Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Creating a Disaster Free City!

“Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, and disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things”… Daryn Kagan.
Daryn A. Kagan is an American broadcast journalist, formerly a news anchor for CNN. From 1994 to 2006, Kagan served as a CNN main anchor and correspondent based in CNN's world headquarters of Atlanta, Georgia. Though nearly four years back while writing my views about Uttaranchal floods, I have used above words yet some words of wisdom are such that one always gets benefitted whenever you recite them & Kagan’s above words are one such!  This time thankfully I am not writing about any disaster but it’s in reference with a workshop organized BNCA (prominent architectural college in Pune) when I have been invited to speak from a developers perspective about disasters! Well, I was thrilled as whatever disaster happens in this city most of the time it’s blamed on builder fraternity only! May it be by media or even masses as most are convinced that any bad thing happening to the city, it’s due to nexus of builders along with politicians & corrupt govt officers (its media’s term, pardon me if anybody offended). So on such background I am being invited as a builder to speak about disaster & its rescue operation as well pre-care is something unique & I grabbed this opportunity. Though it’s always difficult to narrate what you have spoke though with writing medium I will try to share my views as it reaches to larger spectrum & awareness about the disasters is the first step & a vital one which mostly we ignore. As it’s rightly said the best way to face the disaster is to avoid it; but how you can avoid something which you are not known about, is the question I will ask.

Here I will share a wonderful story from our age old “Jatak Katha” , actually if we read & adopt, stories from Panchatantra, Esap Niti & Jatak Katha then we will be able to avoid most of the disasters is what I personally feel. Well in a village set in deep forest there was a ferryman who used to earn his living by ferrying villagers to other shore of the river which divides the village from outré world. One day a Pandit (learned man) was visiting the village & sat in the boat, the ferryman started rowing the boat. After some distance the Pandit asked the poor ferryman has he read Vedas (Books wrote by ancient wise men about Hindu Mythology). Obviously the ferryman replied sheepishly, no he hasn’t; on this the Pandit said oh what a loss, and your quarter of life has been wasted! Near midway the Pandit asked ferryman again had he read Upanishadas (books about Hindu Philosophy), again the ferryman said no he hasn’t. Hearing this, the Pandit exclaimed dear lord; your half life has been wasted.  Suddenly in the meantime a storm breaks up & the boat got in water current & started swaying violently. Sensing the boat might topple; the ferryman asked the Pandit can he swim. On this the frightened Pandit said, no he can’t swim; hearing this, the ferryman said, Panditji, what a shame, your entire life is a waste now!

The story ends here & on the same line whenever we discuss or speak about disaster, we have all theory in place along with the so called disaster management committee which includes govt officials from every dept & many so called experts yet disasters keeps happening & every time the system fails to avoid it as well even in post action, is a fact! Like the Pandit in the story, we have all book knowledge but rarely all that theory comes useful in disaster time. For avoiding or facing any disaster we need to understand what disaster means & the ways it will hit us. Broadly you can categorize 1. Natural disasters i.e. flood, earth quake, hurricane even draught (no rains). 2. Manmade disasters i.e. fire, accidents like building collapse. 3. Public health disasters i.e. epidemic diseases like swine-flu or dengue as cholera & plague are gone now. 4. Environmental disasters like the entire Shanghai city came to stand still due to air pollution & there were chaos all around in China few years back; same thing happened in Delhi also; then there are landslides causing heavy life as well wealth damage. Or jungle fires which are common in Australia or even USA, a recent one in California covered entire west part of State. 5. And lastly terrorist attacks are also new age disasters only! As an engineer as well developer I am fairly well versed with our city & except hurricane or earthquake, mostly every other disaster is manmade or having human factor responsible for creating it, is what I feel. Even with number of dams on the Mula/ Mutha rivers, its only bad management of water discharge from the dams, encroachments on water ways (read, river bed & nallahs/stream across the city) as well loss of tree cover, are the main causes of flooding disasters & not just heavy rain fall!

So when we know nearly 80% of disasters are man driven then question is what we are doing to avoid them? Well answer is we just are happy to perform mock drills & writing reports & publishing advertises on radio/TV about our efforts but we are not doing anything for long term solutions to avoid the disasters! For e.g. see the traffic congestion on our city’s roads, causing air pollution, with Delhi or Shanghai pollution disasters in-front of our eyes, still Pune roads are getting chocked up by the thousands of new vehicles every day; what are we doing to stop that flow of vehicles which are emitting tons of CO2 every day & polluting the air we breathe? Or take the examples of hundreds of Old Wadas on the verge of collapse, in the city or even many buildings which need structural audit, all PMC or civic body does is issue notices or declares in media that structural audit is mandatory but who is doing it & what is outcome if some building is found unsafe? Well, our rulers loves to make popular announcements like regularizing illegal constructions but nobody likes to announce unpopular policies directly related to public safety, which are actually like dosage of medicines which tastes bad but unless you swallow it you won’t get cured is simple fact! Another such location awaiting a disaster is slum around Parvati hills along the Sinhagd road; one heavy rain & stage is perfectly set for a massive land slide which will be taking thousands of lives considering the illegal development saturated all along those slopes. As the entire vegetation above the slum lines has been destroyed eroding soil cover as well there is no safety/ barrier wall to guide the water flow coming from the hill top safely away from those hutments. At the same time buildings are mushrooming from other side of the Paravti hills as well at base & I am not a geologist yet digging of hill with all heavy machinery for those building’s foundation must be causing enough vibrations in the hill’s rock pattern to speed up land slide is what I can guess! Or even a fire in the numerous slums spread around the city also can be a major disaster, with no roads for fire engines at such locations, or no proper fire hydrants in place, what more we can expect! In all such cases post disaster the civic administration often issue a public statement whenever a wada or a building collapses that they have been informed about danger & a notice has been given to residents but is that all? Can’t we come up with a scheme where if you don’t get structural audit of your building then your property tax will be made ten times than normal? Or cut the water supply or electric supply of such building as well slums unless they shift to a safer place? Well, we can’t, because we want to take only sweet decision is one thing & we are not prepared for pre or post disaster infrastructure is another fact.

When I say we lack disaster infrastructure then main thing is proper (read accurate) data about various statistics like locating probable locations where disasters can occur as well number of people who can be affected in disaster along with information about access ways & all rescue means. Remember data is the key whenever we are fighting with a faceless problem like disaster. Also making available all such data on public domain & make people aware about the threat they are living in; sad part is nobody knows whose responsibility is this. And all what govt does in the name of awareness from disasters is release pathetic advertises on radio which are very general & basic like, “go to higher places in case of flood”, types! And then temporary shelters is one more aspect which is most “Kamjor Kadi” in entire disaster management as need is permanent structures which can be used temporarily & spread all within as well around the city & in well maintained condition. Show me one disaster rescue settlement in the city which has clean & enough toilets, is equipped kitchens with enough food, has a trauma center with proper medical supplies & livable rooms for the victims of disasters; in cases like epidemic diseases we will even need isolation facilities for the patients & their relatives at such shelters. But fact is presently all we have is, make shift PMC schools as shelters or some tin shelters that too in remote places where no person will shift as mostly the flood prone people are class four workers & if they don’t have means of access to their daily work places they won’t ever shift from their existing residences, even risking their lives is a fact! We can think of utilizing amenity places (at least some of them) as disaster shelters which will be regular service apartment types & maintained by some professional agency. For this first prepare a prototype model of permanent shelters with all basic facilities as mentioned above, this can be done with the help of architecture college students. And then we can work out a policy by which in lieu of TDR the developer can build such facility in the amenity spaces of his project & hands over to PMC. We can even think of giving the developer responsibility of maintaining it against TDR or discount in premiums in such developer’s other projects, in proportion to maintenance cost for say 30 years period. We can also think of utilizing spaces around existing PMC schools premise or adding floors above them for building permanent rescue shelters. At the same time we can make use of existing open spaces in the layouts & as well keep some open spaces in the new DP i.e. development plan, where people can gather in case of earth quake type situation. One more thing is making all such disaster rescue shelters/centers locations & status available on mobile-app, so in case of emergency people on their own can reach here instead bothering administration or just running around.

Making people aware about the disasters is one important aspect & it’s not just about what to do during disaster but what to do to avoid the disasters is more important. And on this front we can think of roping in CREDAI like developer’s associations along with city planners & engineers to reach out to masses with solutions. At the same time do take professional people’s advise or suggestions in consideration on the subject because as the story of  the Ferryman & Pandit, it’s not just bookish knowledge but field experience also counts, especially while fighting disasters. Let’s remember the best thing one can have is a Disaster Free City & its every bodies job as when a hurricane or earthquake occurs it doesn’t categorize us by our caste, religion or position & that’s makes fighting with disasters, as every one of us responsibility!

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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