B H Anil Kumar

Time gap between evaluation and dissemination of disaster prediction must be reduced

By: Staff Reporter
B H Anil Kumar, Executive Director, NIDM, speaks with G’nY on disaster management and explains how the related risks can be mitigated.

G’nY. Every definition of the term disaster uses ‘natural’ and ‘man made’—from text books to the Disaster Management Act, 2005. However, disasters are said to have occurred only when there is a loss of human life and damage to property. We would not, for example, consider an earthquake in an uninhabited land to be a disaster. In this light, should there be a new definition of disaster, where every disaster is human induced ?

B H Anil Kumar : The Disaster Management Act, 2005 defines disaster as catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property and environment and is of such a nature or magnitude which is beyond the coping capacity of the community of an affected area. The definition presented above is comprehensive and does not need any new definition.

 G’nY. Preventive planning, for both pre and post disaster situations is imperative for minimising the loss to human life and property. However, soon after the recovery period following a disaster, these issues are buried until a new disaster occurs. What, in your opinion, can curb this indifference?

B H Anil Kumar : Identifying risks and taking up mitigation measures to reduce risk is a first step towards preparedness for any event. The rapid pace of development in all sectors is, however, outpacing the efforts made for disaster risk mitigation and thereby posing a greater challenge for preparedness to meet any eventuality. In other words, risks have been increased and along with it the vulnerability to any disaster. This can only be countered to a large extent by mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into all programmes/schemes and developmental activities of both government and private sectors. The increased awareness about hazards, early warning system and better communication for response have resulted in minimising the loss of life. However, loss of livelihoods and property is still a major issue which we are grappling with. NIDM has therefore been documenting and publishing information on major disasters to make people all over the country more aware of the impact of disasters and understand the need of bringing preventive planning.

 G’nY. The most recent disaster is the Kerala floods. The extent of flooding and loss of  life and property might be unprecedented, but warning signals could have been seen and preparations made, considering similar events in Kedarnath, Mumbai and Chennai. What do you think were the shortcomings in this case?

B H Anil Kumar : Culmination of several factors caused the floods in Kerala, of which some were natural while others were human induced. The natural factors that contributed include heavy rainfall, geographical terrain, inter-basin connectivity, narrow water course of the rivers, steep fall in gradient and tidal movement. The human induced factors could be attributed to poor reservoir management practices, unregulated comprehensive dam safety plans and inadequate regulation of the rivers and its impact zones. In retrospect, it is always easy to try and find fault without realising that all agencies are collectively and equally responsible for such an event. Therefore, there is  a need for an integrated and inter-disciplinary approach between departments/agencies so that such a re-occurrence is prevented.

 G’nY. Urban floods are often caused by unplanned development, reduction in catchment areas caused by encroachment, interference with natural streams, among other reasons. Would it be correct to define all cases of urban floods as human-induced disasters?

B H Anil Kumar : Yes, most urban floods can be called human induced disasters because of the unplanned development in urban areas, encroachments of natural valleys, reduction in natural rain water absorption due to concretisation of footpaths and pavements, inadequate and antiquated drainage systems leading to higher run off. Urban planning with effective implementation of zones, regulations, drainage system and proper building by laws would reduce the risk of urban flooding.

 G’nY. In a climate change scenario, newer challenges for disaster management are likely to come up. How do you think India should prepare for disasters that are likely to occur as a result of climate change?

B H Anil Kumar : Extreme events like heat wave, cloud burst, and extreme rainfall can all be attributed to climate change and therefore, they pose greater challenges for disaster management as such extreme events are here to stay.

 G’nY. Large budgets are allocated annually to various departments for disaster mitigation. And yet, huge loss to life and property occurs in almost every incident. Where, in your opinion, is the gap?

B H Anil Kumar : The greater emphasis by government on early warning system has paid off, as experienced in the case of cyclone ‘Hudhud’ where loss of life was low owing to timely evacuation of people from the affected area. However, certain disasters cannot be predicted, such as ones in which the duration between early warning and impact assessment is very less and evacuation may not be the solution. In my opinion, the gap lies in evaluating the information received by early warning systems and the ability to timely communicate the interpretation to the communities at risk. Often, the communities are provided with official bulletins in a language and form which they cannot relate to. Also, the official bulletin often does not provide specific information as to when, where, how the event will occur and what preventive measures would be implemented to reduce the risk and damage. There is a need to develop standard formats for different types of hazards so that the correct information is passed to the communities at risk without room for speculations. There is also a need to reduce the time gap between information collected from the early warning systems and the time by which the communities at risk receive the warning. This asymmetry in information dissemination needs to be addressed by using technology for mass communication through various media like radio, TV, mobile, telephone, etc.

 G’nY. Do you think that directions enumerated in the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 for state governments are being followed?

For example, not all states are creating the state and district disaster relief funds.

B H Anil Kumar : Disaster management is a state subject in India and as per the DM Act, 2005, all the ministries and departments at all levels need to integrate efforts for disaster risk reduction and management into their plans and policies and also to ensure funding for states. All the states have their state disaster response fund parallel to national disaster response fund. Besides this, there is also a provision of flexi fund where certain amount of centrally sponsored schemes and programmes can be utilised for disaster risk reduction activities.

 G’nY. Do you agree that with the exception of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is not functioning up to the expectations and that it has failed in guiding the disaster mitigation preparedness in the country?

B H Anil Kumar : NDRF specialises in dealing with emergency situations arising out of disasters, in addition to the local activities initiated to manage disaster related response and relief where various stakeholders and agencies of central and state government take part suitably. NDMA has developed guidelines on various aspects of disaster mitigation and preparedness for which capacity building, research, training and policy advocacy related functions are carried out by NIDM through its campuses in New Delhi and Vijaywada. Here also, primary responsibility lies with state governments and the district and
local administrations to play an important role.

 G’nY. Any other aspects that you think are important to highlight?

B H Anil Kumar : India is a signatory to Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement in addition to the Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction. Our Prime Minister has given his 10 Point Agenda on Disaster Risk Management following which NIDM has played a leading role in establishing networking with institutions and organic linkages with central ministries and also international agencies for enhancing capacity building and research for stakeholders at all levels.

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