The occurrence of natural disasters has increased significantly in the recent past and this has resulted in a high number of mortalities and economic and social losses worldwide. This necessitates the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures in order to achieve a disaster resilient environment.
The risk reduction through improved resilience requires a multi-sectoral approach with the participation of various stakeholders. As such, the local governments being the first responder and the one responsible for community development has a key role in achieving society’s resilience to disasters.
The talk titled Role of Local Governments in Disasters was organised by the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, as a part of the series #LocalGovernance on 29 June, 2021.
Starting with the discussion, the moderator of the session Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Senior Visiting Fellow, IMPRI, highlighted the importance of understanding the role of local bodies in disaster mitigation and adaptation strategies.
He underlined that despite the fact of having reports from the United Nations that the first response to mitigation disasters come from cities, they had been completely kept apart.
The city disaster Management Plans require time to time updation.
The speaker of the session Dr Joy Elamon, Director General at Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), made use of his presentation to shed light on the necessary steps to be taken in case of disasters.
He placed emphasis on the need to strengthen the role of local government, i.e. the municipalities, the panchayats, etc., in Disaster Management instead of relying on local authorities such as district collectors because it is the residents who know about the local community and the community knows them.
Dr Joy said that in the time of disasters, it was an emergency and there needed to be coordinated efforts where uniformed and non-uniformed forces came together.
He stated the Indian national system, which is based on a command-and-control system where there is a National Disaster Management Act and Prime Minister and Chief Ministers, being the chairpersons of National and State Disaster Management Authority, are responsible for the efficient coordination of disaster response.
But at the same time, it is the local government that understands the community and the locality.
He talked about various systems of disaster management, i.e. National Disaster Management Authority, State Disaster Management Authority and District Disaster Management Authority.
He further elaborated on the Disaster Management Plan and how it places the thrust of the planning mechanism on the local authorities, ignoring the third tier of government, i.e. Local Government.
The issue lies in the fact that no local government knows that it is supposed to prepare this disaster management plan. The Jila Parishad or District Panchayat Presidents do not even know that they are the co-chairperson in District Disaster Management Authority.
It is only at the level of local government that the first two steps of disaster management, i.e. Prevention and Mitigation or Risk Reduction are possible efficiently.
We tend to forget the third tier of government and still continue to have local authorities rather than local government.
Dr Joy threw light on various aspects of the District Disaster Management Plan consisting of measures to be taken for prevention and mitigation of disaster by the government departments at the district level and local authorities in the district.
He stated that local authorities should ensure that their officers and employees are trained in Disaster Management and resources related to disaster management should be maintained for being readily available.
Local Authorities should carry Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.
Through an example of Kerala Flash Floods in 2018, Dr Joy explained the transition to a local government disaster management plan in Kerala, where all Panchayats, Municipalities and Corporations prepared a Disaster Management Plan, the Department of Local Self Governments provided Framework, Templates and Guidelines, Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) provided technical support and KILA helped in capacity building and coordinating.
Dr Joy also elaborated on the entire Disaster Management Framework in Kerala and how they got local government plans into the District Disaster Management Plan, thereby including the suggestions and voices of the Local Government Steering Committee, Gram Sabha, volunteers, working groups and sectoral groups.
One of the most remarkable achievements that Dr Joy highlighted is the ability of the Kerala State District Management Authority to collect and collate data required for Disaster Management planning from various departments along with the help of local panchayats as well, including providing about 31 layers of maps (highlighting Flood Prone Areas, Communication points, Drought prone areas, earthquake-prone areas and so on).
Moreover, every local government formed four emergency response teams consisting of 10 members each for first aid, early warning, rescue and shelter management.
The moderator Mr Tikendra Singh Panwar, then initiated a discussion on the role of local people in the master plans drawn by consultants and parasitical organisations and asked about the capacity-building process in preparing those 30–31 maps.
Dr Joy explained that it was the Kerala Institute of Local Administration that did the training programs but at the same time underlined the indigenous knowledge through which local panchayats were able to improvise it. He further highlighted the importance of having such data in a locally assimilable form.
Mr Tikendra also asked for ways to resolve the contradiction between the district magistrate and the co-chairperson, if any.
Dr Joy suggested that first, we need to make the co-chairperson realise the importance of their voice and make them aware of their command in the Disaster management process. But he also said that all of this depends on the stature of the local government system in every place, which is not uniform at present in our country.
It is important for the rest of the country to learn from the Kerala experiences. We really need to restructure the disaster management system where we must empower the local governments in fact in the structural discourse.
Further proceeding with the discussion, Dr Arjun Asked for Dr Joy’s point of view on the conundrum of local government from a disaster point of view since sometimes the local government falls in the ambit of several districts as well as practices on financial management part for project planning.
To this, Dr Joy argued for a multi-level planning system instead of a completely decentralised system. Using the example of Kerala, he further highlighted how the funds are transferred to the local governments to help them plan developmental activities and allocate resources locally.
Dr Arjun also asked for Dr Joy’s insights on Kerala’s liquid waste management problem as it is emerging as an important issue.
Dr Joy said that the local governments are trying to incorporate the spatial aspects of development in their planning mechanisms. An integrated waste management system is being placed focus on now.
The talk concluded with Dr Joy’s important message in this emergency scenario for the rest of the country:
Local governments have a role to play and, in fact, it’s they who can implement policies at the ground level.
Acknowledgement: Chhavi Jain is a Research Intern at IMPRI
Tikender Singh Panwar, Simi Mehta, Ritika Gupta