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Is Mumbai prepared for this

Saturday, March 12, 2011
By Team ADC

A day after a huge tsunami devastated parts of Japan following a massive quake, memories of the giant tidal waves that struck parts of the country in 2004, have been revived.

Even though the government, on Friday, said that there was no threat to the Indian coast, the ADC decided to review the situation in Mumbai. What if a large tidal wave had to strike the city? In a statement, the Union Home Ministry said the Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) has informed that the tsunami threat does not exist in respect of India. “The INCOIS is continuously monitoring the situation,” it said.

In Hyderabad, National Disaster Management Authority, Vice-Chairman M Sashidhar Reddy told reporters, “In less than eight minutes, the INCOIS which has a tsunami early warning centre, issued a bulletin in which it has been clearly stated that India does not face any threat. In fact, the entire Indian Ocean region does not have any tsunami threat. So, as things stand there is no question of any danger to the Indian coast right now and this will continue to be so,” Reddy said.

Earlier, in 2005, the Maharashtra government had decided to strengthen the wall at the seashore from Nariman Point to Girgaum Chowpatty in south Mumbai to prevent a natural phenomenon, like a tsunami hitting Mumbai. “The strengthening will be done in four phases. A comprehensive plan is being prepared for protecting the city and the suburb from such a phenomenon,” then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had said in a written reply to a query on measures taken by the state government for tackling natural phenomenon.

Following the latest disaster, the ADC spoke to key persons and institutions to gauge the preparedness of the city in case of the eventuality of a tsunami disaster.

Sea it coming?

Experts from the National Disaster Management (NDM) and National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), requesting anonymity, have stated that, the island city is under-prepared for a disaster of such magnitude.

“We must remember that this city is made up of islands and that many lands are reclaimed from water bodies. The internal structure is weak. Thus, a strong tsunami, like the one of 2004, would wash away areas near the bay completely,” explained V. Patwardhan, senior scientist, IIT Powai.

Similar were the views of Rajinder Shah, senior member, Greenpeace. He commented. “The city is on the face of the sea, surrounded by seawater. Any massive ground movement on land or sea will have a serious backlash on lives.”

Trained in disaster management and life-rescuing operations, Manish Kadam directs that all citizens must brace themselves against such scenarios by undergoing disaster management classes. “It (training) should be made compulsory for all above 16 years. We cannot stop it but we can at least prepare for the worst,” commented Kadam.

Buoyed by signals 

Regional Director of National Institute of Oceanography, S.N. Gajbhiye, added, “Since the tsunami that affected the east coast of India in 2004, the Government of India has taken certain measures to detect it prior to its occurrence. The Ministry of Earth Sciences has the Integrated Coastal and Marine Area Management Project Directorate (ICMAM - PD) at Chennai, which monitors and updates about the possibility of such an event. The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) assists ICMAM-PD in collecting information in order to make a prediction. Since Mumbai does not lie in a high seismic zone, the chances of tsunami striking it are remote, unless a huge tide travels from a great distance. There are tsunami buoys floating in the Indian Ocean that transmit signal to the shore as soon as any unusual change in undersea water pressure is detected.”

‘Not capable of rehabilitation’

S. Parshuraman, Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), asserted, “Mumbai is certainly not going to face any earthquake-like situation in the near future. However, considering that Mumbai faced 26/7 in 2006, we need to understand that rehabilitation becomes the prime cause of worry after any such calamity. During the last few years, we can say that the government has managed to build the technical capacity. However, as the word disaster is explained in our science, ‘the vulnerable lot of the society’, which is going to face issues need to be addressed.  Poverty, malnutrition and environmental issues need to be taken care of to make the rehabilitation work easier. We would see the government of Japan now working toward rebuilding the economy by pumping in a lot of resources. But, the Indian government seems to lack in providing such facilities for rehabilitation and restoring normalcy.”

Heath services ready

Dr. G.T. Ambe, Executive Health Officer, assured, “Yes, our hospitals are well prepared and equipped to handle people if such a situation arises, provided the hospitals should not be affected by tsumani and there should not be water there. Otherwise yes, we are equipped. We have a disaster management plan so that would be out into action.”

‘No threat so no worries’
Valsa Nair, State Environmental Secretary, commented, “There’s absolutely no threat to Mumbai or the Indian Ocean as we have confirmed it from the Indian Meteorological Department and also from Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), which has inspected and has told us that the Indian coast is clear and there is no palpable threat at the moment. Even though the chances of the tsunami happening in Mumbai are dim, we however, can’t say at the moment what we can do if any calamity takes place all of a sudden. The ministry, though, will be kept informed and updated regularly by the Met dept as well as INCOIS.”

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