Are Indian cities ‘disaster’ ready?

Many recent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones have raised concerns over the preparedness of Indian cities to tackle them in an efficient manner to reduce the loss of life and property. The million dollar question is: do our cities have a plan and system to keep citizens safe during disasters…

People living in cities become more vulnerable to after-effects of natural disasters such as earthquake, storms and floods because of dense population and haphazard urbanization. Many people died and many others suffered loss of property in the city of Chennai after torrential rains because the natural waterways were blocked or encroached upon due to unplanned urban sprawl. Chennai is not a case in isolation. Similar situation could happen in any city. Every city faces a different kind of threat. If the coastal cities in India are facing flooding problems, sea rise, etc. then there are cities which are at the risk of getting hit by severe earthquakes. According to government data released in March, a total of 81 new towns and cities were added to a list of areas prone to earthquakes, bringing the total to 107. Eight new cities and towns have been added to a government list of urban areas vulnerable to earthquakes of “very severe intensity”.

The national capital Delhi being in seismic zone 4 (high activity) is one of India’s most vulnerable metropolitan cities when it comes to earthquakes. The city has the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) which makes sure the city has no imminent threat. The authority also equips each locality to use funds allocated for disaster management activities. It trains search and rescue teams, police and fire personnel to handle situations of disaster and chalks out plans to prepare against disasters. But are other cities which are at the danger of similar threats ready to handle the situation efficiently? Not just government agencies but also communities should be ready to play a proactive role in case of emergency. Awareness among people about rescue strategies and precautions is must for making things easier for disaster management authorities. Recently, Swiss Re, a global reinsurance company, has analyzed the disaster potential for 616 of the world’s largest cities. Cities were identified based on their potential for earthquakes, storms, storm surges, tsunamis, and river floods. Each city was ranked based on the effect each scenario would have on city residents, by combining population distribution data with vulnerability estimates for each disaster. It comprises fatalities, injuries, evacuations, those whose homes would be damaged or destroyed, and those who would be unable to access their workplace. In this study, the Indian city Kolkata ranked 7th in the list of top ten most vulnerable cities in the world.

According to the report, “Kolkata is situated near the world’s largest river delta, which makes it susceptible to flooding nearly every year. The drainage system, which is more than 140 years old, covers less than half of the city. Cyclones, tsunamis, and storm surges could also affect the city, which is ill-prepared to deal with a natural disaster.” Disaster management agencies at local level should do similar studies to plug the gaps in their preparedness of handling disaster.

In the month of June this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the first ever National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP). It aims to make India disaster resilient and significantly reduce the loss of lives and assets. The NDMP focuses mainly on the priorities and goal of Sendai Framework of the United Nations for Disaster Risk Reduction. The priorities under the framework are understanding disaster risk reduction, strengthening disaster risk governance, investing in disaster risk, reduction for the resilience, enhancing recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The plan also focuses on preparing communities to cope with disasters, and emphasizes on a greater need for Information, Education and Communication activities. Each city should take proactive initiatives to provide a safer environment to their citizens and enable such an environment where community stands tall in case of any kind of impending disaster.

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