Kochiites remain highly vulnerable to the deadly impact of natural disasters and large-scale fires, thanks to a set of unkept promises and poor urban governance.
The tragic Church collapse that claimed two lives at Aroor has served yet another reminder to assess the disaster preparedness in the city and its outskirts. The fact is that the commercial capital of the State has no smart strategies to offer to face an emergency. The district is one of the worst prepared to deal with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a major fire in a high-rise building.
Senior Revenue Department officials admitted that the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) lacked proper technical assistance. The agency is groping in the dark on how to evolve a framework for the implementation of the National Disaster Management Act. There is no scientific data on specific hazard risks and vulnerability of the district to natural disasters.
There is no early warning system in place in the district. . A coordinated and unified action among the government departments in the event of an emergency is an impossibility considering the current situation.
An assessment made by the Revenue Department found that the district lacked resources to undertake drives like mass evacuation and rescue operations. The disaster preparedness is inadequate as the monitoring agencies and government departments do not have essential inventories at various levels.
For instance, the district administration and local bodies including Kochi Corporation have no mechanism to ascertain the compliance of building codes and violations of land use in various areas.
Hollow promises have left the Department of Fire and Rescue Services in Ernakulam limping especially while tackling large-scale fires. It’s been more than a year since the Home Minister, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, announced that Kochi will get a state-of-the-art ‘Skylift’ to carry out fire fighting and rescue operations in high-rise buildings. The promise still remains on paper.The department also lacks adequate fire tenders. Six units under the Ernakulam division have only 18 usable tenders against the 32 required as per the norm of two each in one unit. Four tenders out of this have exceeded the acceptable life of 20 years.
Accidents like building collapse require the services of trained personnel, but the fire department officials have no idea about the standard operating procedure to be adopted on such occasions. A fireman involved in Monday’s rescue operations at Aroor pointed out that people were frequently entering on to the rubble without realising that such movement might affect the safety of those trapped under the rubbles. “There was no idea on how to carry out the rescue operation in the initial hours”, he said.
Fire safety in places frequented by the public is also under the scanner.The busy Broadway and Ernakulam market lack water hydrants that are supposed to be located in several strategic areas along the street to aid the fire brigade.