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Monday, Jun 29, 2020 14:15 [IST]

Last Update: Monday, Jun 29, 2020 08:36 [IST]

A stitch in time

We eagerly wait for the monsoons to arrive, bringing with it the promises of a good harvest, which in turn fuels the economy. This year, the monsoon started with a bang and we heaved a sign of relief. But it was too soon. “Well begun," it is said, "is half done." Normally, this should be true of the monsoon as well. However, in reality, it is not always so. The early onset of the southwest monsoon all over the country and a bountiful initial wet spell do not guarantee the monsoon's continued good performance over the rest of the four-month (June to September) monsoon season.
The surplus of rains we are experiencing this time may bring in more woes than we could have bargained for. Sikkim has already had its share of the rains by now. Flash floods and landslides have already ravaged most parts of the State, with North Sikkim, especially Dzongu bearing the brunt of it. Road connectivity has snapped in all districts and we still have two months for the rains to continue.
A stitch in time saves nine. And this could not be more appropriate and relevant when it comes to disaster preparedness and management. The 2013 Uttarakhand tragedy was a clear warning and that all the other Himalayan States, including Sikkim should pull up our socks, it makes real good sense for all the right reasons. And that Sikkim should take weather warnings seriously is the first step towards disaster management.
Natural disasters strike without notice. With changing climate, fear of extreme rain, tropical cyclones and variable weather events will now intensify—all these will make our world even more vulnerable and more hazardous. The question is why civilian India remains so unprepared to deal with disasters—to forewarn people; to handle the crisis and to rehabilitate the affected.
Every time we have a natural disaster, exacerbated by human mismanagement of the environment, we are caught on the wrong foot. Worse, government agencies make every possible excuse to shift blame. In all this, we lose precious human lives.
We know that Himalaya, the world’s youngest mountain range, is lashed by heavy rains and prone to landslides and flash floods. In addition, it is located in a highly seismic zone, which makes the ecologically sensitive region very vulnerable. We know this; and each year, this region witnesses disasters—landslides to earthquakes—of increasing ferocity and certainty. Therefore, clearly, this is a disaster hot spot, which needed attention and focus.
But none came its way. Disaster management demands, firstly, scientific knowledge to understand and map our vulnerability. It is easy for the agencies like the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)—set up post 2004 tsunami—to glibly talk about a new early warning system. But the fact is that we do little to plan and prepare ahead. After all, predicting extreme rainfall events is possible. Even prediction of cloud burst is possible. Scientists now talk about ‘now-casting’ technologies, using Doppler radars and automatic stations to predict in real time, events to happen.
Therefore, an early warning system, along with sustainable development plan is the need of the hour.
A "green approach" to development, including replanting of trees, regulating pilgrim traffic and guidelines to ensure that buildings are constructed at least 100 metres away from river banks could minimise the human tragedy of the kind that hit Uttarakhand. Only a green approach to development will help minimise the effect of nature's fury. It would be advisable to remain on guard and stay prepared to face any unforeseeable contingency.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi