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All weather communication need of the hour in Uttarakhand

Even a year after the devastation in Uttarakhand, the state is yet to put in place a foolproof all weather communication system with last mile connectivity. File picture shows a flooded river in Uttarakashi district.

Even a year after the devastation in Uttarakhand, the state is yet to put in place a foolproof all weather communication system with last mile connectivity. File picture shows a flooded river in Uttarakashi district.  

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Communicating flood warning and evacuation messages to people promptly is very crucial

In June 2013, a simple flood early warning system saved many villagers and their livestock on the banks of Jiadal river in Lakhimpur, Assam.  But one year after the devastation in Uttarakhand, the state is yet to put in place a foolproof all weather communication system with last mile connectivity.

Mr. Anand Sharma, director, Meteorological Centre, Dehra Dun, said last June, he had issued accurate warnings 72 hours in advance to the authorities and also an advisory that pilgrims should not move ahead on the Char Dham yatra. However, it was important to communicate flood warning and evacuation messages to people promptly, he said while interacting with journalists at a media workshop on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Indian Himalayas organized by The Third Pole and Centre for Environment Education (CEE).

Mr. Sharma said his department was accused of not giving timely warning but from June 13, 2013 onwards, the Meteorological Centre had issued weather forecasts and warnings from time to time. Despite having advance information last year, it could not be communicated to yatris stuck in the Kedarnath valley. He said the communication system has to be foolproof and it has to use traditional and modern methods.

Even a hand cranked radio which doesn’t require batteries to operate was a good option. Radio is low cost and still the number one communicator in the world and there should be a better network in Uttarakhand.

While the system for weather forecasting was in place, he said there was approval for three Doppler radars but that was more useful for flash floods and forecasts a few hours in advance. This year weather advisory was sent through SMS and in some places villagers used loudspeakers.

Last year, there was specific and localized advice to yatris from June 13 onwards, Mr Sharma explained and they were told to postpone their pilgrimage by four days. The weather forecast and warning issued on June 14, 2013, through the agro-advisory bulletin indicated heavy rain in all the agro meteorological zones. He said he had also alerted the executive director, Disaster Management and Mitigation Centre, Mr. Piush Rautela over phone on June 14 about heavy rains in the coming days. The same day, the Inspector General Police (Intelligence) was informed about heavy to very heavy rain and landslides in the next 48 to 72 hours, who in turn informed the chief minister and chief secretary. Even the Inspector General, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was told about the likelihood of heavy to very heavy rain and landslides on June 15.

The major landslides occurred from the night of June 16 onwards and major damage took place on June 17, Mr. Sharma said.  Despite advance information, communication was poor and the tragedy was not averted. And lessons are not learnt from it either.

Villagers in Assam, meanwhile, could save Rs 1.5 lakh worth of livestock thanks to the early warning system last year. The device which consists of a pole with a sensor is placed in the river and it has wireless connectivity to a warning system which beeps if the water levels rise above the danger mark. And it’s relatively cheap, at Rs 20,000, said Nand Kishor Agrawal, programme coordinator, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)   who installed eight such devices in the river. He told The Hindu that the simple system can be managed by the community and they can receive information and also generate on the ground real time data.

However, the floods washed away some of the poles and four have to be reinstalled this year, he says. Mr. Agrawal said this technology was developed by ICIMOD which is working with the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati to fine tune it. “Our idea is that every village panchayat gets its own warning system,” he said. The innovation has also been submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Lighthouse Activities awards.

Efforts are on to create a network which will be linked to a satellite based warning system, he added.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2018 7:23:20 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/all-weather-communication-need-of-the-hour-in-uttarakhand/article6275478.ece