Every year, millions of people around the world are affected by natural or human-made disasters. With the advancement of science and technology, and better management, the number of deaths due to natural disasters is decreasing over the years. However, disasters like earthquake, cyclone, drought and flood are posing serious threats (Below, 2017; Guo, 2010) to mankind. In fact, earthquakes, cyclones and floods and other related natural events are the leading cause of death in recent years. Given India’s population and weak state of its institutions of governance, adopting precautionary measures to disaster preparedness becomes imperative.
The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events, coupled with poor governance and lack of awareness, cause severe damage in many parts of the world. The impact, in terms of loss of life, livelihoods, and displacement of population, is particularly high in developing nations. The rescue and rehabilitation needs of the community affected by any disaster depend on both the intensity of the disaster and the efficiency of the governance mechanisms in place.
We are fortunate that in the present day agencies around the world are constantly observing the occurrences of disasters across the globe, and analysing their pattern, origin and the damages caused. These determinations are frequently shared among scientific bodies for better preparation of upcoming events and the learnings from similar events are also shared freely. Finding reliable and accurate data is crucial. It plays a vital role not only in disaster preparedness, but also in post-disaster management. As such, domestic capability gaps can often be bridged to a large extent by establishing good networks and communications systems with such global entities.
The efforts of the European Space Agency (ESA) are a good case in point. When a disaster strikes, a group of international space agencies, pool their resources and expertise to support relief efforts on the ground (ESA, 2017). Also, several organisations across the globe work on specific disasters, some of which even offer data about the natural disasters in the open domain to promote more scientific research. International centres are sharing datasets for particular disasters – for example, the global earthquake model (GEM) holds a global historical earthquake catalogue from the year 1000 to date.
India is home to 1.3 billion people (UN, 2018) which accounts for almost 17.74 per cent of the world’s population. The growing frequency and intensity of extreme events, combined with uncontrolled, rapid urbanisation and poor governance makes the country extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. In India, about 60 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; close to 5,700 km long coastline out of the 7,516 km, is prone to cyclones; about 68 per cent of the cultivable area is susceptible to drought (NDMA 2018). The Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the East and part of West coast are vulnerable to Tsunami. The deciduous/ dry-deciduous forests in different parts of the country experience forest fires. The Himalayan region and the Western Ghats are prone to landslides (ISRO, 2017).
India has an institutional framework in place for dealing with disasters which is rapidly growing in capability. The nodal agencies for disaster management in India are the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). These agencies, along with state disaster management authorities are responsible for disaster management. Research institutes like the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) and Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) are continually conducting scientific research and providing data to disaster management authorities.
The key to preventing or minimising the scale of disasters we face lies in these agencies being able to deploy the latest scientific tools and knowledge available, nationally or internationally, in a timely and systemic manner to predict the likelihood of extreme events and translate this knowledge into response action needed by the administrative set up. Neither the lack of data or knowledge nor the lack of coordination among various agencies responsible for timely response action can any longer be an acceptable excuse for avoidable high losses, particularly in terms of lives lost.
Prime Minister Modi had declared that “In India, we are committed to walk the talk on the implementation of Sendai Framework” during the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi, in November 2016 (PIB, 2016). India has all the technical capabilities it requires to ensure that we are indeed able to walk the talk, and build/strengthen any gaps that may exist. Modern technologies like satellite imaging (for imaging the extent of impact), Internet of things (IOT) (informed decisions), unmanned aerial systems (UAS) (surveillance and rescue), Decision Support Systems (timely decision), GIS technologies (spatial enabled decision), crowdsourcing (disaster management and rescue) and artificial intelligence (inference and learning and decision making)—all of which can contribute to better disaster preparedness— are available in India.
The need of the hour is for the government to strengthen the institutional framework for disaster management by requiring every state to have a disaster preparedness and response network comprising (i) Academic and research organisations that could model vulnerabilities to relevant extreme events in a state bearing in mind the underlying socio-ecological contexts therein (ii) Weather forecasting agencies that have the capability and must take responsibility, for forecasts at relevant time and geographical scales (iii) Large infrastructure service providers that are themselves vulnerable or can add to vulnerability (iv) Municipal and state functionaries who would need to lead preparedness, and enforce it, on the basis of precautionary principles, and finally (v) the agencies that would be involved in relief and rescue operations. Such a network would need to be coordinated by a small empowered committee and chaired by a professional in the rank of a minister. Cross-border coordination must be ensured by the chairmen of the empowered state committees. The only remaining barrier to a more effective mitigation of disaster consequences is one of application.
Below, P. (2017). Hoyois – EM-DAT: The CRED/OFDA International Disaster Database–www.emdat.be–Université Catholique de Louvain–Brussels–Belgium. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
European Space Agency, 2017. Pooling and Sharing of Secure Government Satcoms, November 21.
Guo, H. (2010). Understanding global natural disasters and the role of earth observation, 8947. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/17538947.2010.499662.
Indian Space Research Organisation (2017), Retrieved September 15, 2018, Available at: https://www.isro.gov.in/applications/disaster-management-support-programme.
National Disaster Management Authority, 2018, Vulnerability Profile, Available at: bitly/2CydOrp
Press Information Bureau, 2016. Prime Minister’s address at Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, Prime Minister’s Office, November 3.
United Nations (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. Retrieved September 15, 2018.