Invest in local-level climate mitigation and resilience building
Mitigation and resilience-building are not new concepts, but they are yet to be implemented on scale. We can now take them to scale through finance, technology, social organisation, and equitable participation
The country experienced the hottest February since 1901 this year, with an average maximum temperature of 29.54 degrees Celsius. The trend of above-normal temperatures, which may continue during the summer months, may seriously impact the agriculture, water, and health sectors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a meeting of senior officials to review heatwave preparedness on March 6.
Many forest fires have been reported from different parts of the country. In Odisha, forest fires are reported in more than 140 places. Many fire incidents have occurred this year in Uttarakhand, the Northeast, and Karnataka. These incidents are in line with recent trends in forest fires, which have acquired a serious proportion in many districts of the country.
Many coastal states have reported an increased incidence of coastal erosion and submergence. Similarly, lightning strikes have increased across the country, causing more deaths. Average annual deaths due to lightning have exceeded 2,000 in recent years.
Unlike earthquakes, floods, and cyclones, these are smaller hazards with impacts limited to certain areas and communities. However, when these incidents happen in large numbers, they seriously impact society and its broader ecology. The losses gradually mount, and peoples’ coping capacities are seriously challenged and depleted. These climate hazards need to be addressed through local interventions and community-based programmes.
Point 8 of the Prime Minister’s 10-point agenda recognises explicitly the need for investing in local capacity and building on community initiatives. At the same, all the other points ultimately talk about touching people’s lives more directly. The notion of localisation permeates through the entire 10-point agenda and reinforces the role of communities as prime actors.
When communities come together to deal with forest fires, there is an added impetus to the efforts of the Forest Department in extinguishing the forest fires. A public awareness campaign needs to be supported by gram panchayats to reduce the deaths caused by lightning. These hazards cannot be addressed through mega initiatives.
Local-level mitigation and adaptation initiatives require a committed stream of resources, sensitivity to the local context, a multi-sectoral approach, and considerable ingenuity and flexibility. The availability of a dedicated stream of funding through the 15th Finance Commission is a breakthrough and an innovation that will support the implementation of local-level mitigation interventions with a short planning cycle. Almost ₹45,000 crore has been allocated for National and State Disaster Mitigation Funds for 2021-26.
Mitigation and resilience-building are not new concepts but yet to be implemented on scale. We can now take them to scale through finance, technology, social organisation, and equitable participation. At the core of it, a series of hazard-specific interventions need to be implemented and directed at a community. It could be called mitigation science, which has to be implemented at the local level. In addition, many practitioners need to be trained in mitigation, as it evolves and offers cost-effective solutions for reducing risks associated with hazards.
So, if forest fires need to be addressed, there is a need to improve water bodies within forests, which could be used for extinguishing fires. We need to create fire breaks, which do not allow the fire to spread from one area to another. A small shelter in agricultural fields can provide farmers with a good shelter against lightning and thunderstorms. However, these measures need to be planned and implemented at the local level. No large-scale intervention can be planned nationally to address these hazards. Mitigation and resilience-building are essentially local and community-based. However, they need sustained investments and continuous monitoring with community support.
India has taken the lead in setting up the National and State Disaster Mitigation Funds, which can be considered a pioneering concept in disaster risk financing and is timely for India’s climate action. They provide a vehicle for driving a wide range of local solutions that benefit communities and create a huge impact through numbers. However, utilisation of these funds also requires an established accountability mechanism and commitment to local-level hazard mitigation. These are important tasks that need to be addressed.
At the national level, the importance of local mitigation initiatives has been recognised as public campaigns, and these are being organised to deal with climate hazards. It has also been the motivation for organising the third session of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (NPDRR) on the theme of “Building Local Resilience in a Changing Climate” in New Delhi (March 10-11). For the first time, we discussed these issues on the national platform, which was open to the central and state governments, academic institutions, NGOs, civil societies, and emergency responders. The platform generated views, suggested feasible interventions, and highlighted good practices in mitigation and resilience-building.
Krishna S. Vatsa is member, NDMA
The views expressed are personal