92 fishermen still missing; Kerala’s disaster management authority’s delayed alerts

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Thiruvananthpuram: Cyclone Ockhi, which has claimed nearly 30 lives in Kerala and left at several hundred fishermen stranded at sea, brings to light the serious flaws in Kerala’s disaster management mechanism.
At last count, about 600 fishermen have been rescued by 92 are still missing.
Issuance of a timely alert by the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) could have reduced the intensity of the calamity to a great extent. Disaster Management authorities failed to disseminate the ‘Orange alert’ (higher status than yellow alert and not as severe as red alert, orange alert stands for weather conditions that have the capacity to significantly impact people in affected areas) they received from The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and the Central Ocean Research Institute.
“Normally, in case of natural disasters and emergencies, the authorities pass information either through the church or the Coast Guard. Nothing of that sort happened this time. We ventured out to sea and had to come back early only because the battery charge of our inverter drained out. In fact, we had a narrow escape,” said Napolean Louis, a fisherman from Pulluvila.
The State Disaster Management Authority denied responsibility saying the IMD alert did not indicate any possibility of a cyclone.
The SDMA’s apathy is not just limited to the failure in the dissemination of the alert. The delay in rescue operations also resulted in what could have been preventable deaths, fishermen’s kin alleged. The Disaster Management authority started the rescue operation only a day after the calamity, and they did not include fishermen who know the waters in the rescue team.
Several fishermen who know the sea closely were ready to join the rescue operations. “The repeated pleas made by the fishermen to include them in the rescue operations were ignored by the authorities in the beginning. Including them could have saved more lives. These fishermen can better figure out where their fellow folk would be by analyzing the direction of wind and using their traditional knowledge,” said Johnson Jament , Program coordinator of Friends of Marine Life, a local NGO.
Lack of coordination and miscommunication among the rescue forces is also affecting the ongoing operation. “The Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and fishermen are doing the operations without any proper coordination. Coordinating the efforts of the entities could have made the rescue operations more effective. The government helpline itself is pathetic as they are not able to provide any information to our queries regarding the missing fishermen,” Sindhu N, a resident of Pulluvila, told newindianexpress.com.
The latest IMD report suggested the possibility of the cyclonic storm taking a resurvey towards south Gujarat and adjoining north Maharashtra coasts. The report created panic among families of fishermen from Kochi who ventured into the sea for ‘distant fishing’ (200 miles away from the coast).
“Such a cyclone has potential to claim more lives. An immediate and coordinated rescue effort can help many families,” said Charles George, President of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi (Kerala fisheries workers union).
Improper utilization of funds by the Disaster Management Authority has also invited criticism.” The funds should be utilized in embracing technology to tackle disasters. Most of the funds are being spent for developing infrastructure rather than adopting mechanisms to combat disasters,” said T Peter, general secretary, National Fishworkers Forum.
A report by Firstpost quoted KG Thara, a former member of the State Disaster Management Authority, as saying, “The problem with SDMA is the lack of experts to analyze scientific inputs and act on them promptly. The authority is now packed with officials who do not have the required technological knowhow to analyze scientific information. Moreover, they are too busy with routine work to consult experts when a situation arises.”

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