Disaster management in India | India’s large size and diverse landscape makes it vulnerable to a number of natural as well as man made disasters. About 58 per cent of the country’s landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity; over 40 million hectares amounting to about 12 per cent of the land is prone to floods and river erosion; 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought; of the 7,516 km of coastline, close to 5,700 km is at risk from cyclones and tsunamis; and the hilly areas face threats from landslides and avalanches. The country also faces a risk from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) disasters/emergencies. Today, these vulnerabilities are heightened due to the expanding population, growing urbanisation and industrialisation, developmental activities within high risk zones, environmental degradation and climate change.
Disaster Management in India: the past
In the past, the perception of disaster management in India was limited to the idea of post incident management or calamity relief. It was essentially a non plan item of expenditure in the Government. A grant was given to the states for relief work through the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) and the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). CRF was used to provide immediate relief to victims of cyclone, drought, earthquake, fire, flood and hailstorms. Restoration of damaged capital works was usually done through normal budgetary heads, except when the expenditure was incurred as part of immediate relief such as restoration of drinking water sources, provision of shelters or restoration of communication links for facilitating relief operations.
Another aspect although not specifically meant for disaster management or mitigation, was the multipurpose projects which became the cornerstones for the approach towards disaster risk reduction. The dams were built not only for power generation but also to provide irrigation facilities and contain the ferocity of both droughts and floods.
It was only in the nineties that disaster mitigation and prevention measures became an integral part of the planning process in India. In 2001, giving due emphasis to disaster risk reduction 29 disaster management faculties/ centres were created in 28 states to facilitate research and consultancy and documentation of disaster events. Additionally, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) was also set up in the same year.
In October 2001 the high powered committee on disaster management presented its case for ushering in a new era of disaster management based on: a culture of preparedness, quick response, strategic thinking and prevention. In response to the recommendations of the Committee, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 was enacted which further paved the way for the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) – the apex body for disaster management in India. NDMA has the responsibility of laying down policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management to ensure timely and effective response to disasters in the country. The National Policy on Disaster Management prepared by the NDMA reflects the national vision “to build a safe and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, proactive, multi disaster oriented and technology driven strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response”. It was approved by the Cabinet in October 2009.
Disaster Management in India: the present
Some measures taken up and/or proposed by Government of India (GoI) for disaster risk reduction, mitigation and response are:
- Setting up of a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). Presently there are ten battalions of the NDRF located at different places in the country. The NDRF units maintain close liaison with the designated state governments and are readily available in the event of any disaster. Essential reserves prepositioned at crucial locations are available to the NDRF for enhancing their emergency response.
- The state governments are setting up and/or restructuring the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) and the District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs). The civil defence systems have been revamped to strengthen local efforts for disaster preparedness and effective response.
- The fire services are proposed to be strengthened/modernised to convert them into a multi hazard response force.
- The Bureau of India Standards (BIS) has issued building codes for construction of various types of buildings in the different seismic zones of the country.
- The National Programme for Capacity Building of Engineers and Architects in earthquake risk management was started to train 10,000 engineers and 10,000 architects on safe construction techniques and architectural practices.
- A major achievement in awareness generation was the introduction of disaster management in school syllabi in the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007). Besides schools, disaster management curriculum is now part of the undergraduate science and humanities as well as medical, engineering and architecture courses.
- All the ongoing and future projects of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development will incorporate disaster management aspects into them.
- Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation will incorporate disaster management features into their projects like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission etc.
- National level mitigation projects related to cyclones, earthquakes, information and communication networks, landslides, school safety and floods are being finalised and implemented.
- GoI in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has successfully completed the Disaster Risk Mitigation (DRM) project. Several village and district level disaster management committees as well as disaster management plans were created as part of this project.
- GoI has now launched the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programme, again with the assistance of UNDP.
- A programme for sensitisation of government officials, functionaries and other stakeholders has also been launched with the active participation of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
Disaster Management in India: the future
There is an emerging consensus that the key to achieving sustained reduction in disaster losses lies in factoring risk considerations into development activities. Managing risks could become a means of reducing future disaster risks through ‘corrective’ development planning. Through measures such as land use planning, building controls and others it could be ensured that development activity does not generate new risks. Mainstreaming disaster management into the development planning process essentially means looking critically at each activity that is being planned, not only from the perspective of reducing the disaster vulnerability of that activity, but also from the perspective of minimising that activity’s potential contribution to the hazard. The Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) has given impetus to programmes that develop and nurture the culture of safety and integrate disaster prevention and mitigation into the development process. Even the best of isolated efforts will not bear fruit unless they are part of an overall, well considered approach, where responsibilities for all stakeholders are clearly spelt out and accountability and sustainability factored in.