G V V Sarma | Multi Hazard Disaster Risk Assessment

By: Staff Reporter
GVV Sarma, Member Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, talks to G’nY about building multi-disaster resilient infrastructure through comprehensive and integrated guidelines by involving entire geographic and socio-economic ecosystems.

G’nY. What is the multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approach? How is it different from other approaches used in disaster risk reduction?
The national vision as enshrined in the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009 is 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. Thus, since the beginning, we have focused our approach towards multi-hazard disaster risk reduction.

Multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approach is to assess a composite risk from all hazards so that integrated planning can be undertaken. Looking at hazards in isolation may result in a situation where mitigation measures proposed as a solution for one risk may create vulnerability for another hazard.

National Disaster Management Plan, 2016 also highlights the multi-hazard approach at all stages of disaster risk reduction. It emphasises upon risk assessment to be carried out with a multi-hazard concept leading to fool-proof land use planning, promoting skill development for multi-hazard resistant construction, strengthening ability of communities to manage and cope with disasters based on a multi-hazard approach and also on ensuring that multi-hazard resistant features are incorporated in planning and execution of social housing schemes.

G’nY. How can the complexities that arise from multi-hazard assessment be resolved at a regional scale? Can threats be weighted and ranked?
Multi-hazard risk assessment (MHRA) is a way to understand the hazards, vulnerability (both intrinsic and extrinsic) and risks arising from the geographic location and socio-economic backdrop. Complexities will arise in understanding and comprehending these multi-layered, location-based information of different themes. However, resolving this information for different stakeholders is also carried out along with the assessment itself. Risk communication and dissemination is an activity undertaken with each stakeholder department along with the final end users—the people and the civil society. By involving all stakeholders from the initial stages of this assessment will help reducing or demystifying complexities.

No, the risks cannot be weighed and ranked in general sense. However, weighting and ranking is carried out in order to prioritise multitude of hazards, vulnerabilities and risks when the available resources and funds are limited. This is a way of incorporating the human element into the system before we take steps to allocate financial resources. For example, if we need to find a disaster risk reduction activity and allocate limited funds, we need to find out an activity which will influence the lives of more beneficiaries or an activity whose benefits will last longer, etc.

G’nY. In the South Asian context, what changes can multi-hazard disaster risk reduction approach herald in a regional or community level?
Regional disaster risk reduction is one of the essential tools to minimise losses caused by natural hazards across country borders. Due to geological, social, cultural and political resemblance, different countries from one region often share similar characteristics of disaster risks, which make regional disaster risk reduction possible and efficient. South Asian regions face a range of common natural hazards, including cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods, landslides and tsunamis. Demographic changes, rapid urbanisation, environmental degradation and climate fluctuations have further increased people’s exposure to natural hazards, resulting in frequent and severe disasters  and compounding the impact of complex emergencies. In addition, declining socio-economic conditions of some populations have increased vulnerabilities to hazards in the region.

Governments in south Asia are investing in disaster risk reduction and improving their countries’ response capacities from the community to the national level. Local governments, international and regional organisations, non-governmental organisations and communities may be engaged, to develop effective strategies—tailored to local contexts and the needs of populations—to reduce disaster-related risks.

At the regional level, multi hazard disaster risk reduction approach would bring several changes. First, it would improve preparedness, mitigate severe impacts of disasters and strengthen disaster response mechanisms at the regional level. Second, the regional disaster management system can be strengthened to reduce risks and to improve recovery management at all levels. Then, support can be sought in hazard identification, analysis of existing capacities, monitoring, early warning and early action through partnerships and joint programming. Fourth, new programmes, policies, institutional arrangement legislation, human resource and capacity developments can be executed in view of pre-planning and risk reduction. Also, regional platforms, forums and coordination mechanisms can be established among various stakeholders for exchange of knowledge, information and expertise. Finally, development of common hazard risk management plans amongst the affected countries at regional level can be supported such as integrating a coastal risk mitigation plan.

At the community level, it is necessary to empower local authorities and communities to reduce risks including through resource incentive and decision making responsibilities. It is important to reduce vulnerabilities and increase capacities of vulnerable communities to cope with, prevent, or minimise loss and damage to life, property, and the environment with a view to hasten recovery. Community participation in pre planning, search and rescue, relief, response and post-disaster recovery needs to be enhanced through prioritising the most vulnerable groups and localities.

G’nY. How does the approach hope to integrate multi-stakeholder participation in risk assessment?
Building a resilient society with appropriate coping mechanisms is the basic principle behind any disaster risk reduction process. Risk assessment allows for the determination of the acceptable level of risk, defined as the level of losses that is acceptable without destroying lives, national economy or personal finances. Once the current and acceptable levels of risk are determined, disaster risk reduction plans and strategies could be revised or developed so that they have the measurable goal of reducing the current risk to acceptable levels. Risk reduction involves—hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessment.

There are two levels of risk assessments—national and local. The first is a strategic risk assessment that supports the design of national disaster risk management strategies, policy and regulations, disaster risk management programming and budget allocation. The second—local risk assessment is an operational risk assessment for disaster risk reduction action planning, contingency planning, pre-disaster recovery planning and urban planning.

The disaster risk reduction process systematically involves different stakeholders in risk reduction planning including local government and other competent authorities like district disaster management authorities, state disaster management authorities;  NGO networks; volunteer groups; financing institutions; private/business; media; Red Cross society; hospitals and fire fighting and other services; academic community; and, individual households. Timeliness is the essence with each stakeholder having their responsibilities in different phases—such as disaster prevention, preparedness, response, relief and mitigation.

The various stakeholders who could be part of risk reduction planning are government officials who work for the town or city, such as local geologists, engineers, land-use planners, etc.; academic and research institutions that can provide technical expertise; low-cost staff/ volunteers / NGOs / civil society who can provide up-to-date data on the locality and training resources; local and international non-governmental organisations can offer expertise, as well as local knowledge particularly if they have locally worked for a long period; and community-based organisations including religious, gender and youth-based groups around particular interests, such as environment and social improvement.

Multi-stakeholder workshops and other consultations forums are also some ways of getting inputs from stakeholders. Disaster risk reduction planning is a priority-setting and partnership-building exercise to coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies and levels of government and society. This means the process needs to be inclusive and participatory, and the local planning authority
would benefit from identifying and engaging stakeholders in the risk assessment process.

As mentioned earlier, the process of MHRA needs a multi-stakeholder participation, right from the first stage-identifying the hazards. The understanding of MHRA cannot be a top down and a classroom oriented process, but a co-learning experience. When the stakeholders are involved from the first stage, they understand, own and feel the process and accept the outcomes and outputs.

Identifying the stakeholders is the initial step to involve them in the process. Care is taken that all categories of stakeholders—line departments, civil society, teachers from local schools, students, non-governmental organisations, rescue agencies, representatives from emergency services, media representatives, senior citizens, etc are involved. For instance, senior members of society can offer invaluable information about past events and how good practices evolved in the area.

G’nY. India needs to progress from a post-disaster knee-jerk model of operations, to a preventive action model in disaster risk reduction. How will multi-hazard disaster risk reduction be a step forward in this direction?
With the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, India has already taken a significant step towards paradigm shift, from the erstwhile relief-centric response to a proactive prevention, mitigation and preparedness-driven approach for conserving developmental gains and also to minimise losses of life, livelihoods and property. Now, we are not following the knee-jerk model for responding to a disaster, rather we are moving towards prevention, mitigation and preparedness. You can very well understand this with the latest cyclone Fani in Odisha. With the help of advancement and progress in our early warning facilities, India is now able to get precise early warning related to cyclones and associated phenomena well in advance. This has helped in evacuating people likely to be affected to safer places. And, you can see the results in the significant reduction in lives lost.

We have not only been able to minimise deaths, but are also focusing on resilient infrastructure. The National Disaster Management Plan emphasises on mitigation and prevention by clearly spelling out responsibilities of all stakeholders for specific mitigation activities. India is also championing a coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure which will be multi-hazard oriented and will help in minimising loss to property and infrastructure. The coalition was in fact launched during the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014. This global coalition for disaster resilient infrastructure would address concerns that are common to developing and developed countries, small and large economies, countries at early and advanced stages of infrastructure development and countries that have moderate or high disaster risk. Few concrete initiatives work at the intersection of the Sendai Framework, Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change Adaptation and focus on disaster resilient infrastructure.

 G’nY. What can be done towards public awareness and education —including their participation in such activities?
Public awareness and education is an essential component of disaster risk reduction. NDMA carries out awareness and education campaigns (do’s and don’ts for various disasters) involving various media to reach out to the masses. We use simplified content consisting of text and graphical images in our social media posts. NDMA’s social media handles, especially Twitter, are active round the clock. To make our awareness campaigns truly inclusive, we have recently incorporated sign language in our audio-video content on different disasters. We also encourage line departments of central, state and local governments to widely disseminate the do’s and don’ts in their local languages.

Also, NDMA regularly conducts multi-state mock exercises to build resilience to different disasters. These exercises help enhance the coping ability of the administrative machinery and help them respond faster, better and in a planned manner during and after a disaster. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) regularly conducts community preparedness programmes across the country.

G’nY. The poor often lose their habitats and mitigation measures are often insufficient, forcing them to return to vulnerable areas, how can this be avoided?
Though poverty leads to vulnerability, poverty cannot be equated with vulnerability. Due to rapid urbanisation and scarcity of land, poor people are pushed to settle in vulnerable areas. This can be avoided through a multi-pronged approach by taking into account the physical, social and economical aspects of communities. The key is risk sensitive land use planning of urban areas which will ensure that communities are located in safe places and guide the development in a way that will make them capable of withstanding disasters, building back efficiently. Further, the land use zonation, building bye-laws, building codes and standards should be implementable from the point of view of poor and vulnerable sections. Low cost technologies, built materials, etc., should help poor construct safe houses.

How we communicate the risk to communities is also important. Once awareness is generated it will ensure that resilience is built.

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