in the region.
In the state it seems that administration is hopelessly and casually dealing with affected. Though the responsible government functionaries in state government claim about doing lot of things in helping and rescuing people, but, things in real sense are not visible in ground.
A complete chaos around Uttarakhand state , while the claims are high about helping affected by the state bureaucrats and politicians in print and electronic media.
The fact is that in India official figures only count for media and agencies as well, which is beyond reality !
A few photos taken from different sources:
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>