Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jan 14, 2005
Industry & Economy
Bhuj experience proves useful in Andamans
Bhuj/Gandhinagar , Jan.13
COMPARISONS between the devastating Bhuj earthquake four years ago and the December 26 quake-triggered tsunami that struck the southern States and swamped islands in the Andamans archipelago are bound to happen.
But there was one silver lining in the latest disaster - the experience gained four years ago came in handy for relief agencies such as the armed forces and the Gujarat administration, as also certain non-governmental organisations working in relief and rescue operations. The Gujarat Government was quick to dispatch a team of rescue workers and supplies of food, water, medicines and communication equipment a day after the tsunami hit. That was followed by tents, bamboo sticks and galvanized iron sheets to provide temporary shelter to the affected people.
A communication team was sent to Port Blair to set up communication channels, which included coordinating ham radio operators who are engaged in providing vital support, says Mr S.K. Pandya, Director (Relief) in the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA).
"Having faced the situation four years ago, we were aware of the exact needs of the affected people. We know what is needed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and what kind of supplies would be needed 10 days after the tragedy," says Mr Pandya.
Agrees Colonel O.P. Gulia, the commanding officer of a Bihar Regiment unit based at Bhuj. Col Gulia, who had been posted in Bhuj when the quake hit, told Business Line that the biggest problem in the aftermath of a disaster is communication and coordination.
"We had aircraft and trucks simply dumping supplies and running away. What was to be done with those supplies and who was to distribute them was anybody's guess. Trucks were dispatched here and there and we found that one village received a consignment of lanterns and another received a truckload of blankets," Col Gulia said.
Hours after the quake, the army was out on its own, trying to extricate people from the rubble. But lack of expertise in tackling such situations was a problem. The army base at Bhuj became a open-air hospital and hundreds of patients were brought in. "We did not have any training in rescue operations. I remember that we used a vehicle jack to raise a beam to pull out a man trapped under the rubble. Later, we found that there were far more sophisticated ways of pulling out people from under the rubble," says Col Gulia.
The experience gained at Bhuj did come in handy in the Andamans and coastal areas where the army got into relief and rescue operations after the tsunami struck. While the soldiers who had participated in the Bhuj relief works were not flown to South India, the collective knowledge of the armed forces ensured that the relief works were more effective.
Incidentally, the Indian Air Force, which was the worst affected among the three defence services in both the Bhuj and tsunami tragedies, was instrumental in providing logistical support to the civilian administration in the recent tragedy.
"IAF transport aircraft and helicopter units based in Baroda and Jamnagar have actively participated in carrying out relief and rescue operations in the Andamans and Tamil Nadu," says Defence public relations officer, Wing Commander T.K. Singha. As the dust on the tsunami tragedy settles, the real rehabilitation work will begin. There again, the Gujarat Government has offered to help.
"What people do not realise is that there are two phases of a tragedy of such a magnitude. The first priority is relief and rescue. But a month or so after the tragedy, rehabilitation has to start. That is where we are hoping that we will get a call and will be able to contribute our expertise," says Mr Kaushik Thanki, the Chief Executive Officer of Bhuj Area Development Authority (Bhada). Bhada has been engaged in rehabilitation of the quake-hit areas of Kutch and has virtually rebuilt Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau and other smaller towns in the district.
The rehabilitation works are likely to be completed by next year, full five years after the quake hit on January 26, 2001.
A Gujarat Government team has simultaneously started working on the long-term requirements of the people of the tsunami affected areas. "It is important for us to study what is needed and make sure that whatever efforts we make are acceptable to the intended beneficiaries.
That involves an understanding of the local conditions and the people," says Mr Pandya. Accordingly, the GSDMA sent a senior officer to make an on-the-spot assessment and is now preparing a report on what future interventions can be made by the state Government, he added.
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