Managing disasters: next-gen reforms

Managing disasters: next-gen reforms

Baring a few sceptics like the United States, there is no uncertainty about projections of climate change made by the assessment reports of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is widely accepted that the incidence and also the intensity of disasters, both natural and man-made, will increase several fold.

One recent manifestation of this was Cyclone Ockhi, which originated in the Bay of Bengal but has its landfall in the Arabian Sea. It had impacts in several states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharastra and Gujarat - to varying degrees. Such disasters will increasingly result in massive economic losses and loss of lives if we are not prepared to deal with them.

India, in general, is one of the most hazard-prone countries in the world. Some 60% of the country is prone to earthquakes of moderate to high intensity, 40 million hectares is prone to floods, the 5,700-km long coast is prone to cyclones and tsunamis, and the whole of Himalayas are prone to landslides. Such vulnerability warrants effective measures to deal with disasters.

During the first decade of this century, India, with USAID assistance, evolved its District Disaster Management Plans. Today, every district in the country has an effective and realistic District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP) with robust communication, with an effective and efficient database, documented and rehearsed to be activated in the minimum possible time, with user-friendly procedures ensuring active participation by government, community and volunteers at all levels, making optimum utilisation of men, materials and available resources with no gaps, to prevent loss of lives and to minimise loss to property, ensuring the fastest approach for rescue, rehabilitation and to avert further misery for calamity-stricken people.

The DDMP guides the entire state machinery engaged in relief operations and enhances the community's capacity to face the eventuality. This evolution of DDMP is a paradigm shift made by India in disaster management from that of the colonial approach of reactive relief to a proactive approach with four stages, starting from a non-disaster stage and passing through just before disaster, during and after it.

This shift can be considered first generation reforms in disaster management and were inspired by the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters.

The global average annual loss due to disasters is estimated to increase up to $415 billion by 2030 due to the investment requirements in urban infrastructure alone. However, this growth in expected losses is not inevitable, as annual investments of $6 billion in appropriate disaster risk management strategies could generate benefits in terms of risk reduction of $360 billion.

This is equivalent to an annual reduction of new and additional expected losses by more than 20%. Such an annual investment in disaster risk reduction represents only 0.1% of the $6 trillion per year that will have to be invested in infrastructure over the next 15 years.

Need for integration

However, the current ground situational analysis indicates that at the district level, the last two stages of DDMP received due attention, but the first two stages, which focus more on risk reduction, are not given adequate attention. Hence, there is a need to integrate disaster risk reduction into developmental planning at the district level.

The need to bridge this gap is also emphasised in several multilateral conventions and frameworks, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Post-2015 Development Agenda, and also at the national level as reflected in the Prime Minister's 10-Point Agenda on Risk Reduction and National Policy on School Safety. It is the time to usher in second generation reforms in disaster management in the country.

In addition to integrating disaster risk reduction into district-level planning, another emergent issue that needs priority focus is incorporating child-centric/sensitive planning. Integrating child-centric risk reduction into development planning attains higher significance as our entire national planning is built around the hope of harnessing the 'demographic dividend' to leapfrog our country into the league of developed nations.

Streamlining issues like assisted institutional deliveries, bringing down maternal mortality rate, neonatal mortality rate, ensuring complete immunisation, controlling malnutrition, and proper schooling at the district level does not require huge investments. With the existing infrastructure and institutions, significant changes can be brought in through integration of disaster risk reduction strategies into district developmental planning.

In this connection, efforts by Karnataka are laudable as it has initiated efforts to revamp DDMPs to infuse the spirit of the Sendai Framework with focus on preparedness and mitigation aspects and also working towards child-centric risk reduction. These changes can be adopted by other states as well.  

Managing risks rather than managing disasters - or disaster risk reduction - needs to be reinterpreted.

(The writer is associated with Karnataka State Women's University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)

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