COVID-19 is a disaster that came with a prior warning and therefore didn’t warrant an arbitrary, unplanned and ill-prepared decision. The prime minister’s 8 p.m. top-down lockdown announcement was not accompanied by practical and necessary relief measures. It brought uncertainty, confusion, and insecurity to the unprepared people. There was also a critical communication failure on the part of government as it failed to explain many things related to lockdown. For example: what would be the timing for grocery stores and other daily essentials to remain open. In Delhi and Karnataka, the government said they would remain open for 24×7 while as in Uttrakhand, they would remain open only for 3 hours which is an incorrect decision because if the shop stays open for only 3 hrs a day, then rush and chaos will defeat the basic purpose of the lockdown.
There are also delivery problems. The food and grocery delivery companies, like Big Bazar, Swiggy, Amazon and Flipkart, are facing a lot of problems. They are all complaining about the ware houses being shut down and their supply chain impacted. The state governments are not giving them permission to keep these establishments open because there are no clear cut instructions by the authorities.
The announcement of lockdown also triggered a huge exodus of migrant labourers from the cities. They were given neither time to prepare nor the required support to cope with it. Although due to public pressure, a relief package was announced, but it is woefully inadequate. Centre has been found wanting in every aspect of managing this pandemic right from allowing exports of personal protection equipments.
We should have learned from France. When France announced its lockdown, the government there issued a one page online form to write down the name and the reason to come out and whenever anyone wanted to go out for any emergency need, he has to show the form to the police. Upon instant verification of his/her legitimate reason to go out, the person will be allowed or assisted depending upon the emergency otherwise he/she will be fined upto 135 Euros.
Time to strengthen the disaster management in India
The recurrent occurrence of natural disasters makes in incumbent on us to be prepared for such disasters in order to reduce the number of casualties. Disaster management implies a number of actions to be developed before disaster happens, during the disaster, and after the disaster.
A study published in May 2004 edition of the pan American Journal of Public Health found that the risk of epidemics from the bodies of people killed in natural disasters is negligible. The researchers found that epidemics resulting in mass fatalities after natural disasters have only occurred from a few diseases like cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, anthrax and smallpox. While those diseases can be highly contagious, they cannot survive for long in dead bodies. The study found that survivors are far more likely to spread disease than corpses.
Although in India, various government authorities have invoked their respective powers under the Disaster Management Act (2005) to deal with the Noval Corona-virus outbreak in the country but more focus is required to be given to disaster management in India to deal with such things in future for the safeguard of its people and the country.
Post covid-19 Measures
Daily wagers and farmers are the most vulnerable community during pandemics. When the lockdown was announced, none of us rushed to purchase a car, or phone, but to buy essentials. So, it is the responsibility of the government to come up with some concrete initiatives to provide financial succour to the most affected.
The government should come up with disaster relief measures intended to help those who don’t have resources for their own recovery. Various measures should be taken to assist the recovery of communities whose social, emotional and financial well-being has been severely affected.
Author is Pursuing M-Tech Geotechnical Engineering from Punjab Technical University