June 24, 2013

Management of Disasters in India

DISASTERS AFFECT almost every part of the world. According to a World Bank report titled “natural hazards, unnatural disasters,” floods and storms are the most widespread while droughts are prevalent more often in Africa. Regions which suffer from frequent droughts and floods are also home to most of the hungry in the world. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation. There is, therefore, a need to recognize hazards and vulnerability in a comprehensive manner and take effective steps for prevention, mitigation and management.
Management of Disasters in India
In the case of India, natural disasters like floods, cyclones and drought occur repeatedly in different parts of the country. Many districts of India are prone to multiple hazards and face different disasters around the year. Earthquake, hailstorms.

avalanches, and landslides also occur in some parts of India but the impact depends on the magnitude of the event and the vulnerability of the location. Natural disasters which occurred during 1980-2010 in India are given in Figure-I.

Developed countries which have modern early warning systems and effective mitigation programmes are able to reduce the impact of natural hazards whereas countries with less preparedness and inadequate mitigation efforts suffer more from natural hazards. In the case of India, the human and economic losses from disasters are high in comparison to many other developing nations.

According to an estimate by the World Bank direct losses from natural disaster are upto 2 percent of the India’s GDP. More importantly, the impact of most of the disasters is disproportionately high on the poor.

The Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) for action approved in 2005 by UNISDR to which India is a signatory, advocates mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into socio¬economic development planning and activities by adopting five priorities for action through a fivefold process: viz., Political process requiring countries to develop policies and legislative and institutional frameworks for disaster risk reduction and commit resources for their prevention, mitigation and preparedness; Technical process which calls for application of science and technology for assessment, identification and monitoring of disasters and enhancing early warning of system; Socio- educational process aiming at increasing citizen’s understanding and skills to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels; Development process seeking to integrate diraster risk in all re levant seotors of development planning end programmes; add Hmnanigtrian psoceds which reeutret factoring isaster risk reduction in disaster response stiC recncery.

Government of India started wnrk on some of ttasn Mean as etnly as AugusO 1999 whtn a High Powered Comminee(HPC) s>n Disanter Manegement wns conntitciedunder the Chairmanship of Shri J.C. Pant, former Secretary of Agricnltureno OCe Gtvnmment of India along with experts and officials, to suggest measures to bring about institutional reforms in the field of disaster management. Keeping in view our federal structure, the Committee was also mandated to prepare comprehensive plans for National, State and District levels. Soon after its formation, the scope of the Committee was enlarged to include man-made disasters like chemical, industrial, nuclear and others.

Barely two months had elapsed since the constitution of the High Powered Committee, that a Super Cyclone struck the Orissa Coast on 29th October 1999. This cyclone was unprecedented in its sweep and ferocity, killing nearly 10,000 people and affecting over 15 million people across 12 districts of Orissa. One year and four months later, the country experienced an earthquake with magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter Scale in Bhuj area of Gujarat State. In this disaster, nearly 20,000 people died, over 1,55,000 were injured, and 6 lakh people were rendered homeless.

The turning point in the thinking on disaster management was the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26th December 2004. This disaster struck the country in more than seven states which highlighted the gaps in early warning, coordination and the management of disasters. In an All Party Meeting held on 9th January 2005, the need for national level legislation for management of natural and man-made disasters was highlighted. Consequent to this meeting, Government of India decided to enact a law on disaster management to provide for a requisite institutional mechanism for drawing up and monitoring the implementation of the disaster management plans, ensuring measures by various wings of the Government for prevention and mitigation of disasters and for undertaking a holistic, coordinated and prompt response to any disaster situation. Accordingly a Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 11th May, 2005.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 lays down institutional, legal financial and coordination mechanisms at the central, state, district and local levels. These institutions are not parallel structures and will work in close harmony. The new institutional framework is expected to ensure implementation of the national desire for a paradigm shift in DM from a relief-centric approach to a proactive regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation.

With the enactment of Disaster Management Act 2005 the National Disaster Management Authority was established under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The Act also provide for establishment of State Disaster Management Authorities and District Disaster Management Authorities. Therefore, the Disaster Management architecture for the country has now been provided with legal backing and with clear delineation with rules and responsibility. The Acts also provide for budget allocation for disaster risk reduction and for response. With this architecture in place it is now upto the Central and the State Governments to utilize these provisions effectively to reduce the impact of disasters on our people and the country.

It is well recognized that the poor and vulnerable sections of the society are impacted disproportionately by disasters. Quite often they lose their homes, assets and livelihoods. While there is genuine concern about the adverse impact of disasters on GDP there is even more concern that our efforts to achieve ‘inclusive growth’ may not be successful unless Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is addressed. To achieve this, the following steps are necessary:

(i)      Mainstreaming DRR into development

(ii)    Strengthening early warning systems by leveraging science and technology.

(iii)  Increasing awareness and preparedness.

(iv)  Strengthening rescue and relief mechanisms.

(v)    Better rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The Government of India administers a number of ambitious programmes in key sectors like agriculture, rural development, urban development, drinking water, rural roads, health, education and food security. These programmes have substantial outlays and are aimed at improving the quality of the life of our people. While these have contributed in some way to disaster risk reduction, specific components and interventions for DRR have largely been missing in many of these flagship programmes. The attempt now should be to introduce DRR as a specific component of these schemes.

While the contribution of agriculture to reduction in hunger and poverty is well recognized, the impact of bad weather on agriculture on the income and food security of small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers has not been adequately addressed in any programme relating to agriculture. The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana(RKVY) is a flagship programme of the Ministry of Agriculture which provides adequate flexibility to include DRR components to take care of extreme weather events. Creating reserves of seeds, pest surveillance systems, providing water storage devices (in combination with MGNREGS) etc could be taken up as DRR components.

 The schemes under Ministry of Rural Development have great potential in reducing the impact of disasters. Since most of the schemes are targeted towards the poor, small changes in the design of the schemes would make a significant impact. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) provides rural connectivity to habitations. These could also provide lifeline connectivity in the case of disasters to hospitals, food distribution centres, schools, etc. Villages with no connectivity at all due to seasonal or perennial rivers and rivulets can be provided access to economic activity, education and health by constructing small foot bridges by suitably modifying the scheme. The Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) provides housing for the poor. Normally the Ministry earmarks a small percentage of funds for quick construction of houses to those affected by natural disasters. However the design and cost norms of the housing schemes do not permit addition of disaster resistant elements. A change in design norms to accommodate the need for strengthening the house vis-a-vis the vulnerability of the region needs to be introduced in the 12th Five Year Plan proposals. So is the case with Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) provides for strengthening infrastructure in selected large cities in the country. While this has contributed to a remarkable improvement in urban infrastructure, attention to vulnerabilities and strategy for disaster management in the city development/master plans has been lacking. Given the fact that urban population in India is growing at a rapid pace and natural hazards in densely populated regions can increase vulnerability and economic losses and more attention to disaster reduction needs to be given in the planning and implementation of the urban development projects.

The Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (RGNDWM) provides safe and potable water to all the villages. In the event of a natural disaster, availability of drinking water and food demand immediate attention. The Department has earmarked a certain percentage in their outlay for sinking emergency tube-wells in the event of a disaster. While this is a welcome step, more thought needs to be given to the design, construction and location of the drinking water sources particularly in low lying flood prone areas. It would be worthwhile to construct these tube-wells on higher platforms in low lying and flood prone areas so that in the monsoon season and in the event of floods, these do not go under water and become unusable.

Similarly the health sector has a flagship programme called National Rural Health Mission. While our experience in handling epidemics and pandemics has been good, areas like hospital safety, surveillance mechanism for infectious diseases, trauma care, management of mass causalities, etc., need more attention.

Disaster Risk Reduction needs to be included in the curricula in Schools and Colleges to inculcate the culture of safety and prevention among the children. In addition, a thorough review of the safety of the School buildings needs to be undertaken. To ensure safety of all the Schools in the country, a legislative framework will have to be set up. There is also a shortage of qualified professionals in many areas related to DRR. This needs to be addressed on priority.

Setting up of suitable early warning systems is probably the best intervention which can be made in the next five years. While we have substantially stepped up our capabilities for Tsunami warning the same cannot be said for other efforts. Systems for weather forecasting, though have improved substantially over the last five years, still needs higher investments, equipments and man power. It should be possible to warn communities in any part of the country about extreme weather conditions substantially well in advance to enable them to save the lives and property. Satellite imagery has become an important tool for decision makers in getting alerts for disasters and in assessing the situation pre and post disaster. These capabilities need further refinement and intensification to enable functionaries at the district level to take appropriate and timely decisions. Therefore, the three departments viz., Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Space and the organisations under them viz., IMD, INCOIS, NRSC, and SOI need to step up their investments in equipments and human capabilities to provide advance and effective information on disasters. These have to be supported by other scientific departments and organisations like ICAR, ICMR, CWC, GSI, etc. It is also necessary to create a national platform for sharing, using and disseminating the data. (for example the data on heavy rainfall needs to be combined with the data on river flows to develop flood inundation models and early warning systems. This could be supplemented by satellite imagery).

Lack of awareness about many things that the Community does or does not do has also contributed responsible for the extensive damages caused by disasters. For example it is often said that “earthquakes do not kill, but buildings do". In spite of this, our adherence to norms in the case of buildings in seismic zone-IV and V has been quite poor. In fact building collapse even without an earthquake. Similarly our compliance with fire safety norms has also been found to be awfully inadequate. While it is necessary to strengthen inspections and management by Government agencies it is also important for the citizens to be aware of the danger and be responsible for some of these activities. it is public awareness and pressure which brings in the desired results in such situations. Our preparedness regime needs strengthening both at the Government level and at the community level. In fact community preparedness is still an alien concept in the country. An intensive campaign to strengthen community preparedness will have to be undertaken.

Our traditional response in any disaster has been one of rescue and relief with a series of quick but adhoc actions. Rescue and relief cannot remain adhoc actions but have to be systematic and well planned. This will require proper planning and standard operating procedures for all eventualities that could be foreseen with clear responsibilities for each of the functionaries who are expected to deliver in such a situation. If effective systems could be put in place at the National, State, District, Municipality and Panchayat levels, many lives can be saved and the economic damage reduced.

Post disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction is an important activity, though not discussed here.

The important message, therefore, is that all hazards need not become disasters. With better planning, preparedness awareness and mitigation measures we can significantly reduce the impact of disasters for our people in the near future.


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