Herald: Is anyone out there?

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14 Jul 2018 04:53am IST
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14 Jul 2018 04:53am IST

The cells meant to help citizens during times of crisis are not trained adequately to respond to crisis and are all basically at a loss trying to co-ordinate with each other, Vrishank Mahatme highlights the state of affairs

As Goa witnesses flooding, landslides and uprooting of trees, the question as to who is to be blamed for the annual mishaps is a matter of debate.  Stating that they are prepared to face any emergency, the District Disaster Management Authority North Goa, says it has been coordinating with all the related departments and agencies and are on their toes. 

The recent continuous rains had paralysed the entire state of Goa, to such an extent that there was flooding and tree uprooting cases reported from the worst imagined areas. Teams of the North Goa District Disaster Management Response (DDMR) were pressed into service with mamlatdars and talathis rushing to various sites from where flooding or other incidents were reported. Sources also said that residents living at vulnerable places have been asked to be vigilant and evacuate to a safer place in case of emergency. Fire & Emergency Services (FES) received more than 50 calls from both districts, majority of which were related to flooding, landslides and water logging. 

Goa has already experienced flash floods at Canacona almost five years ago. Thereafter there has been an almost annual occurrence of floods, though the scale of devastation caused may vary. This is a grim reminder about the State’s susceptibility to natural calamities and ill preparedness of the administration to handle such disasters despite their claim. The State government had constituted a committee to decide on conducting disaster awareness and management activities at the district and community level. The Centre also asked all State governments to be better prepared for natural disasters to reduce their impact which have already claimed 2,200 lives and economic loss to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore across the country.  However, people have expressed dissatisfaction that the teams only reach the site after the disaster has occurred and not months before to prevent it. They have also claimed that not many drills were conducted to train people in case of emergency specially in the disaster-prone area. Further, the clogging of existing drainage and lack of more drainage in the capital, he said, could spell doom. High intensity rains and incoming high tides have shown the vulnerability of Panjim to flooding in the past. The converting of Portuguese-constructed service road from Kala Academy-Panjim jetty, to a footpath has also been criticized. The scientists blame the emergence of hundreds of private encroachments since 1975 as a major setback of Santa Inez creek.  

Experts also say that two serious disaster scenarios in the near future with one involving low lying areas where high intensity rains coupled with incoming high tide could flood the city and weaken the foundations of many buildings, and the second being massive slope instability of the twin Altinho hillocks - the Conception hillock close to the Mandovi waterfront and the Guimares hillock close to Zuari waterfront.  

“Nobody has considered the impact of a heavy downpour on soft lateritic clayish, bauxite rich subsoil of these hillocks. All the houses on slopes of these twin hillocks would collapse due to the sinking of the weak foundations if it rains with an intensity of 50 mm per hour for one or two days. That would displace about 20,000 people from Bhatlem, Chincholem, Fontainhas, Mala, Boca da Vaca and Santa Inez permanently.” the expert said. The Disaster Management Cell by itself does not have a dedicated disaster management team and has to rely on line departments like the fire brigade, police and the department of civil defence and home guards to get into action and effect rescue operations at the affected areas. The fire brigade has the equipment and trained manpower, the police are trained in their duty while the civil defence volunteers also train on and off. 

However, most people involved in these departments – unfortunately off the record – say that they are there when called. But admit that they have not been trained together on a regular basis and only do so when the disaster management people from Delhi come down and hold their exercises once in a while. Speaking to Herald, Revenue Minister and Disaster Management Authority Vice-Chairman Rohan Khaunte said, “Unlike earlier wherein disaster management was not given much of a focus, we being a tourism state having much potential to ensure the disasters don’t happen fortunately nothing has happened but we should be ready, this year we have taken a lot of things, one that is have floated a part for AOC- command control rooms which I have already set up in north and south, emergency operation centre’s, the RFP for which has already been floated which has all these preventive measures to be taken whether it’s a censors to be put up meaning if flooding are about to take place these censors will indicate that you may have a emergency cause.”

He said, “North Collector, south collector who are in charge of the administration has been able to take control. First time helpline numbers at taluka levels have been floated and circulated to wide across the citizens. The next step is to include a citizen approach where we are trying to pitch in self help groups, senior citizens to involve them at village levels asking village panchayatsto participate, having emergencies operational requirements at panchayat levels are being grouped in this forthcoming year. So as far as disaster management is concerned we have taken an immediate call where I am personally monitoring this type of issues as per as the weather and the things go.”

Meanwhile, The Goa Police say that they are an assisting unit in the entire process of rescue operations. They say that their ancillary unit, civil defence, is a trained force. They are also a part of the disaster management team and coordinate with all the related agencies to tackle the situation. Different types of training imparted to new recruits while also during the course of service, also includes skills to handle such crisis. As soon as they get emergency call(s) during natural calamities or disasters, we quickly forward the message and coordinate with the related agencies.  

The Fire and Emergency Services (FES) department has also said that ready to tackle any emergency, besides imparting training for various disasters/calamities, the department – also a regional training centre – has already trained  Goan fire personnel in swift water/flood rescue operations. It may be recalled that the Revenue Minister Rohan Khaunte, who is also vice chairman of state disaster management authority, had said that there is an urgent need to have a holistic disaster management plan for Goa. 

However from the duties of the disaster management cells which are prevention and preparedness, response operations, coordination, rehabilitation and community awareness and involvement the very prevention is not being looked into.

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