How safe is Srinagar?
This question haunts the citizens and stakeholders together. Despite the fact that Srinagar is categorized as highest risk zone-V in terms of seismic concerns with a previous history of earthquakes, the latest being 8th October-2005 including minor tremors and jolts. The recent rumours that a major earthquake would be happening in the Himalayas have sent shockwaves across the board. The September-2014 flood was a major disaster, the city witnessed. Fire and accidents are a routine affair. High winds, landslides, snow avalanches, cloudbursts are neither frequent nor of immediate concern. The occurrence of bomb/IED blasts as of now stand neutralized due to strengthening of security apparatus, low level of disturbance and change of tactics etc. However, the question arises, whether we are equipped to meet the challenges of urban disaster risk reduction- both from natural as well as man-made disasters. Let's admit that we are still far off from parameters of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. There is practically no scientific mechanism in place.
What are the possible hazards in Srinagar?
Earthquake is a general hazard as per seismic atlas making the whole city and its population vulnerable. The happening of earthquake in the city will neither distinguish between population (on the basis of gender, age, income etc) nor on the basis of area/ward/zone. For knowledge sake, earthquakes till date are unpredictable and people are at risk, because of buildings/structures they occupy. Therefore, strengthening the existing buildings through retrofitting and securing new buildings through architectural and structural design would help to reduce risk. On the other-hand, flood gives a warning and time to escape, flash flood/cloud burst being an exception. Urban Flood is an area of concern. Flood prone areas could be identified to make people and property less risky. Similarly landslide and avalanche areas could also be identified in the city. However, high wind pattern needs more scientific analysis and identification. So far as fire incidents and road accidents are concerned, these do not need much scientific knowledge except proper handling and management. Heavy snowfall can collapse a weak building or a bad conditioned/dilapidated structure could collapse of its own in a natural manner. Cloudburst being another unpredictable hazard needs more scientific analysis.
Need for Zonation:
City needs to be grouped into seismic zones on the basis of vulnerability and risk analysis. The mapping of zones can also be formed after analysing data of soil bearing capacity, types of soils, ground water table etc which are necessary for the impact of earthquake. A mountainous area, karewas/plateau and a flood basin shall act differently during an earthquake e.g; Buildings in Soura and Rajbagh will act differently during an earthquake because of type of soil, bearing capacity and water table. The zones could be categorised as High Risk, Medium Risk and low Risk. Similarly flood zonation for the city could be prepared on the same pattern, which till date has not been officially done despite getting a clear signal from flood-2014. Srinagar draft Master Plan gives some kind of idea about land suitability but in reality, no zonation has been done for each hazard. Land slide areas and Snow avalanche zones in the mountainous region of Zabarwan range, Balhama/Zewan, quarrying and mining zones towards Athwajan/ Pandrethan, eco-sensitive and fragile zones on the surroundings of Dal Lake and Dachigam could be identified/mapped in the city and accordingly data procured for scientific analysis. Fire zonation can be done on the basis of building material uses, industrial locations, congestion of buildings particularly Downtown/core areas and more so, on the basis of incident/accident data made available by the Fire & Emergency Department.
Srinagar city is ever growing both in area and population because it is centrally located in the valley, is a power hub, a favoured tourist destination, a heritage city, fulfils educational and healthcare need for surrounding regions, is a economic centre for business and job opportunities. The jurisdiction of SMC, SDA and LWDA varies in area and population. Being Corporations/Autonomous Bodies, these agencies can have their own cells for urban disaster risk reduction (UDRR) so that community's resilience is increased for disasters/hazards, incidents/accidents, threats and vulnerabilities, poverty & miseries etc. Resilience is a holistic concept encompassing all parameters- social, economic and environmental.
The City boundaries have gone beyond the jurisdiction of Srinagar district and some areas/populations of other districts are subsumed into these urban entities for planning and development purposes. The major issues dealt with by these city agencies like SMC, SDA, LWDA etc., are to grant building permissions in their respective limits apart from creating infrastructure and public facilities. The building permission process is mainly based on approved master plan, building bye-laws and off-course some unavoidable NOCs from line departments/ specific field agencies to execute/enforce growth and expansion as promoted in the master plan. But where is master plan?
And do we really need a plan?
So far as construction of buildings are concerned, people get permission for loan purposes, to silence neighbours so that they don't complain and to some extent just to avoid official harassment. But more than 95% permittees would build differently than what the permission was granted. The reason being that it is really being treated merely a piece of paper. The actual problem being that we have not been able to get architects (though there is a dearth of such professionals) involved into the process. It is a Draftsmen oriented planning and development because draftsmen prepare the maps for the permissions. They have taken city authorities for a ride. There is no scope for draftsmen in the building byelaws. But to run the system and keep the process going apart from livelihood of these menial professionals, the byelaws are overlooked. However, architects would not get engaged in petty permissions and this culture of draftsmen based development has spoiled the city. Architects charge more fee and as such people avoid seeking their consultancies. Further, the structural engineer is also not on board prior to construction. Therefore all intending developers/builders and owners prefer to get sanctioned permissions on the basis of drawings prepared by the draftsmen and then in actual seek consultation from different professionals. The owners think and apply their mind about what to do only after they obtain permission from competent authority. Therefore records vary from what is sanctioned on paper and what is at the ground. This gap has never been filled. As such, the quantum of safe buildings in the city whether legally permitted or illegally constructed is not known.
There is no official data about weak and vulnerable structures/buildings in the city either as a whole or on ward-wise basis. Therefore, we cannot categorise which wards are more safe and which wards are risky? Safety factor varies on the basis of vulnerabilities, risks, hazards and resilient capacity of the citizens. Resilience also depends on awareness, exposure, experience and economic status of the people. In our case, population is less educated, least exposed, marginally experienced and huge poverty. Our critical infrastructure like hospitals, emergency centres, control rooms, police control rooms need to be away from disaster/hazard prone areas so that during disasters, these remain functional without any major difficulties.
Town planning at ward level is a must and for that purpose, municipal corporations/committees and councils need to engage architects/engineers both at organizational level and private level. Hardly any municipality has a qualified town planner/architect on its board, instead the job is assigned to draftsmen. Atleast cities of Srinagar and Jammu need to do away with draftsmen factor and get the professional services of architects/structural engineers. We may have to wait till 2025 when the first batch of architects is out from the government college of architecture in the state. For the first few years, all the seats should be reserved for local residents of the state and then open up the college for outside students for diversity.
The District Disaster Management Authority being mandated to enforce the Disaster Management Act-2005 at district level has not been provided dedicated human resources (professional staff) and infrastructure. Strengthening the DDMA professionally would help in preparing disaster management plans which could help in dovetailing development plans of the district so that safe and secure infrastructure is created. The team at district level should comprise of hazard management experts, environmental planner, architect, flood protection engineer, urban planner, medical emergency healthcare, fire safety engineer, Remote sensing & GIS, traffic advisor, economic advisor, social-cultural and religious learned persons, government officials, persons from community based organizations etc so that holistic plans are prepared, implemented and monitored during various stages of disaster. Same manpower could be separately created within urban authorities particularly dealing with cities and towns which are under local self-government.