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Going Beyond Disaster Preparedness To Disaster Resilience- Role Of Disaster Management Act, 2005

Shyama Kuriakose
29 Nov 2019 10:32 AM GMT
Going Beyond Disaster Preparedness To Disaster Resilience- Role Of Disaster Management Act, 2005

As the 2019 floods in Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra revealed, extreme weather events is the 'new 'normal' and causes damage to both life and material assets. The mentioned states are especially vulnerable because they are situated in the Western Ghats, which is considered as an extremely ecologically fragile region. With the protection status of the Ghats in limbo due to vested interests, the damage caused to these areas, especially in Kerala and Karnataka, are all the more pronounced.

In light of the increasing instances of climatic vulnerabilities, it is important to examine the role, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (hereafter referred to as DMA) plays in improving disaster resilience. What stands out specifically is the manner in which the DMA is being implemented in its letter and spirit. This legislation was introduced to deal with the management of the problems occurring due to natural or manmade disasters and to prompt response to any disaster situation. Institutional agencies such as the National Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMA) are responsible for laying down policies and approve disaster management plans at the central and state levels. Further, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) promotes training, research and documentation aimed at prevention and mitigation strategies while the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) comprising of central Para military forces is equipped to conduct rescue operations.
Over the years, India's response to disaster preparedness has improved with the number of casualties significantly reducing. In the cases of these floods, it was commendable that the NDRF stepped in with immediate rescue and relief efforts across the length and breadth of these water inundated regions. This helped bring down the number of casualties, as opposed to past flood responses. However, the damage caused to houses, livestock, agriculture, public infrastructure such as power lines, bridges, roads, schools and hospitals apart from loss of fauna and flora inside and outside the ecologically fragile areas, has been immense. This damage and its immense economic ramifications indicate that implementation of DMA leaves a lot to be desired as regards disaster resilience. In fact, state preparedness should be to such an extent that the time taken for recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the aftermath of disasters should be cut down significantly. A perusal of the Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra state plans on disaster management mandated to be approved by the SDMAs show the great importance of being disaster resilient; for instance, Kerala customized the Sendai Framework (2015-2030) to its local context within the state plan. These plans suggest a combination of strengthening the law and policy regime around the goals of environmental conservation, and increasing public participation. They also reinforce decentralized governance and work towards bettering institutional coordination.
The DMA also calls for integration of national, state and district disaster management plans into the plans of the ministries, state and district level line departments. The plans must include aspects ranging from transport, housing, power and public infrastructure, to water resource management, agriculture, forests and biodiversity. Accordingly, while the Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra state plans appear to include all of these aspects, implementation concerns with these plans, loom large.
Role of urban and rural governing agencies becomes especially significant; given that they are best placed as first level responders to preventing a crisis as well as in handling post disaster operations. Municipalities and Gram Panchayats in the three concerned states have important powers with regard to environment conservation. The Kerala model of Panchayati Raj has been hailed for instituting genuine institutions of local self-government, however, these agencies need to now be aligned with disaster resilience. In the meantime, the DMA gives importance to the role of local governing agencies, by mandating consultation with them while preparing the District Disaster Management Plan. It is not clear whether or not this provision of consultation is implemented in reality. In addition, local authorities have the responsibility of ensuring that all construction projects conform to the standards and specifications laid down for prevention of loss to life and property. Faulty implementation of this important provision can be seen from the unsustainable manner in which new constructions continue to mushroom in ecologically sensitive areas where disaster vulnerabilities are higher. This state of affairs continues in spite of the environmental laws which govern the development of infrastructure projects, especially the Environment Impact Assessment, Wetland Rules and the Coastal Regulatory Zone Notifications.
Existing Gaps in the Disaster Management Act
It needs to also be pointed out that economic and institutional vulnerability which is a cause of natural disasters, is at a maximum in the rural areas due to peoples' dependence on agriculture, forest produce and traditional fisheries. With rural communities accounting for a majority of the population in these states, it is imperative for such communities to be intrinsically involved in disaster resilience programs. Also, the creation of awareness programs, preparation of short and long term plans for the area with community buy-in, capacity building from a livelihood and life skills context, synergizing between all local agencies, and convergence of local programs to ensure fund generation, will bolster a community against all forms of natural disasters that are not only limited to floods. The Act still has a long way to go in this regard.
While all of the above-mentioned provisions from DMA are ideal for achieving disaster resilience, ground level implementation is only now beginning to take shape. As per Maharashtra and Karnataka's Disaster Management Plans mentioned above, certain flagship schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana- Gramin, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, National Health Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Rural Drinking Water Programme and Swachh Bharat Mission, are planned as the entry points on the ground to increase disaster resilience. Kerala undertook a detailed exercise of Post Disaster Need Assessment under the UNDP initiative to come up with four pillars of recovery strategy. They are:
• Integrated water resources management (IWRM)
• Eco-sensitive and risk informed land use
• Inclusive and people-centered approach
• Promoting knowledge, innovation, technology
While implementing DMA, authorities need to be mindful of the above-mentioned concerns as well. Notably, the state plans are forward looking, and replete with resilience strategies. Hopefully, with these plans and proper implementation of the provisions of DMA regarding coordination and integration, states will be better equipped to handle natural disasters in a more efficient and cost effective manner.

Shyama Kuriakose is Senior Project Fellow at Vidhi Center for Legal Policy. Authors views are personal.

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