Learning the art of managing disasters

Disaster management is emerging as new career and a Kashmiri girl is leading the way



There are few who dare to take natural disasters head on and make its management into a career, rather an objective of their life to save precious lives. One of them is Dr Hina Khan of Srinagar. She recently topped disaster management exam at all India level and her comprehensive textbook ‘Disaster Management’ will soon be taught in various universities in other states.
During her childhood Dr Hina says the thing which scared her most was fire. “As a kid I was not scared of earthquakes. It was funny to see elders at home worried, some even crying during earthquakes,” she recounts. The only hazard that scared her in childhood was fire. “I vividly remember that when I witnessed a house next to ours being gutted down by fire, I was scared for a long time,” she says. But the killer earthquake which struck Kashmir in 2005 changed her and left indelible marks on her mind.
“On that day after waking up at ease one minute and lying on the ground the next minute made me realize how ill prepared we are for all disasters especially earthquakes, which come without warning and much reaction time,” she says. “That earthquake is still fresh in my mind.”
Dr Hina says she can’t imagine if the epicenter (maximum damage zone) of that earthquake was at Srinagar, instead of Muzaffarabad. “What would have been the extent of damage and what would we do as citizens,” she wonders. “In both the cases the response would have been nothing. So I thought here is a subject if applied properly would make life much safer and secure for people,” she says.
Born to well-educated parents, Hina did her schooling from Presentation Convent High School. After her schooling, her parents—father who served as dean/HOD Department of Economics Kashmir University and mother as college principal—motivated her to pursue higher education.
In the meantime, Dr Hina was married. But due to unflinching support of her husband and in-laws, it did not hamper her pursuit to acquire higher education. She completed Post graduation in Disaster Management and Ph.D with gold medals.
She also completed M.Phil., and PhD in Geography in the University of Kashmir and was instantly was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the faculty of Disaster Management in the state run Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development, Srinagar (IMPA).
After a one year stint, assisting and conducting training programs for in-service government officials, she resigned in order to pursue more education. Subsequently, she completed Post Graduate Diploma in Disaster Management from IGNOU University and secured a distinction.
“During my stint at IMPA, I realized that there is a dire need to make people aware about the subject. This includes all the stakeholders be it government officials, policy makers, bureaucrats and citizens,” she says. Despite being in the highest seismic activity Zone V, she says, no work has been undertaken at grassroots level in Srinagar.
“Even though we might spend a huge sum on developmental works but would it make sense if all that would come to the ground after a mere one minute ground shaking,” she says. “I realized that by pursing the subject of disaster management even if I help one institution to tackle the impact of a disaster I could make a difference.”
After the enactment of the National Disaster Management Act of 2005, she says many initiatives have been launched in the state to minimize damage to life and property due to natural disasters. As per the provisions of Disaster Management Act 2005, the State Government has already notified and constituted the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), the State Executive Committee (SEC) and the district disaster management authorities.
However, she says, in the present form, SDMA in J&K is only a de-facto committee and is not a continuing autonomous institution involved in day-to-day work connected with policy, planning, oversight, implementation, coordination, quality control and activities connected with monitoring, evacuation and documentation. “It is important that the forum needs to be made administratively functional like the National Disaster Management Authority,” she says.
Dr Hina says during her research study in the severely hit areas of Uri and Tangdhar, including areas of Baghratoo, Dacchi and Ramgai, many people said that in the aftermath of the earthquake some villages got surplus relief while others got none. “So at all stages of disasters, pre and post disasters, the government should not only chalk out its own disaster management plan but also enhance its coordination with the NGOs and use their skills to make preparedness and relief efforts a success,” she says.
“Children are the future of every country and if we teach them the principles of disaster management at an early age they would become better disaster managers when they grow up,” Dr Hina says. “It is important to sensitize engineers, architects and contractors in the practices of disaster management.”
“This is one group which is concerned with creating infrastructure and if they are not aware about the safe designs pertaining to specific practices, then how can be our infrastructure be secure?” she asks. Even though the State government has a vital role to play so far as using the resources available and maintaining coordination is concerned, she says we as a community also need to shed our age old practice of blaming the government for everything.
She says after a disaster strikes the first hour of response, also known as the golden hour, is the most crucial in saving lives. It is during this period that maximum lives can be saved. “A control room should function under the SDMA and all funds and personnel should be mobilized from there,” she says, adding that the state government also needs to utilize the services of the state police department and send them for trainings so that they help the community in various phases of disasters, rather than depending on the army at all times. “The state police know the local conditions better so their response would also be better,” she says.
Dr Hina says presently Jammu and Kashmir lacks an extensive database of essential resources, hazard maps, critical facilities, logistics and resources. She says the J &K Government should take cue from reconstruction work in Gujarat where the earthquake of 2001 devastated the cities of Bhuj and Kutch.
All the buildings in Bhuj and Kutch were reconstructed with earthquake resistant material, especially the hospitals and schools. “This is in sharp contrast to what happened in Uri and Tangdhar where the rehabilitation program was just giving away some relief goods and the mitigation program was non-existent,” she says. “The villagers whose houses were damaged, reconstructed them again in the same fashion as they were previously built,” she informs. “There were no inputs from the government to the local people as to how they would make their houses safer and earthquake resistant, making the whole exercise a shame.”
Dr Hina’s book on disaster management has received tremendous response. She was approached by a reputed publishing house of Delhi to write a textbook for them. The book will be in accordance with the syllabus of the disaster management courses that have already been started in the Chandigarh University and Patiala University at present and subsequently in other universities of India.
“They propose to introduce the book in all the universities of India. It will be introduced first in the northern universities including Delhi University,” she says. “At present education for disaster management is a trans-disciplinary exercise aimed at developing knowledge, skill and values at all levels.”
The Government of India in its X and XI Five Year Plan document has emphasized the need to enhance knowledge skills and values to reduce the impact of disasters. There is now a conscious effort to include disaster management in the curriculum of various courses at the college and university level. “Now the subject is transcending barriers as not only is it being introduced as a subject in various universities and colleges but management students also have a paper on disaster management in their curriculum,” she says.
This applies to Kashmir also, Dr Hina says, as in the Kashmir University a department for disaster management has recently been set up. “Also in the central university of Kashmir in the faculty of management a paper on disaster management is taught,” she informs.
It has been widely felt that not many textbooks have been written on disaster management. “Therefore I felt writing a textbook would be more helpful to students instead of writing a book,” she says. “The textbook has case studies, short type essay type and objective type questions at the end of each chapter which would help the student to comprehend the topics in a better way and test his knowledge effectively.”  
Presently putting up in Jeddah, Dr Hina is writing a book on environmental science and a book on disaster management in schools. “I hope my little effort will contribute to spread awareness about disaster management,” she says. “It is our collective responsibility to make this world a better and importantly a safe place to live in.”

Lastupdate on : Sat, 13 Apr 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 13 Apr 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 14 Apr 2013 00:00:00 IST

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