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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

India ill-equipped to respond to Haiti-style disaster

Published on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 13:25   |  Updated at Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 14:27  |  Source : Reuters


Quake-prone India's lack of preparedness to deal with a Haiti-style earthquake will result in a poor and chaotic response with tens of thousands of casualties, the former U.N. chief responsible for immediate international disaster response said on Friday.

Arjun Katoch, former head of the U.N.'s Disaster Assessment and Coordination team (UNDAC) and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), said the country did not meet even the basic requirements for disaster response.

"When an earthquake of high magnitude strikes north India, as it certainly will, we will suffer tens of thousands of casualties and our response will be poor and chaotic," Katoch, an Indian national, told AlertNet in an interview.

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Northern India -- which includes the capital New Delhi, a mega-conurbation of 14.1 million people, and other major cities -- and the Himalayan region are one of the most seismically active zones in the world.

The region has an average of 6 to 8 earthquakes of around 4.0 magnitude per month and of 6.0 magnitude and above every 10 years, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

India's rapid economic growth over the last decade has seen massive unregulated urbanisation but emergency response preparations and building standards have not kept up with the changing reality of such changes.

"Construction standards across states like Uttaranchal, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam are substandard with very few buildings being earthquake resistant," said Katoch, adding that key buildings such as hospitals and fire stations needed to be updated to make them safer.

"The area is densely populated and casualties from a shallow earthquake of magnitude 7 as in Haiti would be likely to run into the hundreds of thousands."

The Jan 12 earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 people and left over one million homeless.

Poor Preparation

In the last two decades, India has experienced two devastating earthquakes.

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake tore threw the Latur district in Maharashtra in 1993, killing almost 8,000 people and injuring around 30,000.

Eight years later, Kutch in Gujarat was hit by a more powerful quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, killing around 20,000 people and injuring 167,000 people.

Key emergency responders are badly equipped to deal with such disasters, said Katoch.

Fire brigades -- the primary responders in disasters -- are poorly funded making them one of the most "outdated, ill-equipped and neglected" institutions in the country, said Katoch, and most fire services are headed by police who have no experience and little interest in disaster response.

India also does not have any urban search and rescue teams, which meet the required U.N. standards, to remove people from collapsed structures.

Katoch said such teams were crucial and when deployed in Haiti after the quake they rescued over 130 people from collapsed buildings. Moreover, the armed forces -- which are the mainstay of disaster response in many countries -- need to be given a greater role in decision making process on disaster management.

"The Indian Ocean tsunami, Pakistan earthquake, Haiti and now Chile are examples of the centrality of the armed forces in response, and to keep the Indian armed forces away from response preparedness planning is the height of folly," he said.

No Power

Katoch criticised the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which he said lacked the power and resources to carry out its mandate with even the smallest decisions requiring approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Most of the NDMA's senior officials lacked disaster management experience, he said, adding that the authority was basically "reduced to preparing guidelines that few read or implement."

He said it was essential that the NDMA be allowed to function on its own with a professional team of experts who have full authority and resources or it should be brought under the mandate of the home ministry - rather than having shared accountability which left no one responsible.

"As things stand, if an earthquake as in Haiti happened here, our response would certainly be better, but not by very much," he said.

"This is not because we lack experience or resources but because bureaucracy, turf issues and an unprofessional management approach prevent us from developing an integrated and professional system for response to disasters."

"The spread of mobile phones with cameras and exposure through new media sites such as Facebook and Twitterwill ensure that this poor response is seen by the world and this has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of government."

Katoch, who retired as head of UNDAC and INSARAG last December, oversaw the international response to over 140 disasters around the world for more than 10 years.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How fire safe is your child’s school building?

Fire Brigade's ongoing survey of private schools, to ascertain adherence to safety norms, paints an alarming picture

City's swank private school buildings, where your kids spend more than six hours every day, may not be fire safe. This was revealed by the Mumbai Fire Brigade which has initiated a thorough checking of all the school buildings in the city to ascertain whether they are following fire safety norms. 

    Out of approximately 1400 private schools fire brigade has surveyed more than 350 schools until now for fire safety norms. And many of these schools have failed to meet the standards laid down by the development control regulations of the BMC and fire brigade. 
    Manisha Mhaiskar-Patankar, additional municipal commissioner, elaborated, "We are fol
lowing Supreme Court's directive given in a fire accident in a school at Kumbakonam, Chennai, which claimed the lives of 90 students aged between five and nine on July 16, 2004." 
    She said that over a period of time, the (BMC) wants to cultivate a culture of total compliance to fire safety norms in the city. "So we are surveying all the schools in the city. If they are found violating the norms, Fire Act, 2005 which was implemented from the year 2009 will be invoked and suitable action will be taken against the school management. The Fire Act envisages all the buildings in the city are fire safe," Mhaiskar-Patankar said. 
    The survey involves gathering all the details of the school buildings in the city and presenting a report to the director 
of fire services. He will put together a state report and hand it over to the state government, which will then submit it to the Supreme Court. With 350 schools covered so far, the survey is only in the second stage. 
    Many private schools are built in small plots without enough open space around the buildings. This can be risky for the students in the event of fire accidents. 
    Uday Tatkare, chief fire officer said, "In our initial survey of the school buildings, we have found lacunas in the fire fighting system in several cases." 
    He said that the department is checking the means of escape in various school buildings. 
    "Especially in the centrally air-conditioned schools. We urge all schools to follow the stipulated norms for the sake of children's safety. If however, the schools refuse to comply, the report will be submitted to the civic authorities and the state government will take suitable action," Tatkare said. 


• Sufficient open space around the school building 

• Well-maintained, wide staircases 

• Easily covered distance from the classroom to the staircase 

• Wide common passage 

• Sufficient and easily accessible fire extinguishers 

• In case of AC schools, sufficient and well-placed smoke detectors and sprinklers

A file photo of firemen extinguishing a blaze at Goregaon (W)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Deadly mudslides bury 200 in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro: Some 200 people were feared dead in mudslides near Rio de Janeiro, officials said on Thursday, adding to woes in massive flooding that has already killed more than 150 people. 

    Twenty-five people, including eight small children, were pulled out alive early Thursday after spending hours buried under mud and debris, giving anxious relatives of those not yet found renewed hope, and rescuers inspiration to redouble their efforts. Some 150 rescue workers—soldiers, firefighters and civil defence workers—were at work in the search for more survivors. 
    "From what the neighbours said, some 200 people may be buried; there could be more," local fire chief Pedro Machado said on Thursday as crews responded to mudslides in Niteroi, a city across the bay from the city of Rio. He noted that six bodies were recovered following the mudslide on Wednesday. 
    Witnesses saw the collapse on Wednesday of a wide area of the hillside over some 700 metres, burying about 50 homes. Officials said there was little hope 
of finding survivors under the mountains of mud. 
    The six confirmed deaths raised the death toll to 151 in floods and mudslides in the area around Rio since Monday when torrential rains washed down slum-covered hillsides after the worst rains in half a century. The toll was likely to rise as dozens of people were still missing. AFP 

    More than 200 people were buried alive when a landslide ploughed into a slum in the city of Niteroi on Wednesday night 
The region has been pounded since Monday with the worst downpours in half a century

No water, food or medicines. Now, go fight ‘biggest threat’

CRPF Jawans Lament Pathetic Camp Conditions

Dornapal (Chhattisgarh): For six years now, the Indian government has gone red in the face proclaiming Maoists the single biggest threat to the country's security. Yet, India is sending its foot soldiers into battle on empty stomachs, often without adequate potable water and with almost no medical facilities. 

    CRPF men on the frontline of the war against Maoists say the red rebels are just one of the many threats they face. Jawans of the 62nd battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force holed up in Chintalnar camp, near the site of Tuesday's ambush that left 76 CRPF men dead, say they can defend themselves against another 
Maoist attack—but are powerless against malaria and poisonous reptiles—common scourges in the dense jungles that are their battleground. 
    Conditions at other camps aren't better either, the jawans said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 
    Several jawans claimed patrolling parties often have to go without food. "We are fighting in anti-insurgency mode. Army soldiers get dry fruit and other eatables in sufficient quantities during operations; we have to fight on empty stomachs, with dry throats. Our men need food that matches the task at hand,'' said a CRPF jawan. 
    "Malaria is one of the biggest challenges of living here. People frequently fall sick; some of us have had to proceed on sick leave. The non-availability of medical facilities has made matters worse,'' said a CRPF jawan staying in the camp. 
'Many ways in which our force can be better utilised' 
Dornapal (Chhattisgarh): Jawans of the 62nd CRPF battalion stationed at Chintalnar camp, near the site of Tuesday's ambush, say malaria and poisonous reptiles leave them powerless, particularly as medical facilities are almost zero. "Forget qualified doctors, there aren't even decent medicine shops. Local doctors prescribe the same regular medicines for (every) disease. The closest hospitals are far.'' 
    Apart from the lack of medical assistance, jawans also complained of being bitten by insects and snakes. "At night, you are not sure what may bite or sting you. Forget patrolling, one is not safe even in the camps,'' said a constable. 
    Water scarcity is another problem, and while there may be a few pumps, these are often rendered useless in the absence of power. "There is no surety that we will get drinking water. Sometimes we have to drink from the same pond that animals use to quench their thirst; we have to drink water from streams and rivers. The unhygienic living conditions are leading to disease (outbreaks) and many personnel are falling sick,'' said a jawan. TNN

LIVE-IN JOB: It's a checkpost, residential unit and sleeping arrangement, all rolled into one, at this SSB camp in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A dry run to tackle FLOOD-LIKE DISASTERS

Mateen Hafeez I TNN 

Mumbai: Monsoon may still be days away, but several government organisations teamed up on Tuesday to conduct a mock drill to assess their preparedness to tackle floods. Teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the fire brigade, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's disaster management cell as well as the civil defence gathered outside the Matunga police station to carry out the mock drill. 
    Though the focus of the exercise was floods, the teams conducted a 'dry run' under the King's Circle bridge. The drill, which began at 3 pm, lasted for an hour. "Our intention was to check how prepared and fit we are. The mock drill was conducted at an area which was severely affected in the 26/7 flood. We will now assess the results of the exercise,'' said brigadier B K Khanna, senior specialist, NDRF. 

    Several groups of BMC workers, mostly women, played the role of flood victims while members of the other groups from the fire brigade, the NDRF's divers and swimmers, rescued them. 
    The mock drill was a traffic stopper of sorts, with curious passersby—in taxis, cars and even BEST buses—thronging the 
site to see what was going on. Taxis, cars and even BEST buses halted. Though the traffic police had diverted several routes, much of their energy and time was spent in controlling vehicular movement. 
    Before the drill started, the NDRF personnel inflated a rubber boat in 15 minutes. In true street play fashion, three NDRF personnel donned diving gear and 'brought' the victims to safety. Other 'rescuers' in life jackets 
assisted in the entire operation. The flood victims, screaming bachao bachao, were rescued in three boats which later 'took' them to a safer place. A 25-yearold man, who was 'unconscious', was brought on a stretcher and three women doctors helped him regain conscious. He was given first aid. 
    Inspector P Sagar Kumar of the NDRF said, "We've come all the way from Pune; we don't have any office in Mumbai yet. We are identifying low-lying areas and will conduct mock drills to tell citizens what to do in disasterlike situations.'' 

TO THE RESCUE: Several groups of BMC workers, mostly women, played the role of flood victims while members of the other groups from the fire brigade, the National Disaster Response Force's divers and swimmers, rescued them. The mock drill, however, brought the traffic to a halt as curious passers-by stopped to have a look


: Officials of the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday seized mangoes from vendors who used calcium carbide to ripen the fruits. According to experts, usage of calcium carbide is extremely harmful to health. While mangoes worth Rs 1,91,400 were seized from a shop near Sindhuwadi at MG Road in Ghatkopar (E), another stock worth Rs 71,500 was seized from one more shop in the same area. The FDA is also planning a crackdown on shopkeepers who mix papaya or banana pulp in mango juice. FDA's joint commissioner (Mum) Suhas Choudhari said cases will be registered under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. Citizens can alert the FDA about such rackets on 2659-0686 or fax 26591959 —Yogesh Naik I TNN

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