India’s Failures In Disaster Management

Floods in North India have left over 70,000 people stranded and 550 dead. Loss to property will run in billions. The on-going rescue efforts are yielding results but very slowly.  The uncoordinated recovery response and efforts indicate lack of disaster management capabilities of the state.

India as a country does not have a properly implemented disaster management system. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India recent report – “Performance Audit Report on Disaster Management of India” highlights glaring deficiencies. Below are some of the key observations from the report. It is sufficient to make Indian citizens sleepless at night.

1.      An Introduction

India with its geo-climatic conditions, high density of population, socio-economic disparities,  politics and troubled relationship with neighboring countries, has high risk of natural and man-made disasters. In respect to natural disasters, it is vulnerable to forest fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones. Man-made disaster risks are (1)war, bombing, terrorist attacks, and riots, (2) chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear crises, (3) hijacks, train accidents, airplane crashes and shipwrecks, etc.

Government passed the Disaster Management (DM) Act in 2005. According to the act, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was formed under the Prime Minister and the National Executive Committee (NEC) developed National Policy of Disaster Management, which was approved in 2009.

2.      Failure in Formation of Disaster Recovery Plan

Until mid-2012, the National Executive Committee (NEC) had not prepared India’s National Plan for Disaster Management. Surprisingly, though India has faced a major disaster each year since development of DM Act, NEC has not met after May 2008. The Working Group it formed in 2007 never met after that.

Then the buck was passed to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to prepare a National Response Plan (NRP). It directed National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) to prepare the NRP. NIDM submitted a draft plan in April 2012, which was circulated by MHA to other departments.

The other two components of the National Plan for Disaster Management are National Mitigation Plan and National Capacity Building Plan. While the latter is still under preparation, some departments have submitted the mitigation plans.

Things are equally bad at State level. Just 14 states have submitted their State Disaster Management Plan.  The lackadaisical attitude shows government’s complete disregard towards national and human safety.

3.      Performance of National Disaster Management Authority

The CAG report states that – “So far, no major project taken by NDMA has seen completion. It was noticed that NDMA selected projects without proper groundwork, and as a result either the projects were abundant midway or were incomplete after a considerable period of time.”

The projects included earthquake vulnerability risk assessment, micro zonation of major cities, landslide risk assessment, national flood risk mitigation, national school safety program, mobile radiation detection system, national disaster communication system, etc. The natures of the projects indicate their criticality and importance for disaster management. Even the hazard maps for earthquakes, landslides, cyclone, tsunami and floods are incomplete or unavailable. Without these maps, the government is not even in a position to identify the high-risk areas.

The main reasons for delays in disaster management project planning are lack of committed groups, failure in communicating and coordinating with various ministries, shortage of staff and insufficient knowledge and expertise in these fields. Though funds were approved and allocated for various phases, things just haven’t got beyond conceptualization stage.

4.      Mis-utilization of Funds

Government constituted National Disaster Response Fund and State Disaster Response Fund to deal with the disasters. The government approved Rs 33,580.93 crores for State Disaster Response Funds for a period of five years – 2010-2015. The report indicates that Ministry of Home Affairs is not receiving appropriate information from states on utilization of funds. Audit findings reveal that some states have misutilized funds for expenditures that were not sanctioned for disaster management. There was in a few cases significant delay in releasing funds. Additionally, some States didn’t invest the funds thereby incurring huge interest losses. This shows financial indiscipline in states management of funds.

Secondly, a separate National Disaster Mitigation Fund was to be constituted for reconstruction and restoration activities after the disaster. However, this has not been done till date. The States were required to form State Disaster Mitigation Fund and District Disaster Mitigation Fund. Quite a few states haven’t created the funds. Uttarakhand, the state reeling from floods, has just a State Disaster Mitigation Fund.

The situation is so bad, that the National Disaster Response Reserve of Rs 250 crores to buy relief material (blankets, tents, etc.) was not operational until audit time.

5.      Disaster Management Communication

Department of Space commenced a Disaster Management Support programme in March 2003. The main seven projects started between 2003 to 2007 are incomplete till 2012. These are namely – National Disaster Management Informatics System, National Disaster Communication Network, Doppler Weather Radars, Satellite Based Network for Disaster Communication, Disaster Management Synthetic Aperture Radar, Airborne laser Terrain Mapping and Digital camera System and National Disaster for Emergency Management. Presently, if a disaster strikes and regular communication networks go down, there are no contingency methods available for communication to a disaster-hit area.

6.      National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)

Ten Central Armed Police Forces battalions were formed of 1149 posts each. 27% of the posts were vacant in May 2012. The NDRF personnel don’t have sufficient training, facilities, equipment, and residential accommodation. With these constraints, it is difficult to imagine that they can effectively manage disasters.

Till recently, they didn’t even have deployment guidelines. In a few instances, they were deployed during elections. In one instance, they reached the disaster site without food, water, or tents for themselves. The local authorities had to give the same.

Up to June 2012, just seven states have constituted State Disaster Response Force. Even the local Regional Response Centres are ill equipped.

The impact can be seen at the local fire services level also. As per the Thirteenth Finance Commission, deficiencies in fire services are alarming. 97.54% of the country doesn’t have fire stations, 96.28% doesn’t have fire-fighting personnel, and 80.04% doesn’t have fire fighting and rescue vehicles. Shortage of trained manpower, vehicles, and equipment plague the existing fire service centers.

Locally, the states do have not mobile hospitals and trained trauma management doctors. There are no real medical facilities available for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear disasters at national level. This is seriously a pathetic state of affairs. Government bodies are showing no concern for human life.

Closing Thoughts

After reading the report, I realized that Indians have just one option at present – pray to God that disaster doesn’t strike in their region. The governments at national, state and district levels have shown a negligent attitude towards disaster management. This is a classic case – funds are available but nothing has been done to implement the plan. Indian citizens can check with the local politicians and government bodies to assess the level of preparedness for disaster management. If required, local bodies can be formed in different constituencies and societies to act as disaster management task force. As it is a question of citizen safety, public activism will help in developing adequate disaster management capabilities.

References:

CAG Report – Performance Audit Report on Disaster Management of India

 

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One comment on “India’s Failures In Disaster Management

  1. Reblogged this on Lead Me On and commented:
    This informative report about the gap in India’s disaster management and recovery plans calls, at the end, for local citizen groups to gather, organize and call for governmental reform. It may also be necessary for these groups to create their own community plans, in the absence of governmental action and in anticipation of slow responses. This kind of grassroots community-based leadership is important in every country. We cannot depend only on government programs to save us, but have to work in the local world, according to our gifts and needs.
    I have written in this blog about the Interrupters, who step into Chicago’s impoverished communities to support healing and prevent violence. I’ve also written about Malala Yousafzai, and her work for the education of girls in Pakistan, and now on a global scale. My blog about the Peace Committees in the Congo demonstrates the sustainable power of community-based, grassroots leadership even in the face of war. Sonia Jaspal is on the right track — the key will be for communities facing the ravages of natural disasters to organize based on their specific needs and challenges, and unify across religious, caste/class and neighborhood barriers in order to prevent and solve these devastating problems.

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