Nepal Quake Underscores the Need for Updated Resource Inventory

An incomplete and non-updated resources inventory from almost 25 states on IDRN can undo the meagre preparedness and prove hindrance in the daunting relief and rehabilitation work in case of natural disaster in India

A devastated house  in Srinagar stands in dilapidated condition six months after it remained underwater for over a month in September 2014 Kashmir floods.
A devastated house in Srinagar stands in dilapidated condition six months after it remained underwater for over a month in September 2014 Kashmir floods.


“All they needed was a long enough rope to divert the falling tree to the desired spot. But no one knew where they could find a rope or a strong wire,” Dr G M Dar from the Disaster Management Centre at Srinagar, recently narrated a telling incident from the devastating Kashmir floods of 2014.

A weakened embankment of a spring on Srinagar outskirts would have breached if the water flew over it. The local administration wanted a nearby tree to be felled to divert the strong current of water so that sandbags could be piled on to strengthen the embankment to save the area from flooding. A rope holding that tree to nearby trees would have meant a directed fall at the desired spot. That was not to be.

That’s why resource inventory is a must at all levels right up to districts and even block level, Dar, a faculty at the Disaster Management Centre of the J&K Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development, said. The inventory has a range of equipment and availability of trained manpower.

Apart from the loss of lives (150 plus), there was an estimated loss of over Rs 5,000 crore due to J&K floods, a PTI report had quoted ASSOCHAM. ( Uttarakhand in 2013 had similarly witnessed huge loss of life and damage to property arising out of a natural disaster and still paying the price with severely decreased tourism/pilgrimage.
The Nepal earthquake last month should come as a rude reminder for India. Rampant unauthorized construction across cities has made Indian urban centres such as Delhi and Mumbai most vulnerable to natural disasters such as quake or floods. Much has been written about what would have happened if a 7.9 magnitude on Richter scale quake hit Delhi and how the national capital will be flattened in absence of any structural stability measures etc. But it is not just the immediate natural disaster that kills or injures people. Much also depends on how fast or slow is the response of the authorities. The reason: Mismanagement of resources and manpower that further leads to huge loss of life and property.

When will India learn lesson?

Even as the term disaster management is gaining currency year on year, it has not percolated to the lower most rung, usually the first responders in case of a natural calamity. Kashmir floods 2014 or Uttarkhand 2013 should have been lessons well learnt. But a local engineer of the flood and irrigation department or for that matter a hospital’s medical superintendent remains unaware about the availability of resources that can prove valuable at the time of providing relief and rescue.

Way back in 2004, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had initiated a web-based platform, the India Disaster Resource Network (IDRN,, which is basically an online inventory of resources, both men and material, that is hoped to be useful in times of emergencies.

A quick glance through the inventory – state-wise, district wise, neatly segregated region wise AND available to public free of cost – tells us, you have fibre boats, wooden boats; you have fire-fighting teams for high rise buildings or a nuclear plant; you have JCB machines and you have ambulances; bolt cutters or cold cutters; you have radiologists and you have a Ham radio operator. You name it and the list has it.

And it is here that the legendary Indian babudom has failed to meet the expectations. Data that needs to be updated for each district has not been updated for scores of states and Union Territories. Forget remote districts, even the national capital Delhi does not fare any better.

Following table makes it clear how Delhi, the seat of power, has not done poorly. For instance, Central Delhi district has not bothered to update data since August 2005; North Delhi has not done it after June 2008 etc. But the most important is the fact that Shahdara and South-East Delhi districts – both relatively newer districts – have no data whatsoever. Unfortunately, these are the two district on either side of the Yamuna, with dense population, most of it unauthorized colonies, and the area is hugely prone to flooding.


District             Data last updated

Central                          Aug-05
East Delhi                    Feb-15
New Delhi                   Nov-14
North                            Jun-08
North East                 Mar-15
North West               Apr-06
South delhi                Feb-15
South West               Jan-15
West                            Jan-15
Shahdara           Data Not Available
South East        Data Not Available
(Source: IDRN)

Mumbai, the financial capital that has once suffered massive loss of life, property and trade after 26/7 (2005) has no record updated after December 2008. Andaman and Nicobar Islands that had witnessed the terrible Tsunami (2004), has not updated the list of inventory since 2003.

But then, according to Anupama Sethi, administrator with the IDRN, “There are honourable exception. Most districts of Orissa, often ravaged by deadly cyclones, have updated inventory till February or March 2015. Other states with updated inventories for almost all districts are Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Punjab and Kerala.”

Awareness is the key

Main problem is lack of awareness. Although IDRN is monitored and maintained by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), the data collection and updating it is essentially done at the district level. But many at the district level – for instance the district collector – are not even aware. That is where Sethi and her team chips in with training for different states.

But surely, something somewhere is lacking. A review meeting in September 2014 of the IDRN received valuable suggestion from across stakeholders. For instance, infrastructure data such as locations of schools, hospitals or even the community bhawans need to be added to the inventory. Orissa has done a wonderful job of creating stilted shelters for people evacuated from flood prone areas.

The IDRN data is available only in English right now. But for a diverse country such as India, obviously the need is to have the same data in all regional languages. Also, the data is accessible only online right now, there is an immediate need of making provisions for off-line availability too. After the Ladakh cloudburst in 2010, the entire BSNL network had collapsed and there would have been no way to access the ‘online’ resource inventory.

Keeping in tune with the increasing penetration of smart phones across stratas, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook for information dissemination can prove timely and necessary for generating awareness too. India surely cannot afford repeats of Uttarakhand 2013 or J&K floods 2014 when resources were indeed available with the respective states but the authorities concerned, the first responders, had no information about the availability of such resources, which delayed the response. The key is awareness, knowledge.

This was released on the PTI Feature service, a mailer service, on May 9, 2015 and reproduced by The Asia Digest on May 16, 2015. It can be read here

South Asia slow to act on water threats

The Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India Image NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

Satellite image of the vast Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India
Image: NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously

Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change.

A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population.

Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector.

Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”.

Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments
were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report.

For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero.

In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation.

However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages..

And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country.

“Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”.

Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation.

Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said.

The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods.

They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

(This was first published by Climate News Network on July 7, 2014 and it can be read at )