Disaster: Ready or Not?

The unfortunate fire incident, which gutted the official residence of Nagaland Chief Minister on Tuesday night, has led to growing concerns about how well prepared our government machinery is when it comes to dealing with such disasters. Thankfully there was no loss of life or casualty in the devastating fire, which has caused substantial damage to the CM’s official quarter. Luckily the fire did not reach the CM’s office or else important documents and other government records could have been destroyed. As Christians we need to thank God because to lose important government files and papers would have been a matter of serious concern, which could have created impediment in the smooth and orderly functioning of the government. Even then it was definitely quite embarrassing for us to watch the official quarter of our CM being burned down. If there are going to be lessons for all of us to learn from this fire incident, we should do it without being arrogant or unreceptive to criticism and take to heart our failures with humility. If we are able to do this, we can be better prepared.
The foremost question that many people will be looking for an answer is this: If our disaster management team could not prevent even the Chief Minister’s official residence from being completely destroyed, just imagine the plight of others. And that too in Capital Kohima, which is the seat of government power for the entire State of Nagaland. But then the other equally embarrassing question is this: whether we even have a disaster management team in the first place. All the hundreds of offices and thousands of officers of the government machinery notwithstanding, we could not help in dousing the fire at the CM’s official residence. Some may argue that the CM’s official bungalow was built in 1963 and therefore unable to stand up to the devastating fire. Point taken: But we also need to do more to be prepared for any kind of disasters.
Let us be honest for once and admit the fact that our government machinery is awfully under-prepared to deal with disasters. In fact if eyewitness account of the fire incident yesterday was anything to go by, we don’t have any laid down strategy to deal with such emergency. We were told that even as the fire was raging, a host of ministers, parliamentary secretaries, MLAs, bureaucrats and others also rushed to the site to show solidarity and offer whatever assistance. Fine thank you! But was it necessary for our VIPs to do this when the first priority should have been rescue efforts and not calling on the CM.  At the peak of the fire, the road to CM’s residence was jammed with VIP vehicles and also huge presence of public obviously trying to be at the right place except that it was the wrong time to show solidarity. All this goes to show that we are yet to learn the dos and don’ts especially during such grave emergencies.
The Morung Express has been at the forefront of the campaign pointing out that our government must be prepared to deal with disasters so that its impact is minimized. We have raised this question before and we are doing it again: What is our government doing to prepare people for such disaster like fire, floods, landslides, earthquake, disease outbreaks etc. Also what do our elected representatives have to say on preventing future disasters? What about the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), which is headed by none other than the Chief Minister with elected representatives as members? There is a need to fix responsibility so that a semblance of preparedness is put into place. In an editorial written in March 2010 under the title “Disaster: Ready or Not?” we had out of concern raised the question to those in authority as to “whether the Nagaland government machinery was prepared to take handle such emergency such as a major fire breaking out say in the middle of Kohima or Dimapur town”.  It has already been written in these columns on the need to institutionalize Disaster Management within the State Government machinery besides inculcating a culture of preparedness and prevention in Nagaland. The latest fire devastation at the heart of Capital Kohima in the CM’s official residence will hopefully underscore the need to be disaster ready.