Current News - Ecology & Environment - Disaster Management

Deadly Storm in Libya Results in Thousands Dead or Missing

Libyan authorities are estimating that over 6,000 people have lost their lives, with another 10,000 missing after a recent powerful storm in the Mediterranean led to the bursting of dams, causing extensive damage to coastal neighborhoods.

Key Points:

  • Initial Storm and Dam Bursts: Storm Daniel struck Libya, bringing heavy rainfall and flash flooding, but the most devastating impact occurred when two dams on the Wadi Derna River burst, unleashing a destructive wall of water.
  • Long-Term Neglect in Derna: Derna, the hardest-hit city, had faced neglect for years, exacerbated by years of conflict and political instability in Libya.
  • Local authorities had discussed development plans for Derna, but little progress was made. The city's maintenance had been consistently delayed, leading to severe vulnerabilities.
  • Definition of Mediterranean Storms: A Mediterranean storm, also referred to as a Mediterranean cyclone or Mediterranean low, is a specific type of weather system that originates over the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Varied Intensity and Impact: Mediterranean storms exhibit varying levels of intensity and can have diverse impacts on the affected regions. However, a common characteristic of these storms is their tendency to bring about heavy precipitation.
  • Weather-Related Hazards: The heavy rainfall associated with Mediterranean storms often leads to several weather-related hazards, including flooding, landslides, and other adverse meteorological conditions.
  • Geographical Context: Libya is a North African country situated in the Maghreb region. It shares borders with multiple countries and is located along the Mediterranean Sea to the north.
  • Bordering Nations: Libya is bounded by several neighboring countries: Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad to the south, Niger to the southwest, Algeria to the west, and Tunisia to the northwest.

'Aarogya Maitri': World’s First Rapid-Response Disaster Hospital

Recently, Indian scientists launched a groundbreaking disaster hospital named 'Aarogya Maitri,' capable of becoming fully operational within just 8 minutes, providing immediate medical care to those in need.

This innovative facility includes an operating theater and a mini intensive care unit (ICU) to address critical patient requirements.

Key Points:

  • Cutting-Edge Facilities: 'Aarogya Maitri' is equipped with ventilators for patients needing respiratory support, along with essential medical equipment like diagnostic tools and X-ray machines.
  • Lifesaver for Remote Areas: The hospital's primary goal is to serve remote and underserved regions with limited medical resources or accessibility challenges. Its portable design allows easy transportation to these areas.
  • In-Built Amenities: In addition to medical facilities, the disaster hospital features a food preparation station to ensure patients’ and medical staff’s sustenance.
  • It is self-sustaining with water, a power generator, and essential supplies.
  • Notably, it can be transported by aircraft, making it a versatile solution for disaster relief efforts.
  • The 'Aarogya Maitri' Cube: This unique hospital design comprises three frames, each containing 12 mini cubes, totaling 36 cubes, each measuring 72 cubic feet.
  • These cubes house all necessary equipment and supplies for effective medical care.
  • The entire hospital efficiently fits into these cubes, ensuring an organized and efficient disaster response.
  • Cost and Future Plans: The development of this rapid-response disaster hospital is estimated to cost around 1.5 crores INR.

Central Water Commission Launches 'FloodWatch' App for Flood Forecasting

On 17th August, 2023, the Central Water Commission (CWC) unveiled the 'FloodWatch' app, capable of predicting the likelihood of floods one day in advance and offering a seven-day advisory on flood possibilities at various monitoring stations across India.

Key Points:

  • Visual Indicators for Flood Risk: The app, available on Google's Play Store, features an interactive map of India with colored circles denoting water stations throughout the country.
  • Current Flood Risk Indicators: These circles indicate the current flood risk: green for 'normal,' yellow for 'above normal,' orange for 'severe,' and red for 'extreme.'
  • Detailed Station Information: By clicking on a circle, users can access information such as the current water level at the station, the historical highest level, danger level, and warning level.
  • State-wise and Basin-wide Forecast: The app offers state-wise and basin-wide flood forecasts for up to 24 hours or flood advisories for up to seven days, which can be accessed by selecting specific monitoring stations.
  • Advanced Technology Implementation: 'FloodWatch' leverages advanced technologies, including satellite data analysis, mathematical modeling, and real-time monitoring, to deliver accurate and timely flood forecasts.
  • Response to Recent Weather Challenges: The launch of the app comes in response to recent heavy rains triggering landslides in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • Weather Conditions Leading to Challenges: These events were caused by a combination of extratropical storms known as Western Disturbances and monsoon conditions.

Cloudbursts and Landslides in Himachal Pradesh

In the aftermath of torrential downpours on 14th August, 2023, Himachal Pradesh confronts a tragic aftermath with catastrophic landslides due to cloudbursts and heavy rainfall.

Factors behind Heavy Rains in Himachal and Uttarakhand

  • The northward shift of the monsoon trough and its interaction with a mild western disturbance contribute to the intense rainfall in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • The monsoon trough extends from Pakistan's "heat low" to the Bay of Bengal region. It's a semi-permanent feature in India's monsoon system.
  • Currently, the monsoon trough lies north of its usual position, over the Himalayan foothills.
  • A gradual southward shift of the monsoon trough is expected, leading to reduced hill rainfall and increased rainfall over east-central India.

About Cloudburst

  • A cloudburst signifies concentrated, intense rainfall that typically transpires in hilly locales.
  • Though not all instances of heavy rainfall constitute cloudbursts, they embody unique criteria: rainfall exceeding 10 cm within an hour across a roughly 10 km x 10 km zone.
  • Under this parameter, 5 cm rainfall within half an hour in the same region qualifies as a cloudburst.

Trends in Cloudburst

  • A surge in cloudbursts, as per IMD's definition, isn't evident in long-term trends.
  • However, extreme rainfall occurrences, along with other weather extremes, are mounting globally, not confined to India.
  • Although India's overall rainfall hasn't drastically changed, a larger proportion now occurs in shorter durations.
  • In Himachal Pradesh, cloudbursts are frequent, especially during the monsoon from June to September.
  • The unique topography, wind dynamics, and temperature variations in the Himalayan region contribute to their prevalence.
  • Presently, the monsoon trough is centered over Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, intensifying rainfall patterns.
  • This pattern, attributed to climate change, indicates a possible increase in cloudburst events.

Understanding Landslides and Their Causes

  • Landslides entail the movement of rock, debris, or earth down a slope, classified under "mass wasting," involving gravity-induced soil and rock movement.
  • Mainly found in mountainous regions, conducive conditions of soil, rock, geology, and slope prompt landslides.
  • Natural triggers include heavy rainfall, earthquakes, snow melting, and slope undercutting due to flooding.
  • Human activities like excavation, deforestation, overdevelopment, and overgrazing can also induce landslides.
  • In India, rainfall-induced landslides are common.

Unpredictability and Challenges

  • Cloudbursts are renowned for their capricious nature, arriving suddenly and unexpectedly.
  • Preferring secluded and inaccessible regions, these localized occurrences frequently initiate flash floods that imperil settlements downstream.
  • The task of predicting cloudbursts remains arduous, particularly within the small valleys of the Himalayas.
  • Despite the potential utility of Doppler radar, which offers velocity insights on objects, forecasting these events remains intricate.

Impact of Cloudbursts

  • Due to the terrain's nature, heavy rainfall frequently triggers landslides and flash floods, inflicting extensive damage downstream.
  • While these events occur in small, instrument-scarce areas, their repercussions extend beyond these confines.

Key Points from NDMA's National Landslide Risk Management Strategy Report

  • Urban Overload in Shimla: The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) report highlights the strain of overpopulation in Shimla, originally designed for 25,000 but now accommodating around 300,000 residents.
  • Inappropriate Planning and Copied Blueprints: The report points to unsuitable planning for hilly regions and the adoption of Delhi Master Plans, criticized for neglecting environmental factors.
  • Plan Implementation Shortcomings: Even existing plans suffer from poor execution, resulting in unsafe buildings and non-compliance with design codes.
  • Environmental Challenges in Himalayan Cities: The report identifies issues such as untreated sewage, garbage accumulation, water scarcity, urban sprawl, and air pollution.
  • Water Scarcity and Vulnerable Infrastructure: Shimla grapples with water shortages due to landslides, silt deposition, and power outages disrupting water supply systems.
  • Comprehensive Development Solutions: The report advocates for planned development in Himalayan towns, suggesting measures like banning plastics and sustainable waste management.
  • Prioritizing Systemic Solutions: Authorities should focus on systemic fixes instead of quick remedies for issues like landslides, as long-term benefits outweigh upfront costs.
  • Investment in Long-Term Solutions: The report urges a shift from short-term engineering approaches to more sustainable solutions for landslide prevention.

Union Minister for Jal Shakti Releases Disaster Management Plan Manual

Recently, the Ministry of Jal Shakti unveiled the Manual for Disaster Management Plan (DMP) during a national conference of the Rural WASH Partners Forum in New Delhi. It has been developed by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Key Points:

  • Aims: The Manual aims to ensure safety, uninterrupted supply, and minimal loss of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) assets and services.
  • The Plan aligns with the Jal Jeevan Mission and Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen and adheres to the advisory issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • Objectives of the Plan: The Plan's objectives include immediate WASH response to disasters based on agreed standards, enhancing WASH resilience to reduce disaster vulnerability, and establishing a robust environment for coordination and funding.
  • Comprehensive Approach: The Plan prioritizes disaster recovery and offers a holistic approach covering community preparedness, technology use, and international cooperation.
  • Focus on Four Stages of Planning: These include preparedness, response, recovery & reconstruction, and mitigation.
  • Assessment during Disasters: The Manual outlines three types of assessments to be conducted during disasters: Hazard-Vulnerability-Capacity mapping before the disaster, Rapid Needs Assessment during response, and Post-Disaster Needs Assessment during recovery & reconstruction.
  • Inclusive Considerations: The disaster management plan includes addressing gender-based vulnerabilities, issues concerning Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST), elderly, children, and people with disabilities.

The Landslide Atlas of India

On March 11, 2023, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released The Landslide Atlas of India.

The Atlas is based on an all-India database created by the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre that includes three types of landslide inventory: seasonal, event-based, and route-wise, covering the period from 1998 to 2022.

  • Deaths Due to Landslides: Landslides rank third globally in terms of deaths among natural disasters.
  • Sudden heavy rains due to climate change are increasing landslides, particularly in the Himalayan region, where 73% of landslides are attributed to heavy rains and reduced water-absorbing capacity of soil.
  • Impact of Landslides: Landslides can cause buildings, roads, bridges, and other structures to collapse or become damaged, resulting in injuries, deaths, and financial losses.
  • The risk analysis is based on the density of human and livestock populations in affected areas.
  • Increasing Risks: The risk is increasing due to climate change and human activities such as deforestation and unplanned urbanization.
  • Heavy rains reduced water-absorbing capacity of soil, and specific events such as earthquakes or slope cuts can trigger landslides.
  • Occurrence of Landslides:The maximum number of landslides between 1988 and 2022 were recorded in Mizoram (12,385), followed by Uttarakhand, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Manipur, and Maharashtra.

Landslides are the movement of rock, earth, or debris down a slope. This movement can be caused by a variety of factors, including natural events like heavy rainfall, earthquakes, and erosion, as well as human activities like construction and mining, and even underwater, where they are called submarine landslides.

NATPOLREX: Oil Spill Preparedness Exercise

The eighth edition of National Level Pollution Response Exercise NATPOLREX was conducted by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) off Mormugao harbour in Goa.

  • The event was attended by more than 85 participants from 50 agencies, including 29 observers from 22 friendly foreign countries and International Organisations, and two Coast Guard ships from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Objective

  • The objective of NATPOLREX-VIII was to enhance the preparedness and response capability of all the stakeholders in combating marine spills.

Aim

  • It aims at validating the procedures and guidelines as contained in the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) at the national and regional levels under the aegis of SACEP MoU to which India is a member state.

Meeting Constitutional Mandate & International Laws

  • India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.
  • The Forty-second amendment to the Constitution of India obliges the State to endeavour to protect and improve the environment. This plan is a measure of fulfilment of the obligation on the State under the Law of the Sea Convention and the Constitution of India.

National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP)

  • The NOS-DCP was originally promulgated in 1996 and subsequently updated to include additional information, latest update being in 2014.
  • The Indian Coast Guard is the designated national authority for oil spill response in Indian waters under the Plan.

SACEP

  • About: South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) is an inter-governmental organization, established in 1982 by the governments of South Asia to promote and support protection, management and enhancement of the environment in the region.
  • SACEP Member Countries: are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan , India , Maldives , Nepal , Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • Secretariat: The Secretariat of SACEP is based in Colombo, Sri Lanka and is under the patronage of the Sri Lankan Government.

IMD Launches Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas & Doppler Radars

On 14th January 2022, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) launched India’s first Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas and four Doppler Weather Radars.

Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas

  • The Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas of India has been developed by the scientists at Climate Research and Services (CRS) office of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune.
  • The Atlas is based on 12 extreme weather events and the risks they pose to the local population, livelihoods and economy of each district.
  • The atlas features extreme rainfall, drought, coldwave, heatwave, dust storms, hail storm, thunderstorm, cyclones, snowfall, lightning, winds and fog.

The atlas provides climate vulnerability information at district level on five types of hazards:

  1. Cold Wave
  2. Heatwave
  3. Flood
  4. Lightning
  5. Snowfall
  • The atlas provides a range of vulnerability with risks ranging from nil, low, moderate, high and very high categories for every Indian district.
  • The atlas provides pie charts representing the percentage of districts and population affected by disastrous weather events in different vulnerability categories.

Benefits of this Atlas

  • The hazard and vulnerability atlas can be used as reference points to issue Impact Based forecasts with respect to different weather hazards. It can also be utilized as a guide in planning socio-economic activities and in preventing and mitigating disasters.

Doppler Weather Radars

  • IMD launched four new Doppler weather radars, one each in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Leh, to further improve the weather forecast system in these cities/region.
  • Now, the number of such radars in the country reached 33. The IMD's has plans to increase this to 90 for covering the entire country under the DWR network for better forecasting.

Special Feature the New Radars

  • The dual-polarization technology used in this radar will provide improved rainfall monitoring and hydrometeor classification by distinguishing between rain, snow, and hail.
  • This will also help in monitoring, nowcasting and short-range forecasting.

Vizag Gas Leak: Styrene Gas

  • On 7th May, 2020, a gas leak claimed at least 11 lives and affected thousands of residents in five villages in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The source of the leak was a styrene plant owned by South Korean electronics giant LG, located at RRV Puram near Gopalapatnam, about 15 kms from the coast city.

What is Styrene?

  • Styrene, also known as ethenylbenzene, vinylbenzene, and phenylethene, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5CH=CH2.
  • It is a derivative of benzene (C6H6).
  • Styrene is named after storax balsam, the resin of Liquidambar trees of the Altingiaceae plant family.
  • It occurs naturally in small quantities in some plants and foods (cinnamon, coffee beans, and peanuts) and in coal tar and vehicle exhaust.
  • It is stored in factories as a liquid, but evaporates easily, and has to be kept at temperatures under 20°C.

Industrial Production

  • The vast majority of styrene is produced from ethylbenzene and almost all ethylbenzene produced worldwide is intended for styrene production.

Applications

  • It is a flammable liquid that is used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and latex.
  • Styrene is the main raw material for synthesis of polystyrene, or (C8H8)n.
  • It is also used as an intermediate to produce copolymers — which are polymers derived from one or more species of monomers such as styrene.

What happens when exposed to styrene?

  • Styrene is regarded as a known carcinogen.
  • It is the mucous membrane that is mainly affected by exposure to styrene gas
  • Short-term exposure to the substance can result in respiratory problems, irritation in the eyes, irritation in the mucous membrane, and gastrointestinal issues.
  • Long-term exposure could drastically affect the central nervous system and lead to other related problems like peripheral neuropathy.

What are the symptoms?

  • Symptoms include headache, hearing loss, fatigue, weakness, difficulty in concentrating etc.
  • Animal studies, according to the EPA, have reported effects on the CNS, liver, kidney, and eye and nasal irritation from inhalation exposure to styrene.

Source: HT

Safeguards against Chemical Disasters

At the time of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only relevant law specifying criminal liability for such incidents, reported PRS Legislative.

Soon after the tragedy, which had killed 2,000 people, the government passed a series of laws regulating the environment and prescribing and specifying safeguards and penalties. Some of these laws were:

  • Bhopal Gas Leak (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, which gives powers to the central government to secure the claims arising out of or connected with the Bhopal gas tragedy. Under the provisions of this Act, such claims are dealt with speedily and equitably.
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986, which gives powers to the central government to undertake measures for improving the environment and set standards and inspect industrial units.
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, which is insurance meant to provide relief to persons affected by accidents that occur while handling hazardous substances.
  • The National Environment Appellate Authority Act, 1997, under which the National Environment Appellate Authority can hear appeals regarding the restriction of areas in which any industries, operations or processes or class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • National Green Tribunal, 2010, provides for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for effective and expeditious disposal of cases related to environmental protection and conservation of forests.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

Why is it in News?

NDMA has played a pivotal role in minimising the catastrophe caused by Cyclone Fani.

About NDMA:

  • The NDMA is the apex statutory body for disaster management in India. It derives its powers and responsibilities from the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • It was established in 2009.
  • It is under the control of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • The Prime Minister is its ex-officio chairman of NDMA.
  • NDMA equips and trains other government officials, institutions and the community in mitigation for and response during a crisis situation or a disaster.
  • It operates the National Institute of Disaster Management, which develops practices, delivers hands-on training and organizes drills for disaster management.
  • It also equips and trains disaster management cells at the state and local levels.
  • State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) is headed by the respective Chief Minister.

Which all Disasters are catered to by the NDMA/SDMA?

NDMA/SDMA caters to both natural and man-made disasters which are listed below:

Man-made disasters:

  • Biological disaster
  • Chemical disaster
  • Nuclear & Radiological Disaster

Natural Disaster:

  • Floods
  • Earthquake
  • Cyclones
  • Urban floods
  • Tsunamis
  • Heat waves
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