What Covid-19 teaches India about disaster management

Source(s)
Economic and Political Weekly

Anand Vihar Bus Terminal, teeming with thousands of workers. During his speech on the night of 22 March, Modi mentioned that there were plans in place to keep essential services open, but the details of these plans were left undisclosed. Details were provided online later, through advisories, though the situation seems to differ from state to state. 

As state borders were closed, and busses and trains stopped, cities like Delhi witnessed what the Wall Street Journal has called an exodus of migrant workers. Left without work, wages or shelter by the lockdown, these workers have been forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their native villages. Others have travelled in crowded buses to reach their hometowns. 

Owing to the hunger and hardship that the measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic have created, the situation should rightly have been treated as a disaster. Government estimates suggest that over 300,000 workers have had to ignore the lockdown order in an attempt to get themselves home. On 29 March, the central government ordered quarantine camps to be opened for these migrants. However, whether or not these camps will prevent the spread of the epidemic remains to be seen. 

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An epidemic does not fall within the purview of the disaster management sector though, in terms of scale and suffering, it should. An article published in the Economic and Political Weekly by T Jacob John looked at the history of epidemics in India, and concluded that the government would be better prepared to deal with epidemics if it had a public health department, modelled like the departments in Sri Lanka or Thailand. Instead, the Indian government’s approach to epidemics has been rather ad hoc, mustering up resources and centres, only to dismantle them once the danger has passed. 

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