A disaster is defined as any large scale occurrence that disrupts normal functioning of a human society and leads to widespread loss of life, property and environment that exceeds the capability of the surviving population to cope with their resources. Every country is prone to disasters and India is no exception to them. In general, disasters can be classified in two types, natural and man-made disasters. While the latter can be prevented by cautious actions, the former can only be mitigated to an extent.
A nation’s population, environment and infrastructure are equally important for its socioeconomic growth. Therefore, protecting them and their interests is their topmost priority. When disasters strike loss is inevitable. But it is upon our preparedness which can limit the extent of loss and rapidly rehabilitate and normalise the conditions. This is where disaster management comes into play. By definition, it is the organisation and management of resources and services that deal with humanitarian aspects of emergencies caused by disasters, specifically involving the preparedness, response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.
Disasters can strike any moment with or without warning. Therefore, it is important for each and every citizen to understand how the disasters take effect and what the remedial measures are to successfully mitigate the situation.
Geography and Socioeconomics in India
As previously stated, disasters occur either due to natural causes or due to human hazards. The extent of damage in both the cases depends upon how hard the disaster hit the area and what effect did it take. Geographically, India is a pre-dominantly as tropical country with some parts experiencing temperate climate.
It has cold Himalayan Mountains, fertile plains, hills, Deccan plateau, deserts, coastal plains and sub-tropical islands in its territory. It is situated upon the Indian tectonic plate which has been pushing towards the Eurasian plate for about 100 million years now. The Thar Desert creates a low pressure system, thereby attracting the rain clouds of monsoon.
It is the southwest monsoon winds that splits into two arms- the Arabian Sea arm and the Bay of Bengal arm and brings rainfall to the country.
In terms of geographical polity, India is internally divided into 28 states and 9 union territories, with Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh being the latest addition to the list of UTs. The states are characterised by their ethno-linguistic specificities.
Regionally, it can be divided into North and South India which makes up the mainland and the Northeast which comprises of the seven-sister states that are connected to the mainland via the Siliguri Corridor. India shares its boundaries with Pakistan in the Northwest, China in the North and Northeast, Nepal and Bhutan in the Himalayan region and Myanmar and Bangladesh in the east. India also shares maritime borders with the island nations of Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Socially, there are many racial, religious and linguistic ethnicities in India. Being a secular nation, India is home to most of the western as well as eastern religions. Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism are the most prominent ones spoken.
Also, as per the Linguistic Survey of India, there are a total of 179 languages spoken in over 720 dialects across the nation. Of these, 22 languages are officially recognised and spoken in majority in different parts of the country. In terms of economy, India had adopted a mixed economy system upon independence.
As of 2019, India is among world’s fastest growing economy, and had occupied the number one spot in 2016. Globally, India is considered to be a leading representative of the non-aligned developing countries. In Asia, especially in the southeast, it is a big economic and military power.
Agriculture is a major source of income as well as has the highest share in the nation’s GDP. The IT sector has developed vastly with its shares in the GDP increasing up to 7.7% in 2017. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation has led to rise in factories and manufacturing plants. Furthermore, India has become a nuclear power and has 7 nuclear power plants with 22 nuclear reactors across the country.
Disasters in India
The vulnerability atlas takes into account the above mentioned geographical and social diversity along with the current economic trends and calculates the risk of various natural and man-made disasters. As per the estimates in the vulnerability atlas, about 60% of area is prone to earthquakes, 12% region risks flooding and 8% of the total landmass is vulnerable to cyclones.
Furthermore of the 159.7 million hectares of agricultural land, 68% is prone to drought. While these are the conventional natural disasters listed, there are many more that have occurred due to wars, human negligence and civil disharmony.
Natural Disasters: These disasters occur naturally and we do not have any control over it. The most common of all the natural disasters is earthquakes. It is defined as sudden turbulent shaking of the earth. The origin of earthquake is known as the epicentre from where the shock waves traverse outwards. The magnitude of an earthquake is measured by the Richter scale.
There are various reasons that cause earthquakes. The most common ones occur due to movement and collision of tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface. While in itself, it is not a huge disaster unless the Richter scale registers a greater than 7 magnitude, 95% of the deaths that earthquakes cause is due to collapse of buildings and high rises in the urban regions.
Earthquakes are primary disasters which combining with the environmental factors can give rise to secondary disasters like landslides, floods, fires, etc. When it occurs inside oceans, it gives rise to giant tidal waves called tsunamis.
Earthquakes are also caused due to volcanic eruptions. These in themselves are disasters as they spew molten lava and ash which can harm the live around the volcano as well as cause natural air pollution. Another natural disaster occurs in the form of cyclones which arise out of the warm ocean temperature, high humidity and atmospheric instability.
They destroy anything that comes in their path. Floods are caused due to river blockage, excessive rains and sea tides or in worse case- tsunami. Floods contaminate clean as well as potable water rendering them useless. In urban areas, coming in contact with naked electrical wires can cause death via electrocution. Livelihoods are affected and animals need to be moved to higher grounds to prevent drowning.
Draughts occur due to shortage of groundwater, scarcity of rainfall and drying up of local water bodies. Draughts are the leading cause of crop failure and lead to food shortages, dehydration and malnutrition. Economically, it affects the farmers adversely as they become unemployed. This further makes them tumble into the hideous cycle of poverty, hunger and insanitation.
Man-made Disasters: These types of disasters can be easily prevented if we practice our profession and day to day activities responsibly and cautiously. On a bigger scale, political and economic factors also play a crucial role in the origin of man-made disasters.
Industrial disasters are primary type of man-made disasters. These include gas leak, chemical leak, explosions, fires, radioactive breakdown, etc. Depending upon the product or substances involved in the disaster, it can have both long and short term effects on human and ecological factors of the environment.
Another deliberately caused disaster is war and use of weapons of mass-destruction. Wars are one man’s victory and a million men’s loss. Other than loss of lives in the form of soldiers and civilians involved, wars also scar the environmental factors of the area where they are fought on. Further, funding wars drains a lot of finances thereby weakening the economy.
Hence, it is one of the worst man-made disasters. In similar ways, civil rebellions and riots cause anthropogenic disasters like stampedes, fires, communal violence, etc. These activities affect the infrastructure, population and economics of the region together. A more deadly disaster is in the form of nuclear breakdown or plant meltdown. This causes very long term effects on population and environment recovery from which takes ages together.
Management and Mitigation of Disasters
Proper disaster management of natural disasters can be executed keeping in mind the following points:
- Identification of factors of a disaster
- Classification of threat levels
- Public awareness about the disasters
- Pre-emptive measures
- Preparedness to effectively combat disaster
- Well-knitted coordination of mitigation and relief organisation
- Enactment and enforcement of government and administrative policies
India is a signatory of the Hyogo Framework of Action, 2015 under the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction which prescribes the following five-fold process for mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction in a country’s socioeconomic and developmental activities-
Political process: This encourages effective governmental policies and institutional frameworks along with allocation of funds and resources for limiting risks of disaster.
Technical process: Its goal is to utilise R&D in the field of science and technology for better assessment, monitoring and identification of disaster and improve the existing early warning systems to manage disasters.
Socio-educational process: This seeks to achieve mass awareness and skill development of the citizens of a country to tackle disasters effectively and ensure safety and resilience at personal level.
Development process: It includes integrating disaster risk reduction activities among all sectors of development planning and programs.
Humanitarian process: This comprises of the activities undertaken to rehabilitate loss- an integral part of risk reduction and ensure rapid response and recovery.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 encapsulates the institutional, legal, financial and co-ordination mechanisms at central, state, district and local levels. Under this law, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established under the chairmanship of the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. All the state and district disaster management organisations fall under this establishment.
Disaster risk reduction is important in mitigation of calamities, but implementing and mainstreaming it requires the government to incorporate it in the regular policies and programmes. The attempts to introduce disaster risk reduction as a specific component of bigger schemes are made in the following policies-
- The Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) includes DRR for mitigation of weather related disasters.
- Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadhak Yojana (PMGSY) provides rural connectivity to habitations.
- Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) secures residency for displaced people and disaster victims.
- Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (RGNDWM) aims to provide safe drinking water under normal as well as emergency conditions. The mission helps disaster affected people avail emergency tube wells during disaster.
- National Rural Health Mission (NHRM) provides the required medical attention and rehabilitation of victims.
The National Disaster Response Force
The NDRF was a specialised force constituted under the NDMA after the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Its purpose is to provide specialist response to a threatening disaster and was established in 2006. The NDMA falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs, therefore NDRF too comes under it.
The central government is responsible for provision of aid and assistance to the disaster affected regions. This is carried out by deployment of NDRF personnel alongside military and paramilitary personnel as well as government assets like communication, air transport, etc.
NDRF aims to construct a disaster resilient India by development of holistic, proactive and multilateral technology driven strategy for disaster management. Preparedness among all stakeholders as well as a culture of prevention and mitigation plays a crucial role to achieve efficient response to disaster.
These qualities are inculcated in the workforce of NDRF by training, re-training and familiarisation exercises in rescue and relief operations. Mock drills and joint exercises further grant them better field coordination with the paramilitary and military forces.
Time and again, NDRF has proven its calibre in various occurrences of disasters in the nation starting from the Gujarat floods in 2007 where they rescued 291 people, 2008 building collapse (Ahmedabad), Assam floods, cyclones at Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in 2009 as well as the latest floods in Chennai, Kerala and others.
Disaster management is not a one-man-show but rather is an outcome of the mass coordination between various organisations working in the field of relief and rehabilitation. Additionally, a huge workforce is available to carry out all the tasks and procedure.
New technology has also been introduced into the field to improve and modernise the current disaster management controls- especially development in the early warning and impact assessing model. Finally, awareness regarding mitigation and rehabilitation of disaster and making them self-reliant is a vital step to generate confidence and trust in the government.
Being a diverse nation, India also faces diverse climates and hence diverse disasters. Preparedness and relief efficiency are two vital elements that help manage both natural and anthropogenic disasters. Disaster management is important for our nation as it does not only helps protect lives and limit damage, but also lessens economic burden the governments face during disasters and emergencies.