The top to bottom model of disaster response, rescue and relief has so far failed to provide prompt and timely assistance to affected people. It is now the right time to decentralize disaster risk governance. It is time to empower and equip gram panchayats (village governments) and municipals for a first-hand disaster response, rescue and relief operations. There should be a separate ‘Panchayat Disaster Response Force’.
Ritu is the newly elected mukhiya (head) of Singhwahini Panchayat in Sonbarsha Block of Sitamarhi District in Bihar. She has successfully been involving local experience and expertise in her area.
Since August 11, 2017, when the flood has been posing a severe threat, the Singhwahini Panchayat District Emergency Operation Centre couldn’t respond till August 16, despite having all the local inputs and updates. This was her first experience of this kind after being elected as the village head.
Ritu has been leading from the front since day one, utilizing information and communication technology to disseminate a timely response to higher authorities. She’s been doing this by uploading videos and photographs on social media which revealed the worst intensity of disaster in her Panchayat.
She has worked on developing logistics and electricity in a Panchayat where villagers had no access to electricity and road links, in post-independent India. Unfortunately, this mighty flood has caused severe devastation. While electricity has been restored, but the flood has damaged newly built roads.
As Ritu informs me, the flood has severely affected lives and livelihoods in three villages- Bari Singhwahini, Karharwa and Khutaha, in particular. Fifty families have become homeless and 100 other families are left with partially damaged homes. This unprecedented flood has affected their farms, agriculture and animal husbandry badly.
Ritu started preparing for flood response after she was elected as the mukhiya. However, her proposal for a boat had been pending for a long time. Even after her proposal was accepted, the boat she requested still hasn’t been made available.
Now it has become a challenge for her to manage relief camps, provide food to those affected, manage emergency health services, etc to facilitate an emergency supply chain.
There has been a serious lack of administrative coordination, and the emergency operation centre hasn’t even been properly functional. The district administration was not prepared for an immediate disaster response. There is no list prepared of registered relief camps where people could be shifted after evacuation.
If this is how disaster response works, the Disaster Management Authority needs to do some capacity building first.
The Indian parliament passed National Disaster Management Act in 2005 and thereafter, the states set up their respective state disaster management authorities. The facets of disaster preparedness have attained a modern dynamic of an integrated approach to capacity building, awareness and action within an institutional policy framework that ensures a structural plan and technological impetus for accelerated response, rescue and relief work for rehabilitation and reconstruction measures.
A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was established. Remote Sensing and GPS navigation maps have equally been significant as an operational resource to pre disaster mitigation and preparedness measures.
However, there needs to be an involvement of the locals not only during the response, rescue and relief operations but also in the process of recovery.
Bihar has been producing leaders at the national level yet the leaders have been failing to reach an acceptable resolution of inter-state water sharing with their neighbouring states and an international water sharing with Nepal. Sadly, flood relief and rescue is becoming a political battle ground for strengthening vote bank.
Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30) calls for strengthening disaster risk governance to make disaster management a significant priority in the recently held Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Miyagi, Japan during 14-18 March 2015. The Framework Convention for Disaster Risk Reduction outlined their priorities of actions includes:
It is the need of the hour to introduce a sustainable course structure in our academic and community curriculum to generate application based clinical awareness towards our response to natural and man-made disasters.
The government should allocate more funds for the research and development for disaster preparedness and mitigation at the university level. The government must also work to preserve and protect the wetlands, mangroves and coral reef ecosystems from heavy illegal mass encroachment and real estate constructions.
Ecosystem based disaster risk reduction is a powerful natural design to mitigate the extent of damage and loss caused due to a massive scale natural calamity like floods, cyclones, earthquakes etc. Our natural ecosystems act as a barrier to natural disasters and over a long period of time, they reduce vulnerability and risk. One of the major areas of disaster preparedness and mitigation is to involve communities in framing policies for the development of a disaster resilience society.
The purpose of a pre-disaster preparedness and mitigation operation is to work on an integrated and coordinated strategy to minimize the loss and damage to human life. The development of such a plan has been tough to implement in India as many people think that death is a universal occurrence and that everyone is destined to die someday. Such a mindset needs to change and by decentralizing disaster governance, one could be better prepared for a prompt response.
Picture Credit: Pranav Kumar