Undefined Role of Regional And National Agencies In Reducing Disasters

Posted on June 23, 2013


The Himalayan region consists of extremely fragile ecosystem, and source to 10 major Asian river systems, on which over 1.3 billion people rely for sustenance, water, livelihoods and prosperity.

A recent flash flood on 16-17 June, affected over 50,000 people in the mountain state of Uttarakhand, while it is estimated that over 5000 people are missing with 1000 as reported deaths.

During the rainy season (August and September 2012) two major flash floods in Okhimath and Uttarkashi townships led to death of over 120 people and huge  losses. During fall of 2010 floods in North Western part of Indian Himalayan region affected over 3 million people and killed 300, in Pakistan left 14 million homeless and killed 1500, and in China killed at least 1,117 people.

In 2012 Uttarkashi flood, a total of 80 thousand people affected while over 50 people died, 80 villages cut off from mainland, 7 major bridges collapsed, 60 km of national highway damaged, 1700 families affected, 1400 didn’t get any assistance with a total estimate loss of Rs. 600 crores in Uttarkashi from 3rd Aug 2012 flash flood and landslide.  Again on 13th Sep 2012 night 70 people died in the landslide and flash flood that devastated 10 villages and affected lives of thousands of families and eroded almost 30 Km. of road network with a loss of 47 crores INR. Read>>

Receding Glaciers: One of the scientific studies of 1,317 glaciers by Indian defense research organization in 10 sub-basins since 1962 of Indian Himalayan region finds 16% glaciers shrank during last 50 years. This study finds that in 100 years period there is 1.6°c rise in temperature, the precipitation rate has increased and  rate of snowfall decreased, leading to reduced river discharge.

The GLOF: In one of the articles in the Climate Himalaya’s Youth speak column, in 2011, Er. Pabitra Mukhopadhyay wrote about GLOF-Glacial Lake Outburst Flood. He writes that for GLOF related risk reduction and mitigation measures, the understanding of the scale and geophysics behind formation of GLOFs is important. He further said that substantial work has been done in this direction, but the recommendations could only bear fruits when knowledge is disseminated down to the people. The best remedy of GLOF related hazards can only be achieved if monitoring, observing, networking and maintaining early warning systems is made community based.

It is said that 968 glaciers drain into  the  Ganga  basin  in  Uttarakhand and most of these glaciers are retreating and their overall dimensions are diminishing.

Indian Disasters: In India official figures show that 22000 people died during various flood, landslide and cyclone related disasters during 2001-2010, lost about 10,0000 cattle, damage to 1.5 crore houses with the loss of 425 lakh hectares agriculture land. In a year, on an average Indian economic loss is estimated of Rs. 800 crores due to flood, while 35 crore Indian were affected badly due to droughts in last 10 years.

Climate Change A Threat: A recent ‘Vision 2030 study by DFID and WHO’ in 2012 said that climate change is a serious threat to water infrastructure across the world and climate adaptation actions will benefit, while there is need to have major changes in the planning of technologies and actions, in terms of developing adaptation capacities. It further said that there is also a need to do systematic assessment of climate resilience of all water utilities to understand uncertain climate trend in terms of technology shift, flooding, droughts and damages to infrastructure.

The Framework on Disaster: Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA)

At global level, the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-15), which is about building resilience of nations and communities to increasing disasters, focuses on five key priority actions areas of;

  • local and institutional priorities,
  • accessing and monitoring disaster risks, enhancing early warning systems,
  • using knowledge and innovation to develop resilience,
  • reduce underlying risk factors, and
  • strengthening disaster preparedness for effective response.

post2015_timelineThe HFA’s goal is to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015 by building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. This means reducing loss of lives and social, economic, and environmental assets when hazards strike.

HFA emphasizes that disaster risk management policies in each country should be part of all decision making processes and plans.

The actions proposed in HFA were related to disaster risk reduction strategies, resilience building and disaster management actions on priority, when it was signed by country governments at World Disaster Reduction Conference in 2005. The HFA was developed and agreed by governments, international agencies, disaster experts and many others on to reduce disaster risk.

Agencies Entrusted Disaster Risk Reduction Role in Indian Himalayan Region

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving eight regional member countries of Hindu Kush Himalayas – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan for last 30 years.

ICIMOD is mandated to work upon reducing the risks associated with natural hazards in these countries, through knowledge and learning from the ground, understanding vulnerabilities and developing coping capacities on disaster, strengthening disaster early warning systems, community-based disaster risk reduction, and the disaster response protocol of partner agencies and organizations in the greater Himalayan region.

…there is unpreparedness in Himalayan region in context to disasters, mainly due to inadequate infrastructure and information systems in place Link.

It is also entrusted the role of supporting and promoting the Hyogo Framework for Action, pursue the Beijing agenda for Global Action on Gender-Sensitive Disaster Risk Reduction, promote the principles of the Delhi declaration including in the Himalayan region of South Asia.

The Bottlenecks: As an intergovernmental organization ICIMOD is supposed to help governments in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) in developing various disaster risk related information systems, developing technical capacities, sharing learning, demonstrating and helping in setting up early warning system, etc. For this purpose it works with Ministry of Environment and Forest at Govt. of India and its institute GB Pant Institute for Himalayan Environment and Development (GBPIHED) based at Almora, in Uttarakhand India.

However, given series of frequent disasters events in last many years in the IHR, no such actions and information systems have been developed yet by ICIMOD and its partner agencies in India. While, as an intergovernmental agency it gets substantial funding from a number of bilateral and multilateral agencies, including government India for developing such systems for larger access and use.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), at Government of India;  headed by the Prime Minister of India, it is the Apex Body for Disaster Management in India. It is mandated to empower stakeholders for improving the effectiveness of Disaster Management in India through creation of an enabling environment for institutional mechanisms at the State and District levels since 2005. The overall objectives of NDMA are to build a safer and disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, pro-active, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy for disaster management through collective efforts of all Government Agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations.

…best way to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities is by strengthening their resilience in terms of building their capacities. Link

Starting since 2005 the government of India has set up NDMA  at national level and SDMAs in  states. It has NDRF-National disaster relief force that is specialized in disaster response in human and natural cases, and NIDM-National Institute of Disaster Management entrusted the role of human resource development, capacity building, training, research, documentation and policy advocacy.

Indian government’s recent report 2013 on HFA states about a number of achievements, those include setting up of institutional structure at national and state level, development of vulnerability atlas of India, a micro-zonation study, establishment of India’s disaster knowledge network, work on disaster risk reduction & climate change adaptation mainstreaming, and formation of crisis management committees.

The Bottleneck: Given that the institutional structure in place at national and state level in Uttarakhand, the recent disaster revealed that the early warning given by the IMD-Indian meteorological department was not disseminated at appropriate levels, that lead to huge resource loss and death toll. In disaster sensitive and glacial regions like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi, there are no early warning systems in place.

For example, on the recommendations of various scientific studies in disaster prone areas in Uttarakhand mountains, no actions were taken towards developing various adaptation and mitigation measures by NDMA and SDMA. It was also observed that there was no sync between NDMA and SDMA, even at different levels of state government there was complete chaos for over 4 days, and was finally the situation was controlled by Indian Army and Para military forces in disaster hit areas of Uttarakhand state of India.

The SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC): was set up in 2006, has secretariat in New Delhi, mandated to serve eight member countries of South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that includes India, by providing policy advice and facilitating capacity building services including strategic learning, research, training, system development and exchange of information for effective disaster risk reduction and management.

It is said that the Centre is networking through the National focal points of the member countries with various Ministries, Departments and Scientific, Technical, Research and Academic institutions within and outside the Government, working on various aspects of disaster risk reduction and management.

…the predominance of bureaucracy and coalition politics in India has stunted the growth of strategic thoughts Link . ….within the region we need a ‘Knowledge Action Networks’, that is, managed social networks that link global science, technology and policy communities to local initiatives. Link

The Bottleneck: It seems that given the larger coverage SDMC, it is not able to cater the needs in the region, also the efforts toward policy advocacy are not observed. One need to yet explore and understand that how SDMC is networking with scientific, technical, research institutions, and how it is benefiting the people in the region.

The Need

  • Detailed hazard zonation in Indian Himalayan region
  • Availability and accessibility of robust scientific data on various hazard related aspects
  • An action oriented disaster network
  • Strategic and well planned capacity building efforts
  • Long term monitoring and early warning systems in place
  • Regional preparedness and mitigation plans
  • Using information communication tools to ensuring last mile connectivity

…how a farmer in remote Humla will be able to cope with GLOF and his buddy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Uttarakhand with landslides and floods. Whom should a mountain dweller at first hand contact or refer to when he wants to know the livelihood opportunities and options available, the water management technologies, agro-forestry models, in case of crop failure, animal husbandry issues, and horticulture technicalities…? Link>>

First published in Climate Himalaya’s knowledge portal. Link>>