What’s it like to be a household in crisis during a natural disaster? Well, we had a close shave during the ongoing Chennai rains.
Chennai rains this time broke a 100 year old record and have, in the process, brought immense discomfort to the residents, to put it mildly. They also gave a glimpse of what all can go wrong during a crisis of this nature.
It all starts with the event (heavy rains in this case) followed by an electricity outage. This outage is due to both – faults in the distribution lines as well as precautionary, lest it should electrocute someone accidentally if not shut down.
This starts the downward spiral. Loss of electricity results in outages at the mobile towers and internet service providers. The household gets totally cut off from the outside world. Landlines too, especially if they are from BSNL, become inactive in no time.
At home, inverters provide backup for a few hours. However, since the electricity outage is for days together, they offer succour for a limited period.
The next hit are the essential supplies. Panic buying ensures that milk and bread disappear from shelves of the neighbourhood shops in no time. Fresh vegetable cannot be stored as refrigerator at home won’t work. Hence, limited quantities of whatever is available is bought at exorbitant prices. With fresh supplies uncertain owing to blocked roads and closed shops, vegetable that can last longer (like potatoes) are bought in larger quantities. The household shifts to pulses and dishes made of flour.
Bank ATMs do not function due to electricity outages and inability of banks to load cash in time. Card is not accepted if there is no electricity at the stores. A family not having enough cash runs into trouble.
Candles too vanish from shop shelves quickly. If available, shopkeepers quadruple the prices. Take it or leave it! Petrol pumps run out of fuel but that’s not much of a worry as one cannot anyway take one’s vehicle out.
At home, drinking water becomes an issue as water purifiers won’t work! One has to boil tank water and drink; that too if the tank has any water left! If the household depends on a pump to push water to the rooftop tank, it is stuck till the electricity is restored!
Simultaneously, clothes pile up for washing and drying and in a few days, one runs out of clean clothing!
In this scenario, for how many days would a household last? And Yes, if one wishes to escape the mayhem, one cannot; as air, train and road traffic is shut down too!
The above description is of a household that hasn’t needed to be evacuated to safer destinations, doesn’t have aged members, patients or pregnant women. Imagine the scenario when these variables are brought into the picture!
One comes across three broad sets of people during such crises. One, that starts looking for needy people in the immediate neighbourhood and offers help. Two, that doesn’t actively seek out people needing help but offers help, both monetary and otherwise, when requested. Three, that makes such crises an opportunity to make a fast buck. Yes, the third category exists.
Having gone through a crisis recently (actually one that’s not fully over yet as I write this), I realise we are so dependent on public utilities that there is no one way to be best prepared for a crisis. However, we would do well to be part of neighbourhood communities to be able to pool resources to survive, if the need arises. How important, therefore, is to know and engage with one’s neighbourhood, is worth a thought!