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Saturday, January 26, 2008

FOCUS News Update Winter 2007


FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance




FOCUS News Update
Winter 2007



Responding to Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh

Responding to Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh

Responding to Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh
Following the devastating effects of Cyclone Sidr, which struck the south western coastal areas of Bangladesh on 15 November 2007, FOCUS and His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan National Council for Bangladesh, in collaboration with the Van Leer Foundation provided 50,000 blankets to communities. This was in response to a request to help local communities with upcoming winter needs. FOCUS is currently undertaking a detailed assessment in the area most affected by loss of lives - the district of Barguna - to establish longer term disaster risk reduction and mitigation plans.

Initiating community risk management programme Badakhshan, Afghanistan


Initiating community risk management programme Badakhshan, Afghanistan

Initiating community risk management programme Badakhshan, Afghanistan
FOCUS is facilitating mountain communities in Badakhshan, Afghanistan to strengthen their resilience against natural disasters which frequently hit the region. Through a grant awarded by the European Community Humanitarian Office for Disaster Preparedness, FOCUS is implementing a community-based disaster risk management programme in four border districts of Badakhshan. The programme was inaugurated in Ishkashim, on 15 November at a ceremony attended by local and provincial government representatives. FOCUS will work closely with local communities to raise awareness of disaster risk, undertake hazard and vulnerability assessments in the region and facilitate the training of volunteer response teams. In addition, FOCUS will be seeking to engage local government institutions in building partnerships and risk management capacity.

Sharing disaster risk management expertise in Pakistan
The Second Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was held in New Delhi on 7 and 8 November 2006. At a pre-conference event, representing the FOCUS family, FOCUS Pakistan presented “Challenges in Community Risk reduction and Strengthening Awareness and Resilience” to highlight FOCUS work within the south Asian region. The conference brought together participants from across the region and was attended by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India and Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

FOCUS Pakistan’s Search and Rescue Team and Community Emergency Response Team


FOCUS Pakistan’s Search and Rescue Team and Community Emergency Response Team

FOCUS Pakistan’s Search and Rescue Team and Community Emergency Response Team received an award from Pakistan’s Northern Areas Force Commander and the Chief Secretary for a simulation exercise and display held during a celebratory event marking Northern Areas Liberation Day on 22nd November 2007. Participant exhibitors at the Chinar Bagh in Gilgit included local government departments, civil society groups as well as agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network.

FOCUS trains local scientists in Khorog, Badakhshan
A professional development training course on hazard vulnerability and risk assessments in mountainous areas was held between 23 and 31 October in Khorog, Badakhshan. Professor Usupaev Sheyshanli Eshmanbetovic from the Central Asian Institute of Applied Geosciences led the training of twenty-five local participants from the Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence, non-governmental organisations, the Institutes of Geology and Seismology as well as the University of Central Asia. For the third consecutive year, FOCUS implemented this training programme as part of its commitment with the European Community Humanitarian Office Disaster Preparedness project to provide local specialists with an opportunity to enhance disaster skills and knowledge to those involved in teaching and conducting hazard and vulnerability assessments.


FOCUS engaged young people in disaster reduction and response methods through a computer game entitled “Stop Disasters!”


FOCUS engaged young people in disaster reduction and response methods through a computer game entitled “Stop Disasters!”



Teaching UK children about disasters through a UN computer game
In London, United Kingdom, FOCUS engaged young people in disaster reduction and response methods through a computer game entitled “Stop Disasters!” formulated by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The interactive session was held at a children’s event in London, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of His Highness the Aga Khan.

Tsunami survivors demonstrate disaster preparedness
To mark India’s National Disaster Awareness Day on 29 October 2007, FOCUS organised a range of participatory activities for community members from fifteen villages in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh. Designed by FOCUS-trained community emergency response teams, activities encouraged community embers to participate in a series of event ranging from drawing competitions in schools to village awareness rallies. The events also formed an integral part of the FOCUS-AKDN post-tsunami Relief to Development project.

 simulation in Vancouver


Evacuation simulation in Vancouver

Training volunteers in crisis management
On 17th November, an evacuation simulation exercise was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, as part of FOCUS’ national disaster preparedness training programme. Over 300 local community members participated in a mock evacuation and were received at an emergency reception centre set up and run by FOCUS trained local volunteer disaster management and response teams. The simulation was attended by delegates from local civic emergency management organisations who lauded the community’s efforts in engaging in a high level of preparedness and assistance to local civic authorities in the event of a major disaster.



AKDN FOCUS exhibits at Aga Khan Foundation Partnership Walks across USA

FOCUS exhibits at Aga Khan Foundation Partnership Walks across USA

FOCUS exhibits at Aga Khan Foundation
Partnership Walks across USA

At this years’ Annual Partnership Walks held across the USA, participants had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with FOCUS’ global disaster response and preparedness activities around the world. A pictorial presentation and posters and volunteers provide participants with key information on FOCUS’ community based disaster risk reduction, crisis response and institutional building programmes around the world.

For further information, please contact your nearest FOCUS office,
whose details can be found under Contact.


  Mobiles linked to disturbed sleep

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Tata 'People's Car' - environmental disaster?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

SAARC nations urged to join hands for disaster management

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil Monday called upon the SAARC nations to use their strength in science and technology to build a robust system of prevention, mitigation and preparedness to reduce the risks of natural and manmade disast

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil Monday called upon the SAARC nations to use their strength in science and technology to build a robust system of prevention, mitigation and preparedness to reduce the risks of natural and manmade disasters.

Inaugurating the two-day SAARC Workshop on Application of Science and Technology for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in South Asia here, Patil stressed the need for sustained scientific research on earthquake, particularly in the Himalayan region, so as to be able to identify the fault zones and the return period more accurately.

The South Asian region is one of the most disaster prone areas in the world. Natural disasters, ranging from earthquakes to cyclones, have afflicted the region often in the past causing immense damage to life and property.

Patil emphasised that it is not the earthquakes that killed but the buildings and hence, 'there was a need for earthquake resistant designs and technology which make use of local ethos and locally available building materials,' he said.

He described cyclone risk mitigation as another priority area for scientists. 'Prediction of the precise location of the landfall was essential so that the people who would not be affected by the storm surge do not have to be evacuated,' Patil said.

He also highlighted the need to deal with challenges like the sea level rise and climate change. He said India would extend all possible assistance and cooperation to all its neighbouring countries for better management of disasters.

Stating that the region has the best and largest technical and scientific manpower in the world, Patil said: 'We must use our strength in science and technology to build a robust system of prevention, mitigation and preparedness to reduce the risk of natural and man-made disasters.'



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Gold: Give Yourself The Edge Of Bullion

Tata 'People's Car' - environmental disaster?

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Foods That Curb Hunger


Friday, January 18, 2008

Zambia declares floods 'disaster'



Map of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Heavy rains in the Zambezi valley

 have flooded four countries

Zambia has declared the floods sweeping through the country "a national disaster".

The authorities have closed schools, converting them into shelters for thousands of displaced

people. President Levy Mwanawasa, in a television address, said a concerted effort was needed

 by the whole country to deal with the crisis. More than 40 people have been killed in the region,

and roads, crops and livestock destroyed. Neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi

 have also been affected by heavy rains for several weeks, causing swollen rivers to burst their banks.

 On Thursday, President Mwanawasa visited some of the worst affected areas. "This is a national

disaster and it requires concerted efforts of all of us to solve," Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa

said on state television. The government's Disaster Management Unit and the Red Cross have set up

a $250m contingency fund to be used to acquire emergency shelters, such as tents, and food kits.




Thursday, January 17, 2008

Floods 'could be worse than 2001'

A woman and child wade in flood waters in Mutarara, Mozambique
Floods are spreading to neighbouring countries
Flooding in Mozambique and neighbouring countries could be more damaging than catastrophic floods seven years ago, Mozambique authorities say.

But officials say they don't expect the death toll to be as high as in 2001, when 700 people died.

The government is preparing to evacuate 200,000 people from their homes as rains continue to fall.

Some 70,000 people have been forced from their homes so far and several people have died, the government said.

The National Institute of Natural Disaster Management (INGC) predicted the heavy rains as far back as November and warned communities they were coming.


But flood waters are now spreading to Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia, and more people will have to be evacuated.

The rain is forecast to fall throughout February and could continue into April, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

The INGC told the AFP news agency that a UN announcement that 50 people had died in the flooding was "overestimated"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tata 'People's Car' - environmental disaster?

The new and rather cheap to buy Tata 'People's Car' is strutting its stuff at the 2008 Delhi Motor Show. The model is designed to confirm that Indian industrial giant the Tata Group is a world player in the field of small, cheap cars. There are still no official photos of the vehicle, but it is a simple, four-seater with a tiny 33-horse power engine at the back. The price: no more than about 2,200 euros!

 Tata - an earlier model
An earlier model from Tata

Are all India's one billion-strong population now going take to the road, making the car's introduction an environmental disaster? Professor Lucas Reinders, Amsterdam University's 'professor of the environment', is very concerned: "This car will offer an attractive alternative to people who rely on India's poor public transport or who ride cycles or motorbikes on its dangerous roads. Therefore, I think there's a good chance a huge number of the cars will be sold."

No hit
However, according to Abishek Aggarwal, a scientist at Delhi College of Engineering and co-inventor of the only hybrid car developed in India, it will not be such a hit. He thinks that people will not get the quality they expect from a car for which they are paying 2,200 euros.

Abishek Aggarwal  Abishek Aggarwal

"People here in India are becoming increasingly more aware of quality, and the Tata will either have to make losses or undergo improvements. It may be a cheap car, but it's definitely neither a status symbol nor of the quality people would expect to be buying."

Elmer van Grondelle, who teaches car design at Delft Technical University, also doubts the Tata People's car will be a hit. He thinks the low price, even in India, will not prove all-important. What a car looks like remains a major consideration and what about its ability to hold the road. With the engine at the back, the Tata could swerve around as badly as the famous Volkwagen Beetle.

In the brief press release about its new people's car, Tata stresses the safety advantages. Considering whole Indian families pile onto motorbikes in fast-moving traffic, Mr van Grondelle says the concern is well placed. He also finds believable Tata's claim that its car is less polluting than a motorbike. "Indian motorbikes usually have two-stroke engines which are bad on pollution and four-stroke motorbikes don't have catalytic converters (catcons). A car using a four-stroke engine with a catcon is 40 times cleaner."

Lucas Reijnders 
Lucas Reijnders

Professor Reinders, however, rejects the idea that the Tata is better for India's environment. Even if it is cleaner, cars always use more fuel than mopeds or scooters, and people who at present take the bus, or even cycle or walk, have not been brought into the equation. Sales figures will soon show whether the Tata People's Car is a success or a failure. As in other countries, how the car is received by the Indian public will make or break the venture. It is not yet known whether the new car meets Western safety and other standards, but at the moment, there are no export plans.
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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Be safe in 2008 by preparing plans for surviving disaster

The beginning of the new year provides us an opportunity to reflect on the past and make resolutions to fulfill new goals in the coming year.

The recent devastating fires in California and other national and international disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia remind us that disaster can come at any time and in any form. As the director of emergency services for Ventura County, I know that there is much more work to do in disaster preparation, especially with the added threat of terrorism to our country. I am also keenly aware that even the most prepared government response will not be enough if citizens have not prepared themselves for times of emergency.

Ventura County has been challenged by recent incidents such as floods and fires, and we have, for the most part, withstood these incidents with relatively little damage and loss of life compared to other counties in the state. Our emergency managers have developed plans to respond to a number of potential emergencies, including terrorist acts. These plans include multiagency practical exercises designed to improve and adjust our response capabilities.

We cannot, however, plan for every possible emergency scenario. A major earthquake or other cataclysmic event could strike at any time and at such a level that safety resources could quickly be overwhelmed, and it could take time before mutual aid arrives to assist with the disaster. What concerns me the most is that many citizens have not properly prepared in the event help cannot arrive quickly. Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of what individuals and families must do to survive and recover from a disaster when resources are delayed or nonexistent.

When unexpected natural or man-made emergencies occur, our greatest individual defense is preparedness. Getting an emergency supply kit, making an emergency plan and being informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur in Ventura County are several things you can do to prepare yourself for the three to seven critical days following a disaster.

Some ideas for a basic emergency supply kit may include the following items to ensure individuals and families are prepared for any type of emergency:

— One gallon of water per person per day.

— Nonperishable foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking.

— First-aid kit, essential medications and eye glasses.

— Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

— Portable radio, flashlight and spare batteries.

— Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.

— Household bleach for disinfecting and water purification.

— Sturdy shoes and change of clothes.

— Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and other vital documents in a waterproof, portable container.

— Food and water for pets.

Emergency supply kits should also be considered for your car and office.

Preparing a family emergency plan is free and simple. It can help a family stay in contact if they are separated during an emergency and, in addition, give you peace of mind should an emergency occur. Schedule time to meet with the members of your household to discuss local hazards and what each person should do in the event of an emergency. Some ideas to include in your discussions may include:

— Picking two places to meet in the event of an emergency: One right outside of your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire; a second location outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home or are asked to leave your neighborhood.

— Picking two out-of-town contacts for communication. One should be a friend or relative who will be your household's primary contact, and the second will serve as an alternate.

— Discussing what to do if a family member is injured or ill.

— Discussing what to do if authorities advise you to shelter-in-place or evacuate. Be familiar with evacuation routes.

— Planning how to take care of your pets. Pets (other than service animals) are usually not permitted in public shelters or places where food is served.

A new resource has been developed to assist the residents of Ventura County educate themselves and prepare for a disaster. The county of Ventura homepage (www.countyofventura.org) now has a new link titled "Disaster Information."

This portal enables residents to learn about local hazards in our area, as well as how to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from a disaster.

Individual homeowners can protect their homes by implementing flood prevention strategies, such as evaluating your property and preparing for water and debris flows. Personal safety is the most important consideration during a flood.

Regardless of how a flood occurs, the rule for being safe is simple — head for higher ground and stay away from flood waters. Even a shallow depth of fast-moving flood water produces more force than most people imagine. The most dangerous thing you can do is to try walking, swimming or driving through floodwaters. Two feet of water is enough to carry away most automobiles. Even 6 inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off your feet.

By taking some simple steps to prepare, we can help protect our families in the event of an emergency.

Make a resolution that is both important and easy to keep by taking these simple steps to provide for your family's first line of defense.

— Bob Brooks is sheriff of Ventura County.



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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Thousands flee NSW floods

Thousands flee NSW floods

5:00AM Sunday January 06, 2008

Thousands of residents from the northern New South Wales town of Kyogle were evacuated from their homes as floodwaters peaked at near-record levels - leading to parts of the New South Wales north coast being declared natural disaster areas.

The Bureau of Meteorology said an 18.1m flood peak was recorded on the Richmond River at Kyogle yesterday, the second-highest flood peak on record, after pelting rain.

"We evacuated the town and surrounding areas about mid-morning before the peak and are continuing to monitor the situation," a State Emergency Services (SES) spokeswoman said. Concerns then turned to Casino, where the Richmond River was expected to peak next, she said.

Some parts of northern NSW got 300mm of rain in three hours overnight and NSW Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees declared the Tweed and Kyogle local government areas natural disaster zones after visiting the region yesterday.

"We are still considering natural disaster declarations for the Richmond valley and Lismore, depending on whether there is further rainfall," a spokesman for the minister said.

The declaration triggers a range of assistance for residents and business operators in the region, including low-interest loans and other financial help. Some councils, clubs and community groups will also be eligible for assistance to repair damaged property.

Meanwhile Townsville and Cairns were bracing for widespread flooding, with Cyclone Helen predicted to move into the Gulf of Carpentaria today. Disaster experts expect heavy monsoonal rain to cause widespread flooding as far south as Townsville, according to the Australian newspaper.

Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney joined an aerial survey of the area as part of disaster management preparations and said he had been briefed by disaster experts that the region faced a battering from heavy weather.

The SES is warning coastal residents in the Gulf to take precautions, with an active severe weather system causing abnormally high seas and large waves. Cyclone Helen was yesterday a category 1 system and about 265km west-southwest of Darwin, moving east-northeast at 20km/h.

Destructive winds with gusts to 130km/h were expected to hit coastal and island communities between Darwin and the Daly River mouth by early today.

In the Gold Coast hinterland, flash flooding closed roads and isolated homes. Not all the weather news was bad. Brisbane's dams gratefully accommodated up to two months' supply of water in this drought-plagued region, though the bad weather swung away later.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Mozambique on red alert as flooding worsens

MAPUTO, Mozambique: Mozambican disaster management authorities have declared the highest level of alert and put full emergency operations into place as severe flooding affects 55,000 people.

Minister of State Administration Lucas Chomera, who is deputy chairman of the Disaster Management Coordinating Council, made the announcement on state radio and television Thursday night.

"Aware that the situation may get worse before the end of the rainy season, we have decided to declare a red alert," the highest, he said.

Chomera said the 2007-08 rainy season began earlier than normal in the south and center of the country.

In October and November, "some areas received as much rain as they would normally receive in six months," he said.

Torrential rains also fell in Zambia and Zimbabwe, which contributed to a sharp rise in water levels in the main rivers of central Mozambique.

This week the Zambezi, the Pungue, the Buzi and the Save rivers were all above critical level, Chomera said.

The Save was about two meters (more than six feet) higher than the alert level, and not far from levels reached during the massive floods in 1976, while flooding on the Buzi is expected to be worse than the catastrophic flooding of February 2000.

The situation on the Zambezi River is a cause for concern with the operators of the Cahora Bassa dam forced to increase its discharges from 4,500 to 5,100 cubic meters a second.

The main road between Mozambique and Zimbabwe has been cut off and several rescue operations have been launched to take people clinging to rooftops and to trees to safety.

Chomera said that so far about 13,000 people have been evacuated from critical areas and moved to higher ground or to government-run accommodation centers.

He said the government's contingency plan for natural disasters this year amounted to about US$3.4 million.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

KENYA: Post-poll violence a ‘national disaster’, says Red Cross

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A barber shop burns in Nairobi's Mathare slum
NAIROBI, 1 January 2008 (IRIN) -

Kenya is in the throes of a humanitarian "national disaster" amid post-election violence that has left scores dead, tens of thousands displaced beyond reach of immediate assistance and many more destined to be dependent on aid for several months to come, according to the Red Cross.

"The country has been riddled with insecurity over the last few days and there are many areas we cannot access," Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet told reporters in Nairobi on 1 January after conducting an assessment by helicopter to western parts of the country.

Video footage shot during this mission showed smoke billowing from homes and farms, crowds of displaced civilians seeking sanctuary in churches and police stations, and usually busy main arteries empty of traffic and dotted with roadblocks manned by gangs.

"Worst-case scenario"

Gullet said his organisation's 48 branches had put in place contingency plans for the elections but that "no-one imagined the worst-case scenario we seem to be having now."

In one of the most brutal episodes of violence since the incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 27 poll - amid cries of fraud by the opposition and international concern about the vote tallying process – at least 30 people who had sought sanctuary in a church in the western town of Eldoret died after a mob set the building ablaze, according to reports from the BBC and AFP, among other news outlets.

AFP, which estimated the overall number of dead in the wake of the polls at 300, quoted one senior police official as saying the events around Eldoret and nearby areas "looked very much like ethnic cleansing."

Around the area of Burnt Forest in Rift Valley Province, according to Gullet, some 20,000 to 30,000 people, predominantly from Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group, were holed up in church and police premises. An official government statement carried by local media estimated that there are 73,500 displaced people countrywide.

Most of the displaced have no access to food, water, health services or shelter, he said.

Families flee to eastern Uganda

The main road heading west from Eldoret leads to Uganda. A Ugandan immigration
official at the Malaba border post told IRIN that dozens of families, mostly Kikuyus, had entered Uganda on 31 December and 1 January. The official said she thought many others had left Kenya crossing unmanned points of the unfenced and porous frontier. Another source at Malaba said he had seen only one car crossing from Uganda to Kenya on 1 January.

Members of Uganda's parliament from constituencies in the border area have appealed to the government in Kampala to send aid to the region to meet the needs of any further refugees.

Fuel in Uganda arrives through Kenya and many petrol stations in Kampala had run dry while prices in other parts of the country had doubled.

Vigilantes and no-go areas

Of those still in Kenya, "a few hundred thousand will need [humanitarian] assistance for some time… many people who were food sufficient are becoming food dependent," said Gullet.

Between Burnt Forest and Eldoret, 30km away, "around 30 checkpoints have been set up by vigilantes," he said.

"If you are not of the right ethnic group, it's no go," explained the Red Cross official.

"People are being targeted and it is known which ethnic group is being targeted," said Gullet. When asked to clarify, he said in the areas he visited, "it's largely the Kikuyu ethnic group that's being targeted."

Gullet said that in some parts of the country even Red Cross workers, clearly identifiable as such by the emblem on their jackets, had also been challenged to declare their ethnicity.

The Red Cross video showed hundreds of people at Eldoret airport, which lies 20km from the town itself, who had been there "for the last few days, surrounded by 3,000 people from one ethnic group," he added.

During the brief assessment flight, Gullet estimated he saw "hundreds" of homes and farms on fire.

Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
Citizens responded generously to a Red Cross appeal for food, often braving supermarket queues for several hours before taking supplies to the organisation's headquarters on the outskirts of Nairobi
Assistance and lack of access

"The people need assistance, but we cannot access them by road and we cannot airlift because the only viable aircraft are helicopters and they can only carry two tonnes," he said, adding that the road blocks had led fuel supplies to run out in many towns.

Visiting Moi University Hospital in Eldoret, the Red Cross team saw many patients with gunshot wounds and others who had been injured by arrows. Several doctors who live in the town were unable to reach the hospital because of fears for their safety.

"The hospital is overwhelmed with the number of casualties. They have set up tents outside to shelter the less serious cases," said Gullet.

Plea to leaders

He went on to issue a plea to Kenya's political leaders to provide security to ensure humanitarian access and to lift stringent restrictions imposed on the news media just after Kibaki's victory was declared on 30 December.

He also called on presidential candidate Raila Odinga, the opposition leader from the Luo ethnic group who insists he was cheated of election victory, "to speak out to the masses and say that this senseless killing is unacceptable."

Prices of basic food have shot up in some areas and The Red Cross has been distributing food to people displaced from some of Nairobi's slums thanks in part to donations from citizens responding to the agency's public appeal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Global warming, Himachal could spell disaster for India

him21.jpgPALAMPUR: The continuous drought conditions and failure of monsoon for the past three consecutive years in Himachal Pradesh, has resulted in a loss of over rupees 200 crores to the state every. Besides, flash floods in the state had damaged property worth rupees 1000 crores. The apple, potatoes and other off season vegetable crops playing significant role in the economy of the state have also been adversely affected.

This hill state had faced the worst ever drought conditions last year. In last monsoon the state has recorded very low rain fall as compared to the previous years. In the absence of adequate rain fall in the catchments areas of rivers Beas and Sutlej, the water level in Govindsagar and Pong Dams of the state also remained very low adversely affecting the power generation in Pong and Bhakhra power houses of state during winters. There was also no rain during winters in the state. The state experienced last rain fall of monsoon in first week of September 2002 and after that there was virtually no rains for four months.

Higher reaches in the state had little or no snow fall this year. The experts working on water harvesting system in the state are of the view that in the absence of snow on the high hills, the rivers like Sutlej, Beas and Yamuna will also go dry in the coming summers as the melting of snow in the hills will be over by the middle of May. Farmers and fruit growers have no other alternative except to change the crop pattern.

As various national and international agencies have already cautioned the Himachal Pradesh government that the five major glaciers located in Kinnaur bordering Tibet and in Lahual and Spiti areas of state are melting with fast speed for the past five years because of impacts of global warming. The state government should take it very seriously and precautionary measures should be taken up to check the eco imbalances. A study conducted by Industrial & Technological experts of union government in this field reveals that most disturbing global environmental problems today is the steady and long term increase in atmospheric concentrations of so –called green-house gases such as carbon dioxide , methane, nitrogen and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). The substantial increases or decreases in greenhouse gases are likely to induce climate changes within a matter of decades, with possibly devastating consequences for several countries and India will be worst effected. It is also reported that the world energy system is responsible for more than half the anthropogenic gas emissions. As such the majority of the emissions are due to fossil fuel use, representing about 75 % of the total energy use .

The state government in assistance with various private companies have taken up execution of 60 power projects in the state and some of them are likely to be completed by the end of this year. Though this is a good beginning for the state but no studies have been conducted on the "Evaluation of Environmental Implications" and incorporation of necessary safeguards for the activities having a bearing on environmental quality. The state has also totally overlooked the roll of natural resources in the execution of these projects. The state government has given stress for technical feasibility and economic returns from these projects but low priority has been given for minimum environmental degradation and prevention of long term environmental side effects. No study has been conducted on the fast melting of glaciers in the state so far. Despite repeated warning from several environmental organization state is a silent spectator.

A Pune based NGO working in this field say that the main reason for sudden change in rain pattern in Himachal, is attributed to the reckless and unscientific mining, quarrying combined with construction of big power projects, cement plants, roads and buildings. The say that illegal mining and quarrying in the state has been going on unchecked for the past many years which further contributed to the environmental imbalances. The installation of two major cement plants the state have further deteriorated the situation. The dust, smoke and silt coming out of these plants has become a major environmental hazard. Besides, over five thousand trucks working in these plants have also become heavy source of pollution.

The study also revealed that because of environmental imbalances over 50000 hectares of land has very seriously been affected by mining and other construction activities. The large scale destruction of state's forest wealth by illegal and legal mining have resulted in severe drought and flash floods in past few years. The report based on this study says that the Kinnaur, Solan, Shimla and Bilaspur districts which fall in the catchments areas of Sutlej are the worst affected where reckless mining has played a havoc with nature. The report has cautioned the state government as well as Union government with serious consequences if timely measure are not taken to check the environmental hazard.

The report has put question mark on the future of Bhakhra and Pong dams built at very high cost since no steps has been taken in past for large scale energy plantation in the catchments areas of rivers Sutlej and Beas as recommended by various government and non government agencies. Its capacity to hold water is falling year after year because of heavy siltation caused by destruction of forest, mining and other activities in its catchments areas. Unless these activities are stopped a large scale of silt would continue to flow into these dams every year. The report says that the bed of both the dams have risen by four to five meters and nearly three times more sediments had flowed into these dams reducing the life to one third.

The report expressed concern that even the directions of Apex Court were kept aside and no action was initiated by the government in this regard. It may be recalled that construction of over one dozen small and big hydel projects are going on in the catchments areas of these two rivers and entire mud, silt and sand in tons is being flown to the rivers daily.

It is an open fact that the Himachal Pradesh government has no environment policy, therefore construction activities on the hills and other mass movements have caused irreparable loss to human environment. Sutlej Valley falling between Kinnaur and Bilaspur regions which at one time used to be covered with green forest and was rich in flora and fauna have gone barren because of reckless mining, construction of big power projects and cement plants. In Beas valley falling between Manali and Mandi, large scale destruction of forests have been reported in past fifteen years.

It is most unfortunate that state government, owners of the cement plants and other power project companies in the state are hands in glove, therefore all restrictions imposed by the environmentalists are over ruled just to grant favors to these big industrial houses. Files dealing with such cases move fast in the state government It is an open fact that despite stiff opposition from various environmental groups and media, two years ago the state government granted sanction to one of the cement plants to axe 10000 trees to facilitate the extraction of lime stone from forests. The rampant corruption in state government have further deteriorated the situation.

It is on record that the state government has been facing a grave situation and has suffered losses worth crore of rupees, it seems still it has not learnt any lesson. Still it has given nod for setting up of two more cement plants in Chamba and Mandi districts recently. Besides, it has also granted lease to a big industrial house to extract lime stone from Arki tehsil of Solan district for commercial use and carry it to outside the state. If these three plants are installed in the state, it would further uproot thousand of people and create environmental imbalances in 20,000 hectares of land.

The cement plants and extraction of lime stone in the state has not given much revenue to the state, rather it has caused large scale destruction of natural resources and turned the green hills into barren. It may be recalled that the cement plants have been availing complete tax holidays therefore they are getting total Income-tax as well as Sales tax exemptions causing loss of crore of rupees to the state exchequer. Even in next ten years no revenue is expected from these cement plants.

The time has come, the state government should form a strong environment policy. The present disaster created by the nature in the state should be treated as an eye opener and the environment has emerged as a question of survival of human race in this hill state. It should have to be over and above the politics.

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