With Indonesia battered by tsunamis, how prepared is India for a repeat of 2004?

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By Mridula Chari

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Along with Australia and Indonesia, India is one of three regional tsunami service providers that send warnings and seismic updates to countries in the Indian Ocean region. The Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre, launched by the government under the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services in 2007, collects and analyses seismic data through a network of sensors across the Indian Ocean. In August, the centre launched a real-time modelling system that uses mapping data to simulate within minutes the exact time and scale of impact of a tsunami across the Indian coast. Around 26% of the country’s population lives within 100 km of the coast.

The early warning centre was one of several measures the government took to address natural disasters after the 2004 tsunami, including setting up a National Disaster Management Authority, which was notified in the Disaster Management Act of 2005.

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[But] the results of mock drills have also not been too encouraging. In 2015, for instance, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services conducted a simulation of the potential impact of an earthquake near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In its assessment of the drill, the organisation found that 77% of village-level officials received all warning messages sent by email and SMS. But in 14% of the cases, it took the officials, who were prepared for a drill, more than an hour to issue notifications to the public, and in 22% of the cases, between half an hour to an hour to do so.

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Mitigation is only one part of disaster management. When public attention moves away immediately after a disaster, thousands of evacuees might be left in relief camps in unhealthy conditions with limited access to resources to rebuild their lives.

Said Ranjan Panda, a water expert based in Odisha, “Just the fact that Odisha can be called a leader in pre-cyclonic evacuation does not mean that it does not have miles to go with post-cyclone management.”

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