Speech of Chairman ARC at Jammu

 

“We all know that we cannot prevent most of these disasters but we can certainly prepare ourselves and be better equipped to withstand these calamities”

 

Background to disaster management:

A review of the headlines from the past year alone reminds us how often a crisis can strike in the workplace, at home and in any part of our country. India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. Floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been recurrent phenomena. About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; about 8% of the total area is prone to cyclones and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought. The super cyclone in Orissa in October, 1999, the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat in January, 2000, the Tsunami in the coastal States and the Earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir underscored that even as substantial scientific and material progress has been made, the loss of lives and property due to disasters has not correspondingly decreased. In fact, the human toll and economic losses have mounted. At the global level also, there has been considerable concern over natural disasters.

 

In view of the increasing importance of disaster management, the Administrative Reforms Commission is looking into various aspects of disaster management, with particular emphasis on putting in place an efficient institutional mechanism, and recommending specific measures that would help in disaster management. The Commission jointly with the National Institute of Disaster Management is organizing regional workshops in order to have widespread consultations with the State Governments and other stakeholders. The first workshop in this series is being organized in Jammu. In this workshop we would be deliberating upon disasters which are typical in Northern India. These are earthquakes, landslides, avalanches etc.

 

As we all know an earthquake of magnitude 7.4 on the Richter scale occurred on 8th October, 2005 at 0920 hours with its epicentre located at Muzaffarabad. Because of its impact, large parts of the State of Jammu & Kashmir were affected causing loss of lives and extensive damage to property.   The earthquake also affected some parts of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and its impact was felt in most parts of Northern India. The State of Jammu & Kashmir has been the worst affected. Uri and Tangdhar in Baramulla and Kupwara districts respectively bore the brunt of the earthquake and reported heavy casualties in terms of human lives and extensive damage to property. More than 1300 people lost their lives in the State, more than 6000 persons were injured, and more than 40,000 houses were damaged. The State Governments, Government of India, Armed Forces and Central Para Military Forces have responded promptly to the situation by providing relief material for the earthquake affected areas. But let us not forget that it was the local community and the local administration that provided immediate relief.  The State Government of Jammu and Kashmir, our armed forces, and the voluntary organisations need to be complimented for their efforts, which have won them international accolades.

 

Disaster management-the international scenario:

Disasters do not respect national boundaries. Each year there are major natural and man made disasters which cause heavy loss of human lives and destruction of properties. The international community has also recognized disaster management as a top priority item. The Yokohama message emanating from the international decade for natural disaster reduction in May 1994 underlined the need for an emphatic shift in the strategy for disaster mitigation.  It was inter-alia stressed that disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and relief are four elements which contribute to and gain, from the implementation of the sustainable development policies.  These elements along with environmental protection and sustainable development, are closely inter related.  Therefore, nations should incorporate them in their development plans and ensure efficient follow up measures at the community, sub-regional, regional, national and international levels.  The Yokohama Strategy also emphasized that disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness are better than disaster response in achieving the goals and objectives of vulnerability reduction.  Disaster response alone is not sufficient as it yields only temporary results at a very high cost.  Prevention and mitigation contribute to lasting improvement in safety and are essential to integrated disaster management.

 

A review of the Yokohama strategy was carried out recently. The review stressed the importance of disaster risk reduction being underpinned by a more pro-active approach to informing, motivating and involving people in all aspects of disaster risk reduction in their own local communities. It also highlighted the scarcity of resources allocated specifically from development budgets for the realization of risk reduction objectives, either at the national or the regional level or through international cooperation and financial mechanisms. Specific gaps and challenges are identified in the following five main areas:

(a) Governance: organizational, legal and policy frameworks;

(b) Risk identification, assessment, monitoring and early warning;

(c) Knowledge management and education;

(d) Reducing underlying risk factors;

(e) Preparedness for effective response and recovery.

 

The following were the important findings of the review:

  • The Principles contained in the Yokohama Strategy retain their full relevance in the current context, which is characterized by increasing commitment to disaster reduction;
  • An integrated, multi-hazard approach to disaster risk reduction should be factored into policies, planning and programming related to sustainable development, relief, rehabilitation, and recovery activities in post-disaster and post-conflict situations in disaster-prone countries;
  • A gender perspective should be integrated into all disaster risk management policies, plans and decision-making processes, including those related to risk assessment, early warning, information management, and education and training; Keeping in view the fact that often children and women suffered the most in such situations.
  • Cultural diversity, age, and vulnerable groups should be taken into account when planning for disaster risk reduction, as appropriate; communities and local authorities should be empowered to manage and reduce disaster risk by having access to the necessary information, resources and authority to implement actions for disaster risk reduction;
  • Disaster-prone developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States, warrant particular attention in view of their higher vulnerability and risk levels, which often greatly exceed their capacity to respond to and recover from disasters;
  • There is a need to enhance international and regional cooperation and assistance in the field of disaster risk reduction.
  • The promotion of a culture of prevention, including through the mobilization of adequate resources for disaster risk reduction, is an investment for the future with substantial returns. Risk assessment and early warning systems are essential investments that protect and save lives, property and livelihoods, contribute to the sustainability of development, and are far more cost-effective in strengthening coping mechanisms than is primary reliance on post-disaster response and recovery;
  • There is also a need for proactive measures, bearing in mind that the phases of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction following a disaster are windows of opportunity for the rebuilding of livelihoods and for the planning and reconstruction of physical and socio-economic structures, in a way that will build community resilience and reduce vulnerability to future disaster risks;
  • Disaster risk reduction is a cross-cutting issue in the context of sustainable development and therefore every effort should be made to use humanitarian assistance in such a way that risks and future vulnerabilities will be lessened as much as possible.

 

Drawing on the conclusions of the review of the Yokohama Strategy, and on the basis of deliberations at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction,  in 2005 in Kobe, Hyogo Japan the following action points were identified.

 

                                 i.            Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.

                               ii.            Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning.

                              iii.            Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.

                             iv.            Reduce the underlying risk factors.

                               v.            Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

 

The new approach in India:

We in India have also kept pace with the international developments. The Government of India has brought about a paradigm shift in the approach to disaster management. The new approach proceeds from the conviction that development cannot be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is built into the development process. Another corner stone of the approach is that mitigation has to be multi-disciplinary spanning across all sectors of development. The new policy also emanates from the belief that investments in mitigation are much more cost effective than expenditure on relief and rehabilitation.

 

The changed approach is being put into effect through:

  • Institutional changes
  • Enunciation of policy
  • Legal and techno-legal framework
  • Mainstreaming Mitigation into Development process
  • Funding mechanism
  • Specific schemes addressing mitigation
  • Preparedness measures
  • Capacity building
  • Human Resource Development
  • Community participation.

 

The most noteworthy step in this direction has been the passage of the National Disaster Management Act. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) instituted under the Act will work in accordance with all other institutions spread across the country to anticipate the disaster and prevent it from causing huge damage. The concept is that disaster should be anticipated and preparation to deal with them should be made before they occur, through well out policies and institutional arrangements. The change in the policy and approach to natural calamities has necessitated a shift to pre-disaster aspects of mitigation, prevention and preparedness. In keeping with this shift, new institutional mechanisms are being put in place.. Such Authorities are to come up at the State and District levels as well. There are provisions in the Act for the constitution of a National Institute of Disaster Management, the creation of a National Disaster Response Force, National Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Mitigation Fund.

 

From our past experiences we have learnt many lessons in disaster management. Some of the problems in the past have been:

 

                     i.            Lack of disaster preparedness at all levels.

                   ii.            Lack of  mitigation planning

                  iii.            Lack of communication networking and dissemination of information among states

                 iv.            Delayed response due to mismanagement of     relief, resources, manpower and duty delegation

                   v.            Lack of Interface and Coordination with State, District Administration & Community

 

Toning up the cutting edge:

Whatever institutional mechanism we may put in place, whatever technology may be inducted, preventive measures have to be taken by the community and the local administration, the first response to disaster, that too in the golden hour comes from the community and the local administration. Therefore our focus in the workshop should be to deliberate on making the field organizations effective and empowering the community in all aspects of disaster management ranging from preventive measures to rehabilitation. Capacity building of panchayats and municipalties should be given immediate attention. We expect the deliberations in this workshop would result in practical, solutions. I am sure that there have been several good practices that have been adopted by various States. We need to learn from them and there is also a need to upscale them.

 

Specialised agencies in the field:

The National Disaster Management Act stipulates the setting up of a National Disaster Response Force. This would certainly help in relief and rescue measures. But at the same time we should be cautious that the existing agencies like the Civil Defence, Home Guards, Territorial Army, NCC should not be lost sight of.

The Civil Defence policy of the Government of India until 1962 was confined to making the States and Union territories conscious of the need of civil protection measures and asking them to keep ready Civil Protection Paper Plans for major cities and towns under the then Emergency Relief Organisation (ERO) Scheme. The Chinese aggression in 1962 and the Indo-Pak conflict in 1965 led to considerable re-thinking on the policy and scope of Civil Defence. As a result, the Civil Defence Policy, as it exists today, was evolved and Civil Defence legislation was enacted in 1968. Civil Defence is primarily organised on voluntary basis except for a small nucleus of paid staff and establishment which is augmented during emergencies.  At present civil defence has about 5 lakhs volunteers. Such a large force of volunteers can be used for disaster relief and rescue. But it needs to be examined as to how this could be achieved effectively?

Home Guard is a voluntary force, first raised in India in December, 1946, to assist the police in controlling civil disturbance and communal riots. Subsequently, the concept of a voluntary citizen’s force was adopted by several States. In the wake of Chinese aggression in 1962, the Centre advised the States and Union territories to merge their existing voluntary organisation into one uniform voluntary force known as Home Guards. The role of Home Guards is to serve as an auxiliary to the police in maintenance of internal security, help the community in any kind of emergency such as air-raid, fire, cyclone, earthquake, epidemic etc., help in maintenance of essential services, promote communal harmony and assist the administration in protecting weaker sections, participate in socio-economic and welfare activities and perform Civil Defence duties. The total strength of home guard volunteers is about 5 lakhs. We have to develop strategies put these volunteers to best use in times of crisis.

Similarly other organizations like the NCC, the Territorial Army, the Fire Services etc, because of their wide dispersal in the country, could be geared to meet challenges posed by disasters.

Earthquakes, the major threat in the region: The entire Himalayan region is seismically very active; as a result earthquakes and landslides are quite common. The effect of landslides is local but the impact of earthquakes is quite widespread. But it is worth mentioning that earthquakes by themselves do not kill, it is the collapse of houses and buildings that leads to casualties. The easiest way to tackle earthquakes is to have buildings that are earthquake-proof. This is easier said than done. It is here that better building practices, improved technologies, having suitable building bye-laws etc can be of great help. We can draw lessons from countries like Japan, where earthquakes are more frequent but because of better planning and preparedness they have be able to mitigate the hardships caused by earthquakes, to a large extent.

Conclusion: I would conclude my talk by giving some suggestions which may be considered in the workshop.

n      A holistic and proactive approach is required towards disaster management.

n      Community involvement & awareness  generation. Community to be made the first line of defence. Local Self Governments to play the crucial role.

n      Close interaction between corporate sector, NGO, media and Govt.

n      Youth Organizations and Student Bodies like NCC/NSS/ Scouts & Guides to be provided training in Emergency Response and Awareness Generation.

n      Disaster Management to be made an essential component of initial training for Government functionaries.

n      Media professionals to be sensitized and encouraged to integrate Disaster Management components in different programmes for public awareness.

n      All hazard-prone areas to have community-based disaster preparedness plans—Disaster Management Committees [DMCs], Disaster Management Teams [DMTs] and Volunteer Task Forces [VTFs]

n      Roles and responsibilities to be defined in the Disaster Management Plan/code.

n      Regular training and drills organized through local-self Governments

n      Preparation of inventory of local resources and their management.

n      Making realistic disaster management plans. Keeping them updated through mock drills.

n      Protecting the interests of the vulnerable sections. As it is they who suffer the most.

 

I hope the workshop would come up with valuable suggestions, which would then become the recommendations of the ARC towards mitigating hardships caused by disasters.

 

I once again thank the H’ble Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir for hosting this workshop.