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Disaster Management In India: Time To Pull Up Our Socks

Posted on September 30, 2011 in Society

By Shailza Sharma:

The difference between the websites of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the disaster management authority of India, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the emergency management authority of the United States, says it all. Disasters in any country come and go, both natural (like earthquake) and man-made (bombings), but in our country – its management happens only after the disaster has taken place, not during or before it. India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. Floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides have been a recurrent phenomena. The recent earthquake and bombing in Delhi are hard evidence of the fact that our country needs a better disaster management approach. The FEMA website very precisely and in an organized manner lays down smallest things like making an emergency kit to planning the structure of disaster resistant buildings in areas of high alert of flood, earthquake, and hurricane.

People’s attitude in our country towards this issue is ‘I was not involved in this disaster, I am safe, and thus I can worry when it will affect me’. This callous attitude is not going to solve the problem. Disaster management occupies an important place in this country’s policy framework as it is the poor and the under-privileged who are worst affected on account of calamities/disasters. Not just our city but the entire country lacks the proper disaster management skills or approach. When an earthquake comes, people just rush out of their buildings without stopping to think that they might cause stampede which may take more lives that the actual disaster. Many people do not understand the concept of ‘safe points’ during any kind of disaster.

As it is said ‘Prevention is better that cure’, educating the people about small things like how to evacuate, where are the safety exits, where to assemble during disasters is certainly much better than having the paramedics search the disaster affected area for dead bodies. What needs to be understood here is that a little education and awareness goes as far as saving a life or two. There is already a legislation which takes care of institutionalization of disaster management (Disaster Management Act, 2005), but according to me, these are some small things that can lead to a great improvement in the way we look at ‘disasters’.

There are various ways this can be done:

  1. Making it compulsory for every institution or building to have an evacuation plan. Conducting mock drills at least once a month.
  2. Disaster Management courses in schools should be more practical in nature and nor theoretical. Making students ‘learn’ what to do during disasters for examination purposes is not going to help them when an actual disaster strikes.
  3. Local authorities should mark disaster sensitive areas and alert the locals to take all the necessary steps to prevent getting affected.
  4. Since technology and internet have become a great tool for self education these days, the websites for NDA needs to be improved to make them more interactive and educative.
  5. India as a nation needs to inculcate a culture where disaster management becomes a habit. Our approach regarding putting off such things for future or until they affect us directly can someday cost loss of many lives. Being prepared and cautious is any day better than being full of regret.

According to me, in order to make the country efficient in disaster management, we need to start by working in small units i.e. making residential areas, office buildings, schools safe and then moving on to a city or national disaster management plan. Right now what seems to be happening is just revamping of the disaster management plans for the entire country only on paper. The approach needs to be to zoom in on every corner of the country to repair the defects in management plans and then zooming out to prepare a national plan for the country, and have execution.