Had a ringside view to the best and worst of nature and humanity the last 5 days. Coordinated the efforts of multiple agencies in emergency rescue and evacuation across 5 districts of Kerala. As of 3 pm today, close to 97% people in the worst hit areas have been evacuated to camps and we closed our helpline number. The district administrations will continue to provide all necessary assistance should any evacuation need arises using the services of Government agencies. Thank you all for giving us the privilege to be of assistance to you and for making us human again. For all our sake, I hope this never happens again.
Did not have a chance to see the social media wars till now for obvious reasons. My brother Ram Shankar called in the afternoon and asked me some questions based on what he saw in social media. That disturbed me and I felt that I should take the time to write before this I sleep, hence this:
Is this a Disaster or Calamity?
They are synonyms and mean the same. This is probably better termed a disaster because of the “sudden” nature of the event. You can call it whatever you want, doesn’t matter.
What is the process to handle such an event?
Rescue, Relief and Rehabilitate. Rescue and Relief start more or less together though all attention will be on rescue to minimize loss of lives to begin with and then relief takes over. Food, water, clothing, medicine and temporary accommodation is provided as relief. Rehabilitation efforts may take years depending on severity of disaster.
Who are the agencies/stakeholders?
State Government, Central Government, State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), uniformed forces of the State Government like police, fire force etc., , National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Defense forces of India, Paramilitary forces of India, volunteer agencies and citizen volunteers. The chain of command is also in the same order as I have written it. There is a clear chain of command in every district from the Collector to the Village officer playing a clear and defined role in terms of duties and responsibilities. In short, they know what they are doing.
Should the defense forces have been given full charge as some have suggested?
I seriously doubt the SDRF or the NDRF would have suggested to the State Government to do that. Knowledge of local conditions and terrain is critical in situations like floods to affect rescues. Who better than the local postman to pinpoint locations of houses and to provide critical information like how many people in a house. Also, the defense forces themselves would NOT have agreed to something like that as they understand the enormous advantage that the local administration brings to situations like this.
Should this be notified as a national disaster/calamity?
I was associated in rescue and evacuation efforts during the Chennai floods as well. The same question was posed and I clarified with NDRF and then Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. There is no such thing as declaring anything as a “National Disaster” or a “National Calamity”. It is just political nonsense. There is nothing in any rule book of State or Central Governments that enable them to declare something as a National or State disaster/calamity. Why are people harping on this? Primarily ignorance and disinformation by vested interests that such a declaration enables larger assistance packages esp. monetary.
That this disaster was man made and Kerala deserved it:
Ignorance of basic facts among people in social media is not news, so I will not rant about that. Some basic facts:
Rivers – 44
Backwaters – 900 sqkms
Reservoirs – 42
Tanks/Pools/Smaller water bodies and catchment areas including check dams – Too many to count
Yes, we are water rich and proud of it. For those of you who don’t have it, being jealous is not going to help your case.
But seriously, why did it happen? IMD website has the answer, 30% excess rainfall! 2086mm of it. 832.2 mm is what it rained in Karnataka during the same time and Coorg and 7 other districts have been declared flood hit.
Yes, we have done enormous damage to the western ghats as is evident from the number of landslides and we should do something about it for sure. I am sure even Mr. Gadgil and Mr. Kasturirangan will agree that this particular deluge was because of excess rain
How can people help?
Rescue should be done only by trained professionals. Amateurs can help to an extent. Jeepers associations, Swimmers, Adventure Clubs, NCC, NSS, School and College Police Clubs are some examples of where these rescuers could potentially come from. Cometh the time, cometh the hero they say! This time it was the Fisherfolk!! That they can play a huge role is something they just proved with this disaster! Taking nothing away also from the agencies who sent trained volunteers like the RSS, MES, Lions, Rotary, Jaycees, CMI Youth Congregation, SNDP, DYFI, AIYF and Seva Dal.
Relief: All individuals and organizations can and should participate. Please coordinate your efforts with the local administration. They are the people with the necessary expertise and experience in relief operations. They will guide you. Relief efforts invariably fail when there are issues with coordination. The best way to contribute to the relief efforts is through the CM Relief Fund https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/.
Rehabilitation: This takes time and depends on the extent of damage and loss of life. Assessments made by the State Government and Central Government and a joint plan will be executed through various agencies.
Who did not help?
Leaders who become overwhelmed; Chengannur MLA is an example of a leader who despite leading from the front made life difficult for everybody by saying unnecessary things
Leaders who have no idea of what they are saying and don’t know ground reality. Trivandrum MP decided that a specific day was the last that people would be rescued alive and tweets about it
Idiots who blame Gods
Arm chair disasters – I mean the disaster experts, generals, specialist and everyone who thinks their opinions should matter though they don’t know jack shit.
Hate mongers and political trolls – What can I say?
Social media mavens – Go get a life. There is life beyond the virtual
Social media users – Well intentioned and noble idiots who think they are saving lives by hitting like and forwarding every piece of junk that somebody sends them without verifying
Who did help?
Vishal Venugopal who lost his life after saving 18 others and probably many more like him. He was part of a team that we coordinated with so we know. We don’t know the others who have lost their lives
Countless volunteers who sat through night and day collecting data, verifying and coordinating rescue efforts
The ones that actually put their life at risk by dong the rescues
Random strangers whose kindness to a fellow human being made difference between life and death
The “Bhaiyyas” from West Bengal, Odisha, Nepal and North Eastern states who came to support and help us in our time of need
The entire state and people of Kerala everywhere else in the world who came together to do what was needed without asking questions
Nameless thousands who worked shoulder to shoulder to ensure that lives were not lost
The entire central and state government machinery for proving that it can deliver when needed
Why should we be proud of this?
Hurricane Katrina, USA 2005 – 1425 people
Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan 2011 – 15823 people
Uttrakhand Flash Flood, India 2013 – 5210 people
Total Population of Kerala – 3.48 crores
Total lives lost due to deluge – 324
Districts affected – 14
You do the math…….
And Finally; Every 70 or so years, destiny sends us something to remind us that despite all our differences and issues with each other, we are human and that we have something very intrinsic called humanity and compassion. This time destiny could not have asked for a better messenger than this deluge. She did her job with such precision, destiny had to imprison her in the matted locks of Shiva because of the fear that anymore free hand and she may drown destiny itself ala Ganga!
I am going to sleep now, Peacefully! Tomorrow I reckon will be a good day.