The spike in recent years in extreme calamities, topped by the Covid outbreak, spotlights the urgency of better disaster preparedness in Indian states and the Centre. Health pandemics like Covid and climate hazards like the Uttarakhand floods or Delhi heat waves have differing origins, but they spotlight common gaps in readiness. With extreme health and climate disasters set to continue, these events must be seen as regular occurrences rather than one-off acts of nature. Ranked by HSBC as the most vulnerable to climate change among 67 nations, India needs to make a paradigm shift to prioritize preparedness and not just recovery. This preparedness plan must be tailor-made to the unique requirements of the states.
WHAT IS A DISASTER?
- As per the Disaster Management Act, 2005 disaster is defined as “A 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, or damage to, or degradation of the environment and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.”
- The United Nations defines a disaster as “the occurrence of sudden or major misfortune which disrupts the basic fabric and normal functioning of the society or community”.
- A disaster is a sudden, calamitous event that seriously disrupts the functioning of a community or society and causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses that exceed the community’s or society’s ability to cope using its own resources. Though often caused by nature, disasters can have human origins
UNDERSTANDING DISASTER MANAGEMENT
- As per Disaster Management Act, 2005, “disaster management” means a continuous and integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures to deal with disasters.
- In other words, Disaster Management is the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, in particular preparedness, response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.
- Disaster management includes administrative decisions and operational activities that involve Prevention · Mitigation · Preparedness · Response · Recovery · Rehabilitation
- Key Phases of Disaster Management There are three key phases of activity within disaster management:
- Pre – Disaster: Before a disaster to reduce the potential for human, material or environmental losses caused by hazards and to ensure that these losses are minimized when the disaster actually strikes.
- During Disaster: It is to ensure that the needs and provisions of victims are met to alleviate and minimize suffering.
- Post Disaster: After a disaster to achieve rapid and durable recovery which does not reproduce the original vulnerable conditions.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: CONCEPT
- The focus of this write up is on the necessity of state-specific Pre-disaster preparedness/readiness plans.
- Hitherto, the approach towards coping with the effects of natural disasters has been post-disaster management, limited to problems such as law and order, evacuation and warnings, communications, search and rescue, fire-fighting, medical and psychiatric assistance, provision of relief and sheltering, etc
- It is not possible to do away with the devastation of natural hazards completely. However, experience has shown that destruction from natural hazards can be minimised by a well-functioning warning system, combined with preparedness on the part of the vulnerable community.
- Warning systems and preparedness measures reduce/ modify the scale of disasters
- It is becoming increasingly evident now that a relatively smaller investment in disaster preparedness can save thousands of lives and vital economic assets, as well as reduce the cost of overall relief assistance.
- This preparedness process embraces measures that enable governments, communities and individuals to respond rapidly to disaster situations to cope with them effectively.
- Preparedness includes, for example, the formulation of viable emergency plans, the development of warning systems, the maintenance of inventories, public awareness and education and the training of personnel.
- It may also embrace search and rescue measures as well as evacuation plans for areas that may be „at-risk‟ from a recurring disaster.
- All preparedness planning needs to be supported by appropriate rules and regulations with a clear allocation of responsibilities and budgetary provisions.
- According to Sendai Framework (2015-2030), one of the priorities of action is enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response.
BENEFITS OF DISASTER PREPAREDNESS PLANS: CASE STUDY FROM STATES
|S. NO||STATE||MEASURES TAKEN|
|1||KERALA||· Kerala stands out for its handling of recent catastrophes.
· Despite high levels of recorded infection rates, Kerala has a 0.3% death rate from Covid, the same as Singapore’s, which has the world’s lowest death rate.
· Early detection, swift isolation and speedy contact tracing have been responsible.
· The use of frugal innovative methods as platforms for decision-making has been effective, as has been Kerala’s oxygen management, direct procurement of vaccines and a policy of zero vaccine wastage.
· The state has effectively used the E-ESanjeevani telemedicine portal, offering psycho-social support for the sick.
· The needs of frontline workers, the elderly living alone and of migrant labourers—challenges in other Indian states too—have been a priority for Kerala’s government.
· Odisha has a great community outreach system through which people are being reached on time.
· It now has a network of 450 cyclone shelters and there is a robust mechanism for the maintenance of the cyclone shelters—each cyclone shelter has a maintenance committee where youth have been involved and trained for search and rescue, first aid medical attention, and for providing cyclone warnings.
· Through a network of these shelters and committees and training, the state has involved the entire community; it is now fairly easy to disseminate warnings and move people into safe cyclone shelters.
· The state’s disaster management systems are monitored twice each year, given the propensity of natural disasters in the state.
· This is not the first time that a poor state like Odisha has managed to successfully evacuate millions of people during a natural disaster; it also did so during Cyclone Phailin in 2013.
· Odisha has managed to create a sense of community during such disasters that other states can also emulate.
· This disaster readiness was evident when Cyclone Fani hit Odisha in May 2021.
· The Odisha government showed a high degree of preparedness and effectively managed to evacuate about 1.2 million people based on these predictions.
· The government of Odisha successfully managed to minimize the loss of life; this itself was not a small exercise and required tremendous effort.
WHY INDIA NEEDS STATE-SPECIFIC DISASTER PREPAREDNESS PLANS?
|1||LEGAL REQUIREMENT||According to Section 23 of the DMA Act, there shall be a plan for disaster management for every State called as State Disaster Management Plan|
|2||SPECIFIC VULNERABILITIES||Vulnerability is the inability to resist a hazard or to respond when a disaster has occurred. For instance, people who live on plains are more vulnerable to floods than people who live higher up. The vulnerability of states and the different parts of the State vary to different forms of disasters. For instance, coastal areas are vulnerable to cyclones while mountain regions to landslides.|
|3||ADMINISTRATIVE SET UP||The administrative arrangements in the states differ on multiple counts. For instance, the number of departments, the human, physical, financial resources available, their roles and responsibilities etc vary considerably. Thus a specific disaster preparedness plans can account for these diverse factors.|
|4||DISASTER RISK ASSESSMENT AND REDUCTION
|India has a Protocol for Disaster Risk Assessment and Reduction, based on composite methods of states and the experience of the National Disaster Management Authority in disaster management. But a vast gap remains from the parts of states in implementing vital investments in infrastructure, education and health needed for disaster mitigation.|
|The Kerala and Odisha success stories provide a strong and compelling case for tailor-made state disaster preparedness plans to be formulated by other states.|
|6||COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP||In Gorakhpur, local communities are using nature-based solutions to build resilience against frequent floods. Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group has come up with climate-resilient methods for vulnerable communities. For example, farmers switched from mono-cropping to rotating multiple crops to improve soil health and drainage. Several adopted organic practices, which reduce harmful run-off in nearby rivers. A weather advisory group helps farmers use a text message-based early warning system to schedule irrigation and harvesting.
|7||CLIMATE CHANGE CHALLENGES||Climate change can increase disaster risk in a variety of ways – by altering the frequency and intensity of hazard events, affecting vulnerability to hazards, and changing exposure patterns. Climate change is already modifying the frequency and intensity of many weather-related hazards as well as steadily increasing the vulnerability and eroding the resilience of exposed populations that depend on arable land, access to water, and stable mean temperatures and rainfall. States face unique challenges of climate change-related disasters|
The resource endowments of states in India vary considerably. For instance, State investments in health differ enormously. Kerala’s per capita public health expenditure, for example, is about twice that of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Thus, states’ preparedness plans can provide for a streamlined strategy for acquisition, organisation, training and coordination of all relevant stakeholders.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS IN STATE DISASTER PREPAREDNESS?
The problem areas in preparedness are organisational and planning related issues, like inadequate policy direction, outdated plans and over-concentration on recovery and response activities, which leads to low preparedness.
Lack of resources or resource organisations and unclear allocation of these resources is also likely to create gaps or overlaps in the preparedness arrangements.
Other problems like inadequate coordination and lack of cooperation at the policymaking and implementation level, public awareness and suitable training for the disaster managers usually contribute significantly to poor disaster preparedness activities. The problems in state disaster preparedness are summarized below
|Disaster Management Act 2005, provides for institutional mechanisms like State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs), District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs). However, in many cases, these institutions are not active and operational except for a few exceptions.
Recently, In its performance audit report on the disaster management mechanism in the country, submitted to Parliament, CAG had highlighted that the Uttarakhand disaster management authority (SDMA), constituted in 2007, had not formulated any rules, regulations, policies or guidelines for disaster management in the state.
One of the major reasons why the Uttarakhand government was unable to contain the scale of the devastation that has taken place in the state because of flash floods was its lack of preparedness to deal with such disasters.
The Second wave of the Corona pandemic saw a near-total collapse of health systems in the States. The total lack of disaster preparedness despite warnings has proved very costly in terms of human lives.
|2||POOR COMPLIANCE OF POLICIES||Even though the Disaster Management Act 2005 stipulated the setting up of the Disaster Response Fund and the Disaster Mitigation Fund at national, state and district levels, only the National and State Disaster Response Funds have become operational till now.
· The increasing frequency and damage to property, assets and infrastructure caused by recurring disasters makes it imperative that the provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005 are enforced in letter and spirit
|3||HAZARD RISK AND VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENTS||Identifying the characteristics, frequency and potential severity of the hazards a community faces are crucial. Also, it is vital to Identify the particular geographical areas and communities that are most susceptible and vulnerable to those hazards and to anticipate how they might be affected. Every state’s hazard risk and vulnerability profile is unique.
|4||PREPAREDNESS PLANNING||· Disaster preparedness planning involves identifying organisational resources, determining roles and responsibilities, developing policies and procedures and planning preparedness activities aimed at ensuring timely disaster preparation and effective emergency response. However, the preparedness planning of the states, wherever they exist, have been largely affected by adhocism, duplication and overlapping of roles, and poor policy coherence.|
|5||COORDINATION||Coordination between various levels of governments, agencies and departments, civil defence, fire brigades, health departments and clinics, international agencies, NGOs and others etc are very important. The poor state of coordination has been visible when the oxygen crisis in the National Capital lead to the death of scores of Covid positive patients for want of a timely supply of oxygen. A visibly angry Supreme Court had to intervene to remedy the situation by setting up a National Task Force on medical oxygen allocation.|
|6||PUBLIC EDUCATION, TRAINING AND REHEARSALS.||Public education campaigns, training of response teams and rehearsals of emergency response scenarios must be an integral part of the state’s disaster preparedness. Hardly any concrete steps are being taken by the states to mainstream this aspect in its governance process. An example to be emulated is that of Kerala. In order to assess the preparedness of the district in mitigating the impact of monsoon-related calamities, the district administration conducted a mock drill in line with the action plan of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
It tested the efficiency of the rescue operations and relief activities in case of a major landslide in the high ranges and the consequent rush of floodwaters
|7||COMMUNITY-BASED DISASTER PREPAREDNESS||
Local populations in disaster-stricken areas are the first to respond to a disaster.
They also have a keen awareness of the unique challenges of the area in terms of vulnerability etc.
They are usually involved in search and rescue activities as well as in providing emergency treatment and relief to their families, friends and neighbours. Thus, making the community a vital part of disaster preparedness rather than seeing them as ‘victims of the disaster who must be helped” should be on the agenda of disaster readiness planning.
WHAT MUST BE DONE?
- In dealing with covid, local efforts have also played a critical role, be it citizens’ responses in such cities as Delhi, Guwahati and Jaipur, or those of gram panchayats in rural areas.
- But across the country, covid has revealed glaring gaps in health systems, and, in many instances, poor governance and often a lack of trust in governments.
- In Australia, following its deadly bushfires of 2018 and 2019, Insurance Australia Group recommended that government funding prioritize risk reduction, lessening the need for spending on disaster recovery. To aid in better preparedness, the Australian Natural Disaster Resilience Index now assesses the risk profiles and resilience of communities faced with bushfires.
- In a similar vein, an audit of how the central and state governments have handled covid will offer valuable lessons that can guide them to upgrade hospitals, increase medical inventories and create/update crisis response plans, for example.
- Every state should conduct a ‘stress test’ of how well it can cope in the event of even more frequent and intense calamities. These results should be published transparently
- In India, it would pay to establish inter-state pooling of technical capabilities, supplies and staff power to manage deficits and gaps.
- The overarching lesson for the Indian states and the Centre is to make more and better investments in health, education and social safety nets.
- Local initiatives will continue to aid disaster preparedness, but governments must act in anticipation of emerging calamities rather than scramble to respond after they strike.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCe: SINGAPORE
Bloomberg ranks Singapore highest in Covid resilience, based on fatality rates, test rates and vaccination rates. Drawing on its experience with Sars and Influenza A, the Singapore government has prioritized disaster preparedness in its investments. One indication of this priority is that the government has built up digital infrastructure and engineering capabilities that can be deployed before, during and after calamities strike. For example, tools for contact tracing, like SafeEntry and Trace Together, are enabling Singapore to respond swiftly to the spread of Covid. A suite of digital tools is helping disseminate information and enabling government agencies to better coordinate and manage the crisis.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Section 10 and 11 of the DM Act 2005 provides for a national plan to be formulated under the direction of the NDMA to deal with However, the Central Government and the NDMA has not formulated it despite the ravages of the pandemic. This has set a poor example for states’ covid/disaster preparedness. Leadership role by the Union can nudge and inspire the states to be proactive in disaster readiness.
- The Fifteenth Finance Commission in its first report covering the financial year 2020-21 has recommended 10 per cent of the SDRF allocation for Preparedness and Capacity-building. The states must utilise this fund for conceiving and operationalizing and upgrading the whole gamut of disaster readiness.
- The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, in its report on “Crisis Management”, made a strong pitch for the enhanced role of local self-governments in the entire disaster management cycle with a special focus on the pre-disaster stage and preparedness. States must empower and build local bodies capacities in this regard.
- Excessive focus on the Post-disaster cycle that relies on relief, recovery, reconstruction etc have led to neglect of disaster preparedness. It is imperative for states to concentrate on equal measures and evaluate the preparedness at all governmental and non-governmental (schools, hospitals, businesses, NGOs etc) for the purpose of responding to any threatening disaster situation or disaster and give directions, where necessary, for enhancing such preparedness.
CONCLUSION: Disaster Preparedness” means the state of readiness to deal with a threatening disaster situation or disaster and its effects. It deals with measures to be taken for preparedness and capacity building to effectively respond to any threatening disaster situations or disaster. India’s unique geo-climatic vulnerabilities and poor socio-economic infrastructural base have made it quite vulnerable to disasters. The Covid pandemic has exposed the countries’ lack of preparedness for meeting the challenges. Although almost all states bore the brunt of the Virus, some better-prepared states could come out stronger. For instance, while Uttar Pradesh and Delhi reeled under oxygen shortage, Kerala was well prepared. This and other evidence makes a strong case for state-specific disaster preparedness plans which can be a game-changer in India’s disaster management strategy.
- Critically analyse the need for state-specific disaster preparedness plans in the light of the Covid 19 pandemic.
- The problems of states’ disaster preparedness have been exposed by the recent occurrence of disasters in India including the Covid 19 pandemic. Discuss.
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