Indian disaster management policies need greater reforms

The Indian subcontinent, every year, witness a significant loss of life and property due to disasters. Although the authorities are trying to be more vigilant about the upcoming disasters and respond more proactively, efforts are needed to further improve the situation as the loss caused is still huge. As per a report by Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) released in January 2019, in India alone 1388 deaths were reported and 23,900,348 people were affected in 2018. This questions our preparation for disaster mitigation. Therefore, India needs to strengthen the existing policies to prevent further damage and Japan could be a lighthouse to help us strengthen our disaster management policy framework and its efficient and timely execution

Monsoon has arrived in the Indian subcontinent pouring with all its might causing damage to property and life throughout the country, reflecting our under-preparedness for disasters. As per the data from Assam Disaster Management Authority more than 200 people died and 400 villages in 28 districts of Assam were affected by floods. Similar is the situation in Bihar where the death toll reached 123 with over 8.1 million people affected in 12 districts. In October last year, Cyclone ‘Titli’ killed eight in the state of Andhra Pradesh and caused huge damage to property. Odisha successfully prevented loss of any life. But, to retain ‘no life loss’, governments of states need to fasten their seatbelts and focus on improving the disaster management policies and their timely execution.
Despite the fact that floods, cyclones and landslides are frequent in India and every year cause significant damage to property and life, the authorities fail to implement disaster mitigation measures in an appropriate manner. Probably, the lack of strong policy framework and loopholes in its implementation is the reason.
Geo-climatic conditions and socio-economic vulnerability of India makes it one of the most disaster-prone countries. According to a report by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and Forest Research Institute (FRI), – 59per cent area is prone to earthquakes, 28 per cent to droughts, 25 per cent to landslides, 12 per cent to floods, 8 per cent to cyclones and 50 per cent of the forest area is prone to forest fires.A World Bank report released in 2017 noted that the impact of extreme natural disasters was equivalent to $520 billion of global loss in annual consumption and forces some 26 million people into poverty each year. There is a need for countries around the world to step-up appropriate disaster mitigation measures to minimize the loss of property and life. India has a dedicated disaster management force at central and state levels, as well as effective disaster management policies. However, delayed response, inappropriate implementation of the plans and policies, and inadequate technological capacity for accurate prediction and measurement of the disaster result in large scale damage. Therefore, the country needs to look at examples for better implementation of the policies. And, there is a lot to learn from the Japanese expertise in emergency preparedness and response at national and local levels.

Japanese expertise to learn from
Japan has always been susceptible to typhoons. The country is home to more than 100 active volcanoes and around 20 per cent of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude over six. However, even after being highly vulnerable to such calamities, the number of deaths has always been on the lower end of the table as compared to the other countries. It is evident that the country has efficiently implemented disaster mitigation policies and course of action, and a country like India, prone to many natural disasters, must look to Japan to improve its disaster mitigation strategies and implement effective policies.
Japan is arguably a world leader in disaster management. The country has some effective policy initiatives to manage disasters such as Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) and the concept of ‘Build Back Better’. The island country has developed some of the most advanced earthquake early warning systems. Also, the roadmap prepared with policies includes role of public, private and educational bodies. Emergency drills organised by public and private organisations, awareness among people on various safety measures for disasters and a strong emphasis given to disaster management training in schools, make saving lives successful during disasters.
Japan boasts of sophisticated tsunami warning systems which are quite accurate in measuring the height, speed, location, and arrival time of the tsunami. Also, the system regularly monitors seismic activity along the coasts. The country has taken various protective measures against tsunamis. Along the east coast, where tsunamis are frequent, the authorities have built floodgates and tsunami walls to prevent flooding. The country’s excellence lies in its policy framework and disaster mitigation measures implemented. Japan has a Basic Disaster Management Plan which is the master plan and a basis for execution of disaster risk reduction activities in the island country. At various levels, from the Government to municipal corporations or civic authorities, different plans are drafted as per their duties based on the master plan. Disaster Management Operational Plan is the plan formed by the Government and Local Disaster Management Plan is what the civic authorities develop. The division of labor on the basis of capacity for implementing disaster risk reduction measures makes the functioning of the authorities easier and effective.

Typhoon Noru – A lighthouse example

Japan was hit by Typhoon Noru on July 8, 2017. The typhoon with winds moving at a speed of over 120 kmph made the landfall bringing heavy rains to the Kinki and Hokuriku regions resulting in flooding. As per a report released by the Japan Times, the Japanese government issued evacuation orders to tens of thousands of people in Shikoku and 280 flights were cancelled. After the typhoon made landfall, two deaths were reported and since then no further casualties were reported. According to Fire and Disaster Management, three people were injured in the neighbouring Miyazaki Prefecture.
Japan’s preparation, sophisticated equipment for measuring and predicting disasters, and strong disaster management policies coupled with effective implementation of the disaster management plan brought down death toll and loss to property.
Japan, even after being smaller in geographical area and population as compared to India, is way ahead in disaster management and mitigation. The island country can act as a lighthouse for the Indian subcontinent for improving our disaster management policy framework, disaster response, and measures for disaster risk reduction. Also, there is an urgent need to educate and make aware the citizens across the nation, especially those residing in disaster-prone areas, about safety measures to be followed at the time of disasters. It must be mandatory for schools, colleges, societies, and public and private organizations to conduct regular safety drills and sessions on disaster management and safety.

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