Home / Politics / Policy /  Drones scan flood-hit Uttarakhand

New Delhi: India deployed four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on Monday to scan areas that rescue and relief workers have not been able to reach in the flood-hit Himalayan foothills in Uttarakhand in what was described as a pioneering operation.

“It was the first time that this was done," said M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The UAVs made a reconnaissance of 50 areas in Uttarakhand on Monday, at least 20 of which were locations that rescuers hadn’t been able to reach to assess damage, Reddy said.

“The idea was to try to use UAVs to scan areas," he said.

It was the first time that the drones had been used in the country outside test situations, he said. The vehicle is controlled from a laptop “and has a camera attached to it which gives live video of the area," he said.

Designed by four former Indian Institute of Technology students, the UAVs have a range of two kilometres and are programmed to return automatically if they go beyond that range.

“You can either control the altitude and the area at the time that it is going around or you can pre-programme it to cover the designated area at a certain altitude," Reddy said.

Uttarakhand was hit by the worst floods in more than five decades and landslides last week after unprecedented heavy rain. The home ministry said on Monday that the death toll in the state could reach 1,000. However, some experts said that this was a conservative figure and the death toll is likely to be around 10,000.

NDMA was not prepared to cope with the disaster that took place in Uttarakhand, said Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment.

“We need much better disaster preparedness. Though there was enough warning from the local meteorological office in Dehradun, the state government failed to send warnings to the pilgrims travelling in the state," she said. She was speaking at a South Asia regional consultation on climate change adaptation organized by Unicef in New Delhi on Monday.

Reddy, who was also present at the event, said that the observational and forecast capabilities of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) have been “lacking".

“We have advised IMD officers to...monitor the weather in the state during the time that pilgrims visit the state" in a meeting held on 19 June, he said.

He also said that the terminology used by IMD needs to be simplified for easier understanding. “Heavy (rainfall) needs to be translated further into millimetres per hour," he said.

Climate change will become an important factor in development work in the Himalayan terrain, he said. “There was an ecological imbalance in the area."

On the extent of damage caused by the floods, Narain said that the disaster in Uttarakhand is “as much man-made as it is natural. Any development strategy that is not environmentally sound will become more disastrous and more tragic. All this means that we cannot afford to get development wrong," she said.

Although the disaster in Uttarakhand could not be called an event caused directly by climate change, there definitely were links to it, she said.

“Climate change talks about intensification of extreme rainfall events, and this is one of them," she said.

Apart from causing disasters, climate change also directly impacts the development and growth of countries, said Lise Grande, United Nations resident coordinator.

“All of the millennium development goals are at risk because of climate change and it poses a serious threat to the development that has taken place in various countries," she said.

David Mcloughlin, convener of India’s United Nations disaster management team (UNDMT), said that there is a need to develop local-level resilience in the country since it is geographically very diverse. “The government should focus on building response and resilience centres at the district and state level. They need more technical support and also need to mobilize capacity," he said.

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