Disaster management: How India is improving its existing capabilities
India’s geo-climatic conditions make it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. International cooperation in disaster management is, therefore, critical to India for the effective handling of disasters within its borders as well as the region
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) initiative at the Glasgow climate conference, he was drawing the world’s attention to the urgent need of finding new, smarter, and more effective ways of managing disasters. IRIS aims to forecast, prevent and minimise the loss and damage caused by disasters, by building the technological and institutional capacity of Small Island Developing States with the help of satellite-based modelling and information systems. This is an outcome of the growing realisation that institutional preparedness is critical to handling disasters effectively. A greater focus needs to be laid on building capacity to assess and reduce the risks of a disaster, than just deploying resources on post-disaster relief and rehabilitation.
Ever since the subject of disaster management was transferred from the ministry of agriculture to the ministry of home affairs in 2002, how the issue of disaster management is looked at, has gradually evolved. Increasingly, managing disasters is seen not only as a matter of response, but as assessing the threats, strengthening the capacity of communities, and reducing the assessed risks through creating disaster-resilient infrastructure and preparedness at all levels: Institutional, technical, and financial.
A tentative step in this direction was taken when the Disaster Management Act was enacted in 2005. The Act put in place a statutory mandate and institutional mechanism to deal with disasters. It created a national framework for managing disasters and tasked the central ministries/agencies as well as state governments with specific roles, but primarily relied on the states to deliver on the goals with their resources and capacities.
This pragmatic but serious turn in the policy was noticeable when India adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. The year (2015) is significant because two other major international decisions having a bearing on the approaches to disaster management came into being. One of them was the adoption by the United Nations of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the other one was the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
India’s geo-climatic conditions make it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. International cooperation in disaster management is, therefore, critical to India for the effective handling of disasters within its borders as well as the region. Recognising the importance of building infrastructure with disaster-resilient properties and enhancing the resilience of existing infrastructure, India set up the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure in 2019.
With the growth of disaster management as a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional field, the role of new technologies, research and development, innovative appro-aches, and use of effective early warning systems and local knowledge has become critical. These need to be ingrained in the decision-making processes if we want to get a complete picture of risks and plan for reducing and managing them.
The government is implementing a project on Common Alerting Protocol to disseminate warnings/alerts about impending hazards to geographically referenced populations in vernacular language. One of the popular measures implemented by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is to create a pool of local volunteers trained to handle different types of hazards and disasters.
Recently, the Union home minister, Amit Shah, appreciated the role of the Apada Mitras and Apada Sakhis in enhancing community preparedness and up-scaled the implementation of the scheme to 350 districts of the country with a view to train one lakh able-bodied volunteers in disaster response.
NDMA has also been involved with states to strengthen the disaster management authorities and agencies at the state and district level in hazard-prone districts. Since 2019, the government has also started recognising the contribution made by individuals and institutions at various levels to managing disasters.
Covid–19 exposed the disaster-managing ability of most countries in the health sector. Several natural disasters compounded the stress caused by the pandemic. The ongoing pandemic is a reminder that the impact and intensity of disasters can be moderated if adequate preparedness and risk reduction measures are in place.
RR Rashmi is a distinguished fellow, TERI, and former special secretary, MoEFCC
The views expressed are personal