Monday, May 19, 2014

I work with the Red Cross and this was a felicitation ceremony for those who contributed towards disaster relief during the Uttarakhand flash floods tragedy. There are 4800 First Medical Responders in Uttarakhand as a result of a pilot project taken up with Government of Uttarakhand besides the Disaster Management program run by Indian Red Cross society there trains many more to respond during the disasters. This preparedness made huge impact, here is a glimpse of what all was achieved: The Uttarakhand flash floods that devastated the region following the heavy rains on 16/17 Jun 2013 in the state of Uttarakhand affected and displaced a large number of people. The unprecedented scale of disaster in the state of Uttarakhand saw the heaviest flooding and landslides in the state over the last 80 years. The Indian Government called the disaster ‘The Himalayan Tsunami’. It was the worst disaster since the Tsunami of 2004. The disaster was a result of a possible Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) and excessive rains that triggered flash floods and landslides. The total rainfall in Uttarakhand in the period from 01 to 18 June 2013 was 385.1 mm, which was the highest in the last 80 years. The normal rainfall during this period is 71.3 mm, indicating that rainfall was 440% above the normal. Continuous rains caused water levels to rise, and swollen rivers swept away entire temple towns of Kedarnath and Rambara, villages leaving travelers, pilgrims and local people stranded. Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had issued an early warning about unseasonal rain and snow in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the impending floods, and the recommendation to move people to safer places. However, the vulnerable regions around the rivers had no early warning about the possibility of flash floods and infrastructure worth crores was washed away. Even a week after the disaster there were people stuck in inaccessible areas in the mountains as many of the roads had been washed away or blocked by the numerous landslides. The tough terrain added to the difficulties of the search and rescue operations. Despite the challenging conditions, more than a lakh people were evacuated in one of the largest evacuation operation by the Government. Many of these people were wounded and hungry. They had walked miles trying to find a way to civilization. There was an urgent need of food, shelter and medication. Many had lost their loved ones and needed counseling in this time of trauma and pain. The IRCS State Branch reported to the NHQ the crisis situation which had emerged in the state due to the flash floods triggered by heavy rainfall affecting 12 out of the 13 districts in Uttarakhand. The 4 districts that were worst affected were Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh. Notwithstanding the difficulties in accessing locations, the relief operations of IRCS were significantly scaled up and relief was provided in the districts. Notwithstanding the difficulties in accessing locations, the relief operations of IRCS was significantly scaled up and relief was provided in the districts of Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Pauri. Four National Disaster Response Team (NDRT) / National Disaster Water Response Teams (NDWTs) members had been deployed to Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh districts to carry out need assessment. In Pithoragargh, Darchula and Munsiyari Tehsils had been worst affected by the flash floods. Balwakot, Nayabasthi, Ghoti were found to be the most inaccessible villages due to damaged roads and the assessment teams were required to cover distances of 5-8 kms on foot to reach these villages for undertaking needs assessment. Further, it emerged that the local population in these areas had been living in tents. Trained Red Cross First Medical Responders (FMRs) had been working closely and assisting the local people in temporary shelters. Since the onset of the disaster, more than 200 FMRs had been providing psychosocial support, Family News Service (FNS) and tracing services to people stranded in their respective regions. In Rishikesh, IRCS Tracing Office and DM Coordinator started “MAY I HELP YOU” Centre, whereby FMR volunteers were trained in FNS to register “I AM ALIVE” messages, and tracing requests. Tracing requests were collected from the family members about the missing people for Kedarnath, Rambara, and Gourigund camps. Additionally, the teams had been working closely with the local government hospitals and police stations for collecting information on missing persons. IRCS volunteers had been able to pitch tents near Vikas Bhawan in Joshiyara in Uttarkashi district. This area was being set up as a Red Cross camp. Construction of latrines in the camp site was carried out. Additionally, electricity lighting arrangements at this camp site was done. A health camp was organized by FMRs in Maneri village, Uttarkashi district. Of the three large Water Purification Machines (NORIT) dispatched by IRCS (each having a capacity to provide about 2000 ltrs of potable water per hour), one water purification unit had been installed in Uttarkashi by 15 FMRS. Water storage tanks T11 with a storage capacity of 11,000 litres had also been installed. This facilitated distribution of purified water to the affected local population. The second NORIT Water purification unit was installed in Guptkashi on 10 Jun 13 . An additional group of 04 NDWRT personnel were deployed on 09 and 10 Jul 13, to install and operationalise the 3rd NORIT unit. In addition, two of the three manpack units (units can be carried by volunteers and can provide 80 liters of portable water per hour) were made operational in Guptakashi and Pithoragarh. Considering the massive response that was undertaken by Indian Red Cross Society, the felicitation ceremony was a fitting tribute to all those who contributed towards this human tragedy.

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