India’s disaster management system has seen a significant shift from a relief-driven response to being more proactive, with an emphasis on disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. It has been a decade to Disaster Management Act, 2005. Considering the recent trend of increased natural disasters , what should India focus on now ?
India must focus on building resilience. Resilience according to IPCC is the ability to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, and/or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions. For example, consider the case of Orissa. It has invested greatly in structures and their functions. There is a need to learn from past disasters and improve functional capabilities to cope with future disasters.
How to build resilience ?
• States should have a functional SDMA, a State Executive Committee (SEC) and District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA). They can enable states to focus on long-term disaster risk management and build capacities to deal with disaster, both within the government as well as among the citizens . The exercise of designing disaster management plans by districts will enable states to better understand and know in advance which districts or blocks are more prone to disasters, and which are better prepared to handle them. It will also assist the states in mapping processes and identifying deficiencies in infrastructure. Such information can be stored in databases that will help to prioritise mitigation activities. Thus improving the preparedness of high-risk zones to face disasters.
• There is a need to integrate the Panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies in disaster risk planning and management. They could play a significant role not only in planning, but also help in tapping the traditional wisdom of local communities. For more proactive participation they should be adequately trained to prepare for and respond to major threats from multiple disasters.
• Involving the community in risk identification, risk planning and risk management will enable the joint development of adequate measures and plans. It will also provide a sense of collective responsibility for mitigating vulnerability and risk. In Odisha, the multipurpose cyclone shelters built along the coastlines are managed and maintained by the community.
• Awareness building and communication in a pre-disaster phase must include the following :
- Preparedness messages through newspaper, radio, television, mobile phones, and internet and conducting public information campaigns
- training in disaster response for community groups and institutions
- early warning systems
- evacuation routes
- demarcation of safety zones
Through a robust communication strategy, a safety culture within the community would be inbuilt enabling them to be aware of what to do at the onset of a disaster and also support efforts during and post disaster.