The monsoon forecast of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) which has brought relief to the prevailing drought and heat wave conditions in the country has brought along the threat of losses due to heavy rains in hilly states. Hydrometeorological hazards are common in our country and past record does not give a good picture of our preparedness. These hazards time and again have turned into big disasters beyond the coping capacity of the governments and other agencies. The same was the case in 2013 when State of Uttarakhand witnessed the devastating flash floods.
Bhavna Karki who is a disaster management expert tells us that not many know that the state in its own capacity focuses on and buckles up for the monsoon period, which officially is a three-month period starting 15 June to 15 September. But still not just Uttarakhand but other states,especially the ones with hilly terrain face regular annual losses to natural or human induced events. It is also to be noted that before writing about the preparedness level of the state and the criticism that it faces from the ‘experts’, we all should understand the constraints that a state faces and the limitation of the state agencies looking after disaster management, especially in terms of taking crucial decisions.
Her published paper on disaster management plan for resilient city clearly lists shortcomings and recommends actions for managing it. She starts with the history of Disaster Management (DM) in India, started in 1990s after UN General Assembly declared 1990s as International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Soon a disaster management cell was established under the Ministry of Agriculture which initially looked after disaster management. Later, on the recommendation of the High Powered Committee (HPC), constituted in 1999, the disaster management division of Ministry of Agriculture was shifted to Ministry of Home Affairs in 2001 and Government enacted the Disaster Management Act on 23rd December, 2005. The ‘Act’ aimed at a paradigm shift in disaster management and since then forms the basis of the institutional, legal, financial and coordination mechanisms at the National, State and District levels.
But the situation is still grave and the shortcomings at all levels due to various reasons, do question the intent and ability of the authority at national level. The first National Action Plan released just last month (May) is now to be a framework of reference for all the states to base their plans on. As per Section 23 of the DM Act, there should be a disaster management plan for every state. As per the Act, NDMA was also to lay down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the state plans. In the absence of National Plan most of the states had prepared their state plans based on the guidelines issued by NDMA for “preparation of state disaster management plans” in 2007. Till 2014, 20 states had prepared their draft or approved state plans. However, it is yet to be seen how practical and effective the approved plans are on ground and how much participation has been there among various stakeholders in preparation of these plans.
Bhavna in her paper rightly questions that when there is delay, lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities, lack of expertise at National level how well we expect to perform at state levels.The level of interaction and coordination between National Authority and state authorities also needs to be reviewed. The fact is that most of the states still do not have proper structure of State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), they lack human resource and experts for proper functioning. Many states are working a lot, with limited human resource, at their levels but there are still serious issues with communication and networking among various stakeholders within state. Basic requirements for preparedness and response like hazard mapping, identification of designated shelter places, alternate routes, proper assessment of resources etc. are still not available. With authorities struggling with putting the disaster management system in place at official levels, communities are far from their reach. The challenge here is not just over coming the shortcoming at various levels but also seriously working on establishing a practical DM system in place or the proper implementation of available disaster management system. This is possible only when we are ready to go for long lasting, long term solutions.
Bhavna also clearly highlights the shortcomings for effective disaster management. The absence of up to date and accurate data is also a hindrance in planning. The lack of coordination and inter-linkages coupled with absence of dedicated institutional mechanism and low capacity of the stakeholders in disaster management all hinder the process of effective disaster management.Most of the states like Uttarakhand are running many programmes in its own capacity to increase the preparedness level of the community as well as responders (the forces). It also has beenmaintaining the functioning of the Emergency Operation Centre in all of its districts and one at the state level. The shortcoming as stated earlier is the absence of the proper SDMA with ample and appropriate human resource. Lack of regular coordination among various departments and lack of clarity regarding the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the area of disaster management are some of the critical issues which the state is facing for a long time. The harshterrain and remote location also is a very natural limiting factor when it comes to rescue, relief orcoordination activities. The state is doing a lot but still has a long way to go in this area.
The forecast of heavy rains and timely warnings issues by IMD for states is again to check our level of preparedness. A dedicated workforce for the development of an updated, more effective,well-coordinated and practical disaster management plan is the need of the hour. We need to create a situation or condition where Disaster Management is not just an authority’s responsibility but everyone’s concern. After eleven years of the enactment of the DM Act, the efforts are being done, the system and process is in place but the progress seems too slow for a country like India.
Source: This article was a result of our small interview-talk with Ms. Bhavna Karki on current monsoon & its impact in rural and urban areas of India. Bhavna Karki is a well-known environmental professional and a leading expert in environment, climate change and disaster management field.She has an experience of several years working in the field of environment management, disaster risk reduction, climate change and law and policy with agencies like United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) India, State Government of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and other NGOs in various capacities.