Indian disaster management experts were caught unawares by the tsunamis that wreaked havoc in South Asia.
Mihir Bhatt, director of Disaster Mitigation Institute, said: "In India, tsunamis are not a well-studied subject. It's such a rare phenomenon that at a national level no assessment has been done so far to mark the coastal villages and ports that are vulnerable to this phenomenon."
Bhatt said it was sad that only when people die that the government and the media respond.
In 1993, Gujarat's Dhandhuka district was hit by a minor tsunami, said Bhatt. Seven villages were completely devastated. Farmland was damaged. Crops could not be saved.
Bhatt and leaders of Utthan, a non-governmental organisation, were asked to assess the area. Bhatt says, "We saw that around 1000 acres of land were destroyed by sea water. Since no one died it was ignored."
This time, Bhatt has sent a team to reach out to the poorest of the poor hit by the tsunami.
A team, including Dipesh Sinha, Hasmukh Sadhu, Jikesh Thakkar and Tejal Dave, has been assigned the task to assess the actual damage within first 24 hours of disaster.
All of them have been trained to make the fast but fairly accurate assessment. They have already reached the coastal areas.
On Monday, another team of four experts will leave for Tamil Nadu, said Bhatt.
He said his team's quick assessment will help them to know what kind of help is needed.
He said, "We don't know the full picture yet. But it looks like the tragedy will be larger than we think. We will send cash and some material by tomorrow (Monday). Food and temporary shelters will be the priority. Since the damage is huge, we know that more than anything else cash is needed to buy things locally."
He said, "As things stand today in India, we cannot monitor tsunami as it's done in Japan or China."
Bhatt admitted that the DMI too has not concentrated on tsunamis and its skills have not been attuned to dealing with tsunami victims so far.
Bhatt said that once the assessment was done, they would seek funds for the victims as it was done in the case of earthquake victims of Kutch.
Some 11,600 people were helped by DMI to revive their small-scale businesses in Kutch. Probably, something similar will have to be planned in the case of tsunami victims.
Bhatt concluded, "This time the central government's response was faster than usual. The tsunami's attack suggests that the country and its people will have to be better prepared and better equipped to deal with such disasters. Our response has to be many times more effective."