The tragedy in Nepal has struck closer to home with Assam losing seven female pilgrims in the Himalayan disaster. The toll for the State is likely to rise with many still missing in the quake-hit country. These are excruciatingly painful times for the families of the departed and the missing, and our hearts go out to them. They need all support possible from the State administration, apart from the helplines, special information cell and the State police ADG coorditing evacuation efforts in Kathmandu. A team of army doctors from Tezpur has also been dispatched to Nepal to assist the injured Assamese people there. The State has a thriving Nepali-Gurkha community and what happens in the Himalayan kingdom will surely have an impact here. The overall death toll in Nepal has already soared above 3,700, with rescue teams yet to reach the epicentre in Lamjung district two days after the quake. Most of the mountain roads to Lamjung are believed to have been cut off by continuing landslides. Many villages near the epicenter have been reportedly razed to the ground, with homeless survivors starving in the open.
As part of India’s ‘Operation Maitri’, its military transport planes, helicopters and heavy carriers are being deployed to distribute tonnes of foodstuffs and relief materials. More than 2,500 Indians have been evacuated, with at least 30 among them hailing from Assam. Prime Minister rendra Modi has taken to social media to thank Indian armed forces, NDRF teams, doctors and volunteers joining the relief operations in Nepal. With the intertiol community coorditing its efforts to help Nepal, estimates about the damage to its economy and cost of reconstruction have become a major issue. Reportedly this cost may exceed 5 billion in dollar terms, which is around 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. With its economy primarily dependent on agriculture, tourism and remittances from abroad, Nepal has a long way to go on the road to recovery. With Nepal owing 3.8 billion dollars to foreign lenders, the chorus is growing louder for the Intertiol Monetary Fund to coordite with the World Bank and other lending agencies to give debt relief to the quake-hit country. The Asian Development Bank has already announced an immediate 3 million dollar grant to Nepal for relief efforts and pledged up to 200 million dollars for the first phase of rehabilitation. With Chi overtaking India last year as Nepal’s largest foreign investor, it will be interesting to see how Beijing responds to New Delhi’s efforts to help the Himalayan tion.
Situated in the highest seismically active Zone V, will Assam and other Northeast States take lessons from the Nepal catastrophe? The Assam State Disaster Magement Authority has revealed that many government buildings, hospitals and schools have neglected safety measures even after a joint survey by ASDMA and Assam Engineering College in July last year revealed structural weaknesses. The attitude to disaster magement is so lacking in seriousness that most Assam government departments are yet to prepare their own contingency plans, compulsory under Section 14 of the Disaster Magement Act, 2005. Even most of the offices of deputy commissioners in the districts were found having structural problems and lacking disaster magement facilities. Most of the 600 schools and 40 hospitals surveyed are located in Guwahati, and it is suspected that their authorities are reluctant to go for retrofitting buildings because it will be costly. But at least they can adopt other non-structural safety measures to make some sort of a beginning. With Guwahati in high-risk category because of its population density and substandard high-rises, the ASDMA is now planning an open space mapping of the city in three months, using drones and satellite imagery, so that people know where to go when a disaster strikes. Tha-level contingency plans are also in the ASDMA’s to-do list. It is high time the denizens of Guwahati realise how unplanned their city is, how unprepared it is to face disasters. This is an unfortute legacy of the 1970s, when the State capital shifted from Shillong to Dispur. Administrative buildings were raised almost overnight, while the major chunk of the population settled haphazardly. Rampant commercialisation with little regard to building norms have complicated the situation almost beyond repair. If the ‘next big one’ is to strike India next as some seismologists are predicting, the Assam government needs to take earthquake mitigation measures seriously.