Community Based Disaster Management

By: Angeli Qwatra and Nina Khanna
If the capacity of a community to face the perceived disasters is developed before the specialised responders arrive, many lives could be easily saved and infrastructural losses minimised.
Magazine Articles Planning n Mitigation

Community is the first responder in natural as well as human induced disasters. The initial hours after a disaster, especially the first ‘golden hour’, are very crucial. Hence there is a need to build the capacity of the community which can be especially difficult in developing countries like India where education levels are low, people are poor and the community has more pressing priorities like eking out a living. It is thus a challenge for the authorities and concerned organisations to mobilise the community consisting of diverse individuals and groups.

CBDM Approach: Community based disaster management (CBDM) is a bottom-up approach which is universally accepted as a tool to prepare communities for disasters. There are numerous examples of successful CBDM in countries like Peru, Bangladesh and Philippines. The capacity of a community is built in the CBDM approach to assess its vulnerability and develop strategies and resources necessary to prevent and mitigate the impact of identified disasters as well as respond, rehabilitate and reconstruct in the post-disaster period. This approach has become crucial due to the effects of global climate change, burgeoning population moving into more vulnerable regions and a heightened recognition of a need for greater linkages between top down government and community level responses. CBDM empowers the community to be proactive in disaster management and creates a space for them to develop strategies on their own terms rather than waiting for already over stretched government machinery to hold their hands.

CBDM in India: The Disaster Management Act 2005 was responsible for setting up the disaster management framework at the centre, state, district and local levels and envisaging a comprehensive and multi-hazard preparedness approach to deal with disasters. Core emphasis was given to developing the capacity of communities. Even the national vision, as outlined in the National Disaster Management Policy issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2009, envisaging “to build a safe and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and efficient response, involving all stakeholders, especially the community”, lays stress on building the capacity of the community. The national strategy envisages a multi-dimensional approach focusing on prevention, mitigation, preparedness (capacity building of National Disaster Response Force, state disaster response force, civil defence, National Cadet Corps, Nehru Yuva Kendras, etc) and CBDM (including public awareness, mock exercises, etc.) during the pre-disaster phase. The post disaster phase is characterised by proactive, prompt and efficient response; and the building back is better in reconstruction and recovery phases of disaster. ‘Building Back Better’, propagated by the World Bank, is a universally accepted norm of disaster management. The reconstruction in the Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, which was worst affected during Indian Ocean 2004 tsunami, is a good example of this strategy. Concrete dwellings were provided about one km away from the sea, improving their standard of living and also protecting them from future disasters, while the fishermen were given fibre glass boats during the rehabilitation phase which increased their catch by almost three times.

CBDM has been modified to CBDRM in India, where ‘R’ is ‘risk’—to include working with the community in vulnerable areas to mitigate risks. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) Development Research Foundation are working in drought prone areas in Rajasthan in a community preparedness development programme. International NGOs are collaborating with local NGOs—for example Save the Children is working with local NGOs to carry out child centric drought preparedness programmes in Rajasthan. Such programmes are being implemented in other states too, viz., Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, to name a few, through Governmental and NGO mechanisms. Micro insurance and micro finance at the community level have recently begun in India. A pilot project was conducted through the collaborative effort of Concern Worldwide India, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Ahmedabad and ‘SWAD Poor’.

In Ambassa district of Tripura, the villages have made their disaster management teams (rescue, first aid, security, warning, etc). Make-shift relief camps with tents made of bamboos are in place and a warning call, the responsibility of a group of women, is sounded during and after an earthquake drill or actual earthquake. Motorcyclists, cyclists and three wheelers within the village have been identified to transport disaster victims to the closest hospital. These procedures were initiated by the gram panchayat with the assistance of the National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has drawn up guidelines for CBDRM which are likely to be released in May 2014. The Authority has also taken the initiative of building the capacity of the community and the first responders in areas which fall in seismic zone IV and V for earthquakes. Capacity development programmes (CDPs) for earthquake disaster were conducted in all 11 districts of Delhi, (from 2011 to 2012), in 49 districts of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and UT of Chandigarh, (from 2012 to 2013), in all three districts of Andaman and Nicobar Islands (2013) and in 94 districts of all the eight states of northeast India (from 2013 to early 2014). In order to check the impact of CDPs and the state of preparedness of the community and first responders, review mock exercises were conducted with independent observers for third party audit, on specific days during the training programme. Special sessions were also organised for the judiciary and officials at the district, High Court and at the Supreme Court level. The multi district and multi state mock exercises have been very fruitful in sensitisation of the community and bringing out a number of gaps in preparedness, resources, communications, equipment and systems.

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NDMA claims to have conducted more than 600 mock exercises so far, sensitising over 3.5 million people. Ten battalions of the National Disaster Response Force have demarcated geographical areas where they carry out awareness programmes and training of the community, NGOs and government officials during the non-disaster period.


The common purpose of all CBDM programmes is to reduce disaster risk of the community. The main understanding behind all such activities should be to find ways and means to mitigate the impact of disasters through the participation and involvement of communities. Imparting skills and effecting change in attitude of members of the community are the key to success of the CBDM approach. We cannot prevent disasters from happening but we can surely attempt to reduce their impact on the lives, livelihood and environment by building the capacity of the community through CBDM approach.

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