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Monday, December 17, 2007

New focus is on disaster prevention

Realizing its extreme climate risks, India is now moving towards a proactive rather than reactive approach to disaster management, wherein prevention and preparedness are being seen as the thrust areas rather than relief and rehabilitation. Vinod Menon, member of the National Disaster Management Authority, says, "A paradigm shift is taking place towards disaster preparedness." A National Alliance of Disaster Risk Reduction formed last month aims to sustain this shift. 

Faced with recurring disasters, many of them due to extreme weather conditions, the common folks are also learning the value of disaster preparedness such as evacuation drills and networks of dormant volunteer groups that could be pressed into service in emergencies. 

People in tsunami hit Poompuhar village in Tamil Nadu learnt their lesson when a fisherwoman's foresight led to evacuation of 10,000 people from her village, sounding of alert in neighboring villages and rescue of over 250 people as the deadly waves crashed into the mainland. Her efforts required quick thinking, coordination and community assistance. With a similar coordination of village, state and national agencies including civil society groups, perhaps the devastation caused by the tsunami could have been reduced manifold.

Villages in Orissa, where floods, droughts or cyclones occur quite frequently, people have mobilized to safeguard trees ensuring conservation of forests, and reducing chances of soil erosion and flooding. Experts at a recently held national workshop on disaster relief reduction hailed the initiative as an example of simple and practical solutions for India's policy makers.

The Indian National Disaster Management Act 2005 explains disaster management as a continuous and integrated process of planning, coordinating and implementing mitigation, capacity building and assessment measures of any disaster as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Climate change has a direct bearing on almost all spheres of human life including poverty, housing, water, and sustainable development. It is magnified when 27 of the 35 states and UTs in India are disaster prone.

India's experience in dealing with disasters in the recent past has been mixed. Initiatives by NGOs, international organizations and government bodies have tried to provide timely assistance as seen during the tsunami, earthquakes and floods. The new preventive approach will change the way people approach hazards and create a fresh synergy between different organizations required to work in tandem in times of crisis.


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