As natural calamities cause a substantial loss of GDP in South Asian countries every year, India has launched a major initiative to prepare hazard, risk and vulnerability maps at micro-scale for early warning and effective disaster risk reduction and management.
The move to have micro-scale maps is to make the task of risk assessment and analysis much more accurate and fast, according to sources in the Union Home Ministry.
Studies show two to 16 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of South Asian countries is lost every year due to natural disasters. They also show a dollar spent on mitigating disasters saves five dollars to be spent subsequently on relief and rehabilitation.
In such a scenario, countries in the Asia region, which is considered one of the most critical disaster hotspots in the globe, believe that disaster losses must be prevented or mitigated and kept at the minimum.
Finding it is more prudent and economical to invest in prevention, mitigation and preparedness, there has been a complete shift in the policy of these countries for dealing with disasters -- from post-disaster relief and rehabilitation to a holistic management of the entire disaster cycle.
India too has decided to mainstream the disaster risk reduction into the process of development and not treat it as just a matter of relief and rehabilitation. This will be pursued vigorously in the 11th Plan, now under formulation, the sources said.
As part of the initiative, the centre will collect, compile, document and disseminate data, information, case studies, indigenous knowledge and good practices relating to disaster management particularly from the member countries.
It will collaborate with other centres, particularly SAARC Meteorological Research Centre, SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre and SAARC Forestry sector to achieve synergies in programmes and activities.
"Recent advances in the field of science and technology have opened up enormous possibilities for developing an efficient system of disaster risk reduction and management. It is possible to prepare hazard, risk and vulnerability maps at micro-scale which can make the task of risk assessment and risk analysis much more accurate and fast," according to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
He had said it is possible to track atmospheric depression and predict weather and climatic conditions at local levels with reasonable degree of accuracy. Similarly, cyclonic storms can be tracked from the initial formation to its subsequent developments and early warnings issued to people living in vulnerable areas, he says
New Delhi feels the extent and degree of cooperation among South Asian countries for disaster risk reduction and management have remained "rather low" compared to many other regions of the world.
The concern comes in the backdrop of the killer Tsunami that had struck Indian Ocean in 2004 and the massive earthquakes in India and Pakistan last year.
Realising that there was a great scope for increased cooperation and exchange of ideas and information in this regard, the Home Minister feels no amount of training or research could possibility implant the skills and wisdom that is transmitted from one generation to another through a natural process of living.
"The greatest strengths of traditional mechanisms are that these are developed indigenously with locally available resources, are cost effective and can be easily adopted, adapted and replicated," says Patil.
Two recent initiatives have been taken to open new vistas of cooperation among the countries of the region. The first is the South Asian Regional Framework of Disaster Management to help governments design national policies and programmes of action.
The second is the Delhi Declaration adopted here at the South Asian Policy Dialogue on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, which calls for setting up of a South Asian regional platform involving all stakeholders including government and NGOs.
Bangladesh has a separate Ministry for Food and Disaster Management which allows it to take a holistic view of the issues involved not just in addressing disaster preparedness, risk mitigation and management but also in rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Sri Lanka has also created a separate Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights and adopted a roadmap on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management.
Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed has said that Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives are also reviewing their policies and practices to set up a holistic system of disaster management.
India too has set up a National Disaster Management Authority to address all crosscutting issues in a holistic manner.
The task of the Authority is to formulate a comprehensive framework on early warning, disaster management and disaster prevention, according to its Director PG Dhar Chakravarti, who is also Executive Director National Institute of Disaster Management Centre in New Delhi.
The centre will facilitate strategic learning, research, training and system development for effective disaster risk reduction and management.