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Has space technology delivered?

The delivery of applications in space technology in the field of disaster management may be many but are not visible often to the general public and disaster managers in the field.

The space technology delivery mechanism is mostly top-down. The agenda is set at the top level and followed up by various scientific and research organizations at central or state governmental levels (fig 1). There is an assumption that the knowledge created from the data experimented with, shall have its own spread effects in the long run. On the supply side, the government makes huge investments in remote sensing satellite programmes. Many large national agencies in India (in surveying, geology, forestry, agriculture, water etc.) work independently of each other and with little co-operation in the field of their region / subject specific disaster management research. Unfortunately, in spite of the huge amounts of information generated, the availability and usage of geographic knowledge becomes clogged within the government departments or research institutes themselves. The results of these high technology based studies are rarely available to the civil society organizations that play a crucial role in disaster situations.

The hindrance of space technology’s effectiveness in ground reality can be attributed to a number of factors. A few causes might be as follows:

  • Lack of effective data distribution and sharing;
  • Lack of involvements of specialised civil societies working in the field of geoinformatics;
  • Lack of proper knowledge transfer at the lowest levels;
  • Geoinformatics is still thought of a subject of research and not as a service;
  • Lack of leverage by relevant GIS and RS agencies or the ‘centres of excellence’ towards its mass applicability in focussed areas;
  • Lack of public participation and local knowledge in the development of the space technology for disasters.

The present system if developed should not give rise to two separate compartments of knowledge and power structures with minimal or contrasting senses of coordination. Along with the inherent discrepancies within each compartment one should aim for a paradigm that evolves both the required disaster management components under the same umbrella (fig 1).


Fig 1. A Holistic Approach that fuses technology with management: A case for India

Some Recent Disasters in India

Natural Calamities

  • Gujarat Earthquake – A powerful earthquake of magnitude 6.9 on Richter scale, which rocked the Western Indian State of Gujarat on 26th January, 2001 caused extensive damage to life & property. Over 19,000 people perished.
  • Latur Earthquake 1993 killing about 28,000 people
  • Orissa Cyclone 2000 with 1.5 million homeless.
  • Floods – A number of states including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, and West Bengal are severely affected by floods in the monsoon season every year.

Accidents

  • Railway accident at Rafiganj – More than 100 people were killed travelling by an elite train Rajdhani express on the night of 9th September, 2002.
  • Patna air crash – An Indian Boeing 737 crashed into a government housing estate in Patna on July 17, 2000, killing 57 people.
  • Bomb Blasts
  • Forest Fires
  • Bhopal Gas Leak – At the Union Carbide Chemical Plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh on the night of 3-4 December 1984 40 tons of Methyl Iso-cyanate (MIC) and other lethal gases leaked, killing 8000 people and affecting thousands more.
  • Surat Plague, 1994 – This is a classic example of disaster due to environmental neglect and degradation.