Disaster Management in India

Geographical location and geological formation render India highly susceptible to natural disasters. India has 2% of the world’s area and supports approximately 16% of the total world’s population. There is tremendous pressure on the natural resources which increases the chances of disasters, as well as their impact. About 60% of the land is prone to earthquakes, 70% of the land is prone to drought, 5% of the land is prone to floods and 8% of the land is prone to cyclones.  Losses due to disasters have increased globally in recent times. The reasons are increased urbanization, environmental degradation & global warming.

Classification of Disasters

A high powered committee constituted in Aug. 1999 by the government of India (GOI) under the chairmanship of J.C Pant, classified disasters in the following five groups:
1: Water and climate caused disasters.
2: Geological disasters.
3: Biological disasters.
4: Nuclear and industrial disasters
5: Accidental disasters.

Approach to Disaster Management

NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) was established by the passage of the National Disaster Management Act in 2005. This Act defined disaster management as an integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures essential to manage disasters. The Prime Minister (PM) is the chairperson of NDMA, which is an agency of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

National Policy on Disaster Management was prepared in 2009. The document lays down policies for holistic management of disasters. It is a comprehensive policy. Agencies have been created from the highest level that is the NDMA, with mirror images at the state & district level. Responsibility for execution will rest with the District Collector (DC), supported by the others. All relevant organizations, starting from the metrological, to Defence Services (invariably involved with rescue) have been incorporated. There is provision for incorporating local volunteers, NGOs & foreign support in a comprehensive manner. Planning includes research in the field, as well as education & conduct of mock drills. Government has also constituted a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for post disaster actions.

A typical disaster management continuum comprises six elements: the pre-disaster phase includes prevention, mitigation and preparedness, while the post-disaster phase includes response, rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery.

Is the Planning & Hence Execution in Future expected to be perfect?

There is a truth I realize as an Army person, “Defences can never be complete!” It implies that we can never be perfectly prepared to fight a defensive battle. The logic is true for disaster management as well. There are several & grave weaknesses in our planning & preparation. Let us note some major weaknesses:

  • Most buildings constructed do not meet the requirements laid down for being compliant with the natural threats anticipated in the geographical regions. Even newer constructions often do not meet the same.
  • Education & training is more on paper than practical. Response to warnings & the calamity when it strikes is likely to be much lower than desirable. This will result in much greater losses of life & material.

Solutions

  • Environmental degradation must be checked & impact of global warming reduced.
  • Development plans should incorporate disaster management in their planning.
  • State governments should start a concerted drive to ensure that all construction undertaken is anticipated threat compliant.
  • Greater efforts should be made towards education & conduct of mock drills to train the locals at the district level.
  • NGOs, corporate, Defence Services, NCC, Scouts & Home Guards should also take initiative in training the locals.
  • Efforts should continue at all levels to improve preparedness from common citizen to district administration to the PM, because, “We can never be adequately prepared for a disaster!”
  • It should be well realized by the authorities as well as population in general that the cost of taking preventive measures is far lesser than taking actions post a disaster. Material cost of losses can be calculated, but the cost of lives which can be saved by these measures is incalculable. There is thus a need for proactive conduct by each citizen. It is better to be safe rather than sorry later!

 

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Colonel M.M Nehru

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