Disasters and Disaster Management

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A disaster is a sudden event that results in massive damage, loss, and destruction of life and property beyond a community’s capacity to cope. It can be either natural or human-made and leads to disruption of the daily life of the community. The damage caused by disasters is immeasurable and varies with the geographical location, climate and the type of earth surface/degree of vulnerability. It causes human, material, and economic or environmental losses. 

Disasters are classified as per origin, into natural and man-made disasters. Natural disasters include earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, and fires. Man-made disasters can include hazardous material spills, fires, groundwater contamination, transportation accidents, structure failures, mining accidents, explosions and acts of terrorism.

No country is immune from disaster, though vulnerability to disaster varies from country to country. There are four main types of disaster:

Natural disasters. These disasters include floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcano eruptions that can have immediate impacts on human health, as well as seconday impacts causing further death and suffering from floods causing landslides, earthquakes resulting in fires, tsunamis causing widespread flooding and typhoons sinking ferries

Environmental emergencies. These emergencies include technological or industrial accidents, usually involving hazardous material, and occur where these materials are produced, used or transported. Large forest fires are generally included in this definition because they tend to be caused by humans.

Complex emergencies. These emergencies involve a breakdown of authority, looting and attacks on strategic installations. Complex emergencies include conflict situations and war.

Pandemic emergencies. These emergencies involve a sudden onset of a contagious disease that affects health and disrupts services and businesses, bringing economic and social costs.

Worst Disasters of India:

A few of the worst disasters India has faced:

The Bengal Famine (1943): The Bengal famine of 1943 affected the Bengal province of British during World War II. An estimated 2.1–3 million died of starvation, malaria, and other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care. 

Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984): The Bhopal Disaster is considered among the world’s worst industrial disasters. It occurred due to a gas leak incident on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. At least 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas killed more than 15,000 people and affected over 600,000 workers.

Gujarat Earthquake (2001): The Gujarat earthquake, also known as the Bhuj earthquake, occurred on 26 January, 2001. Bhuj, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Kutch, Surat, Surendranagar, Rajkot district, Jamnagar and Jodia districts of Gujarat. The earthquake killed between 13,805 and 20,023 people, injured another 167,000 and destroyed nearly 340,000 buildings.

Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004): The Indian Ocean tsunami occurred on December 26, 2004 affected parts of southern India and Andaman Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka, Indonesia etc., and resulted in the death of more than 2 lakh people.

Uttarakhand Flash Floods (2013): The Uttarakhand Flash Floods of 2013 caused devastating floods and landslides, becoming the country’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. It affected 12 out of 13 districts of the state. Four districts were worst affected namely; Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi, Pithoragarh, and Chamoli.

Disaster Management:

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Disaster management refers to the conservation of lives and property during natural or human-made disasters. Disaster management plans are multi-layered and help tackle catastrophes such as floods, hurricanes, fires, mass failure of utilities, and the rapid spread of disease and droughts. Disaster management includes seven administrative decisions and operational activities: Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Rehabilitation.

There are three key stages of activities in disaster management:

  1. Before a disaster: to reduce the potential for human, material, or environmental losses caused by hazards and to ensure that these losses are minimized when disaster strikes;
  2. During a disaster: to ensure that the needs and provisions of victims are met to alleviate and minimize suffering; and
  3. After a disaster: to achieve rapid and durable recovery which does not reproduce the original vulnerable conditions.

National Disaster Management Authority:

The Government of India set up a High-Powered Committee (HPC) in August 1999 in recognition of the importance of Disaster Management as a national priority, and a nation committee after the Gujarat earthquake, for making recommendations on the preparation of Disaster Management plans and suggestion effective mitigation mechanisms. 

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is the apex body for Disaster Management in India, headed by the Prime Minister. The NDMA was established through the Disaster Management Act 2005 enacted by the Government of India. NDMA is responsible for framing policies, laying down guidelines and best practices for coordinating with the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) to ensure a holistic and distributed approach to disaster management. The vision of the National Disaster Management Authority is “to build a safer and disaster resilient India by a holistic, pro-active, technology driven and sustainable development strategy that involves all stakeholders and fosters a culture of prevention, preparedness and mitigation.”

Functions and Responsibilities:

  • Lay down policies on disaster management
  • Approve the National Plan
  • Approve plans prepared by the Ministries or Departments of the Government of India in accordance with the National Plan
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by the State Authorities in drawing up the State Plan
  • Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India for the Purpose of integrating the measures for prevention of disaster or the mitigation of its effects in their development plans and projects
  • Coordinate the enforcement and implementation of the policy and plans for disaster management
  • Recommend provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation
  • Provide such support to other countries affected by major disasters as may be determined by the Central Government
  • Take such other measures for the prevention of disaster, or the mitigation, or preparedness and capacity building for dealing with threatening disaster situations or disasters as it may consider necessary
  • Lay down broad policies and guidelines for the functioning of the National Institute of Disaster Management.

Disasters are inevitable. Countries need to be prepared to survive unforeseeable impending disasters. It is necessary to stay watchful, and a structured and preplanned preparedness and a healthy response to the disaster will help save lives.