June 29, 2013

CAG nails lack of disaster alert system

The Uttarakhand calamity has highlighted how advanced communication technology, though available with the government, was not deployed either for preparing for it or for quick response. There were no early warning systems, and once disaster struck, no communication system worked for several days as mobile networks collapsed. A recent CAG report higlights massive failure in harnessing communication technology for disaster alerts.

Why can't our country's well known prowess in space, IT and communication technologies be used for disaster management? A recent CAG report provides the answer: a series of half completed projects, bungled attempts, turf wars and lack of will to get ready for disasters.

So, what happened in Uttarakhand could very well happen elsewhere. After all, 60% of the country is prone to earthquakes of moderate to high intensity, 40 million hectares is prone to floods, 5,700 km coast is prone to cyclones and tsunamis and the whole Himalayas are prone to landslides.

The department of space was to have created a National Database for Emergency Management (NEDM) combining satellite imagery with ground level data. All possible natural and man-made disasters would be covered in it. Started in 2006 it was to be completed by 2011. Till June 2012, Rs 6.34 crore had been spent on data collection and Rs.9.8 crore on buildings, according to a recent CAG report. But the project is non-operational.

Meanwhile, the national disaster management authority proposed a parallel national disaster management informatics system (NDMIS) using GIS data. This is still under consideration by the home ministry.

Satellite imagery for 224 million hectares (mha) out of a target of 320 mha has been collected but since the servers for housing the data are not installed, the data is not available for use. Similarly, a GIS-based database on 169 districts that are prone to multiple hazards is not yet completed, although the coastal districts (prone to tsunami and cyclones) have been covered. But the data is not available for use because computer infrastructure is non-operational, the CAG has revealed. A detailed GIS dataset for six mega cities (Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Mumbai) was to be prepared but it was completed for only the first three, and that too is not available for users.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) was to have used the Airborne Laser Terrain Mapping and Digital Camera (ALTM-DC) to take detailed photographs of 5 lakh square kilometers of flood prone areas in the country. This data could be very useful in determining risks, developing risk zones and hence planning for floods. After spending Rs 23 crore on buying the hi-tech equipment, only 38,020 sq km has been covered till 2012.

Similarly, a synthetic aperture radar for use when satellite systems are non-operational was bought for Rs 20 crore but it is still not operational. It can be used to forecast floods and also during flooding.

One of the most important elements of disaster management - a secure communication network - was planned, linking the prime minister, the home ministry, down to state control rooms and ultimately, district emergency operation centers (EOCs). It was to become operational by December 2005, but the CAG discovered that it is still a work in progress, although all equipment was bought six years ago for Rs.6.7 crore. Some of the reasons for this state of affairs were shocking: the equipment could not be set up at the PM's residence because permission to enter the premises has not been given; in Mumbai, the equipment got burnt in the Mantralaya fire; in Shimla, the antenna fell off the roof.

A parallel National Disaster Communication Network based on existing NICNET and other networks was mooted by the home ministry in 2007 but is yet to see the light of the day.

Five Doppler Weather Radars for giving early warning of cyclones, hailstorms, high winds etc were to be set up jointly by the met and space departments. These are yet to be installed after seven years and spending of Rs 35.64 crore.
-  Times of India

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