“If we don’t study from the tragedies of the previous, we’re cursed to repeat them sooner or later,” proclaims the house web page of the web site of the Himachal Pradesh State Catastrophe Administration Authority.

To make sure that the irony isn’t misplaced on both the creator or the customer of the web site, simply above the quote is a ticker flashing a sequence of main disasters which have the state, from the 1905 earthquake within the Kangra area to the cloudbursts of latest years. This info consists of the morbid particulars of the variety of lives misplaced, property harm and financial prices, displaying an simple, if unintended, sample of loss and neglect. 

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Himachal Pradesh is credited with having the most effective State Catastrophe Administration Plans within the nation. The truth is, just a few years in the past, the federal government of India had suggested different states to emulate Himachal Pradesh. Aid operations too are carried out with a good diploma of alacrity and responsiveness. But Himachal Pradesh falls nicely in need of worldwide finest requirements.

A well-drafted plan doc and post-event response can’t absolve the state of its complicity within the deaths of residents and the lack of useful private and non-private property. The place has the state gone flawed in its strategy to managing disasters that now recur too regularly?

Nature Takes Its Toll

Perched on the Himalayas, the youngest and probably the most fragile mountain system on this planet, Himachal Pradesh is predisposed to hazards and calamities. Whereas it’s blessed with an abundance of wealthy pure sources, Himachal Pradesh is among the most disaster-prone states within the nation. Nature — within the type of earthquakes, cloudbursts, flash floods and landslides — takes its toll right here.

In July, 14 individuals died and 4 went lacking after flash floods ripped by means of the state. The identical month, a boulder rolled downhill, killing 9, whereas one other collapsed a bridge. In August, at the very least 11 died and as much as 30 individuals have been reported lacking following a landslide that buried passing automobiles. In winter, avalanches are an everyday prevalence, inflicting demise and destruction.

Himachal Pradesh can also be susceptible to earthquakes. Since January 2019, at the very least 14 earthquakes have been recorded, the most recent one simply yesterday. None of them have killed anybody or precipitated vital harm, however the state has skilled a few of the most disastrous earthquakes in historical past. The Kangra earthquake of 1905 killed 20,000 individuals. Different main quakes have adopted, and scientists estimate that Himachal Pradesh could possibly be hit with an earthquake of excessive magnitude equal to or larger than 8.0 on the Richter scale.

In July, the state authorities estimated that 187 individuals had died and 4 had gone lacking due to pure disasters and accidents within the transient interval starting June 13 and ending July 27. These occasions killed 381 animals and precipitated damages of a staggering 4 billion rupees ($54 million). The floods and landslides that adopted have elevated these numbers considerably.

Unnatural Disasters

It’s clear that pure disasters have precipitated Himachal Pradesh a lot grief and destruction. Consultants are more and more declaring that human exercise has worsened these excessive occasions. I take the view that anthropogenic actions are a larger hazard to lives, property and definitely the surroundings than pure disasters.

Due to this fact, as a primary step, we must always cease utilizing the phrase “pure catastrophe,” which absolves people of any accountability. Lately, most disasters are typically man-made. In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, killing roughly 250,000 individuals and rendering greater than 1 million homeless.

That yr, an earthquake of similar magnitude hit New Zealand however resulted in no casualties and precipitated negligible loss to property. Between the years 2011 and 2012, 5 main earthquakes, all with a magnitude larger than 7.0, rattled Japan. But the nation suffered solely 13 casualties. The explanation for the totally different demise charges in Haiti, New Zealand and Japan is man-made constructions.

Earthquakes don’t kill individuals — badly designed buildings most definitely do. In poor nations, constructing codes are sometimes rudimentary or not adopted by means of. Constructing supplies are of inferior high quality and the work itself shoddy. Governments usually push for extra development within the identify of growth for populist causes, disregarding environmental components. Such poor practices result in catastrophe in case of occasions like earthquakes and floods.

Low-cost and Straightforward

Few know that the interventions required for catastrophe prevention are absurdly easy. Planting timber on slopes, particularly soil binding species, is the best technique to stem soil erosion and stop landslides. But for some inexplicable motive catastrophe administration authorities in India favor constructing retaining partitions to include soil erosion.

One other intervention that has confirmed efficient is to keep away from chopping off the toe of a mountain slope whereas setting up buildings or roads. But toes of slopes are frequently lower to assemble highways all throughout the nation, and Himachal Pradesh isn’t any exception. By chopping off the toes of slopes, Indian street makers are creating synthetic vertical elevations with steeper slopes resulting in landslides.

On slopes, good, clear and unclogged roadside drains assume nice significance. Sadly, roadside drainage methods in India go away loads to be desired. Within the Himalayas, drains are regularly clogged with rubble and, much more worryingly, plastic.

In a 2020 article, Satya Prakash Negi, a senior officer within the Indian Forest Service, identified how plastics threaten the Himalayan surroundings. They now litter hills, mountains and rivers. Plastic absorbs warmth, blocks pure water channels and causes floods in addition to landslides that harm roads and property, resulting in avoidable deaths.

However maybe the most important menace in mountain areas is unregulated, reckless and sometimes unlawful mining in riverbeds. Mountain roads invariably have quite a few bridges that span riverbeds. Harmful mining usually goes on proper underneath our noses or, extra precisely, underneath our bridges.

Such mining results in catastrophe throughout pure calamities. Usually, the very companies that have been making the most of harmful mining make a killing from post-disaster development contracts, making a mockery of regulation and justice.

Vested Indifference

The prevalence of pure disasters begs a easy query: Why have India’s policymakers did not implement zero-cost interventions and precautions to save lots of lives and property? Is it due to apathy, or are there vested pursuits at play?

These questions are finest answered by analyzing one explicit catastrophe. In 2017, an entire mountain snapped and buried alive 50 individuals in Kotrupi village on the Mandi-Pathankot freeway in Himachal Pradesh. Components of the freeway have been washed away, smaller landslides adopted; the world suffered flooding as nicely. But the very subsequent day a gaggle of faculty college students insisted on strolling by means of the catastrophe website as a substitute of taking a route that will have added half-hour to their journey.

The following day, I noticed teams of individuals posing for pictures in the midst of the river with no concern for security. That vignette stamped indelibly in my reminiscence captures the indifference to disasters among the many Indian public. This indifference is on the root of the nation’s poor catastrophe administration insurance policies.

There are two different anecdotes that seize this very peculiar Indian indifference. A couple of years in the past, I used to be on the World Financial institution for a gathering. A fireplace alarm sounded, and your entire constructing was evacuated. 1000’s of individuals got here out and assembled in designated areas outdoors. This was merely a hearth drill, however everybody took it critically.

We deliberate an analogous drill within the state authorities headquarters in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. The primary date needed to be postponed due to a ministerial go to. The second went forward however senior officers refused to depart the constructing. They prioritized their recordsdata over the train. If these in commanding authorities roles don’t take security critically, what message does it ship to different authorities servants and the general public?

Vested pursuits additionally play a job in exacerbating disasters. Those that get development contracts usually grease the palms of those that give them out. Those that are successful contracts to construct retaining partitions argue in opposition to tree plantations. These working towards partaking in harmful mining actions persist as a result of it brings them revenues and income. Personal profit trumps public curiosity and ultimately leads to tragedy when catastrophe strikes.


Aside from apathy and vested pursuits, one other issue is at play: populism. Encroachment on public lands to construct personal properties is an issue frequent to growing nations from Brazil and Kenya to Bangladesh and Indonesia. India isn’t any exception. Politicians searching for votes usually promise the “regularization” of such encroachment. For sure, the personal properties which can be usually little greater than shanties are hardly ever protected. They’re constructed on lands that have been imagined to haven’t any buildings and don’t comply with security rules.

As a authorities official, I got here throughout an incident the place individuals had constructed properties over public drains. Building over public utilities, particularly drains, was prohibited underneath the regulation, but individuals had flouted it merrily. When discuss of imposing the regulation arose, protests broke out.

The truth that stormwater would wash away properties, generally of their entirety, if the drains have been blocked didn’t wash with the protesters. Some politicians took the aspect of the protesters and put stress on officers to show Nelson’s eye to the breach of planning rules.

This case is repeated many times all throughout the nation. Indian authorities are cautious of imposing any planning rules in city areas. For rural areas, they hardly ever hassle to even draft such rules. The political class helps “regularizing” unauthorized constructions as a result of it’s a vote winner. These whose properties are retrospectively legalized are likely to vote for politicians who pushed the measure by means of. All the things goes swimmingly till catastrophe strikes, buildings collapse and folks die.

What India wants isn’t solely a catastrophe administration plan like Himachal Pradesh’s but additionally a cool examination of the causes of such disasters. Public apathy should finish. We should confront vested pursuits and put public profit over personal revenue, and politicians should have a look at longer-term horizons as a substitute of some votes within the subsequent election. For a begin, India should transfer away from pouring ever extra concrete on its slopes to planting extra timber that save the soil and permit us to bask within the cool shadows of our hills.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.

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