Monday, August 6, 2007

Bihar Floods


Early reports coming in suggest 50 persons have died in a boat mishap in Samastipur district in Bihar...its one of the many districts where people are fleeing the floods with no help from the government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In an emergency like the present flood in Bihar, information and communication are the most critical components which can save lives and property. In this situation, local village level radio stations could have provided a lifeline by maintaining the flow of information. Such local information network, would have greatly helped in determining the location and assess the gravity of each situation, and prepare appropriate response accordingly. But for decades, radio has been the monopoly of the state, or more recently, seen as a way to extract maximum rent from national license holders. Only last year, in a minimal gesture of generosity, the govt announced that NGOs and educational organisations could set up low-powered FM radio stations. A pity, because two years ago, an illiterate village mechanic from Bihar had shown the country how local FM stations could be run at negligible cost. For his efforts, he was rewarded by closure for violating the law! Hundreds of thousands of villagers would have immensely benefitted during this calamitous flood, if every village had their own radio station, to narrate their tale, and seek help.

Information is the first step in a disaster situation. The next step is to act on that information.

To send send rescue teams and relief materials, communication network is vital. The fastest response can be provided by small aircrafts and helicopters, or speed boats. Again, the national transporation policy has been such that the only ones who have access to such modes of transportation is the military, or the government. As of today's TV news, only four army helicopters have been deployed so far in Bihar.

An open transporation policy could have built an army of private boat and aircraft operators. And many of whom would have voluntarily joined hands with others, to organise their own relief and rescue operations. A decentralised relief operations may not have been attractive for the political leaders wanting to play the role of the messiah, but it would have saved many a people. Again we see how the most vulnerable pay the price for such restricting communication and transporation policies.

The worst is that by claiming a monopoly in relief and rescue, the government has created the phenomenom of disaster tourism, used by VIPs to appear in the news, while the people on the ground continue to suffer. On the other hand, by legitimising this role of the government, society is even losing the sense of empathy with their fellow citizens during their hour of crisis. After all, if it is the responsibility of the government to help people in distress, why do we need to care beyond our morning newspaper, or evening TV news!

If this is one lesson we learn from the tragedy of the present flood, then we would be able to deal much more effectively and humanely next time the waters flood the plains.

That would be truly a reform with a humane face!