Videos of Disaster Management

Challenges for Future

Disasters have a deleterious effect on the population, and economy. It is estimated that between 1980 and 1984, about 800 disasters affected the lives of about 400 million people in the world. However, between 2000 and 2004, about 1300 disasters affected the lives of about 1.4 billion people, thereby reflecting both an increase in the number of disasters and in the number of people affected during the past few decades. According to the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), some 75% of the world’s people live in areas that have been affected at least once by an earthquake, a tropical cyclone, flooding or drought between 1980 and 2000. In 2008, more than 300 disasters resulted in the loss of 235,000 lives; and affected the lives of more than 200 million people; these disasters caused economic losses and damage worth US $181 billion. Most devastating among the disasters in 2008 were the earthquake which hit China in May 2008 and the cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar, also in May 2008”.
The absence of early warning systems for the Asian Tsunami contributed significantly to the calamitous scale of loss of lives and livelihoods. In Japan earthquakes are regular. Tsunamis too are fairly regular, infact the word Tsunami is of Japanese origin – meaning a harbour wave. The term Tsunami was coined by fisherfolk on returning from a fishing trip on the high seas but noticed that the harbour had been smashed by waves, which they obviously did not notice while out at sea. These fishermen, it is said, coined the term Tsunami. In Japan the death toll from the March 2011 mega earthquake was comparatively lesser because the Japanese are familiar with Dos and Don’ts thanks to the regular mock drills they practice. The Japanese Media is proactive in broadcasting both mock drills and early warning bulletins. Their sophisticated forecasting means administrative mechanisms were in place to call for evacuation, and Dos and Don’ts were well rehearsed. Nevertheless 20,352 people died in the Sendai Tohuko Mega Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 (according to the USGS). These deaths occurred in places where early warning came too late, or on account of a few ships that was caught in swirling waters of the Tsunami.  Another train could not be stopped in time for want of last mile communication. The efficacy of early warning lies entirely on communication. The frail infirm, elderly, physically and mentally challenged people and children and indigenous people are the most vulnerable of social groups. People below the poverty line and people dependent on weather vagaries for livelihood and food security are also very vulnerable to natural calamities and their impacts: disasters.

Disasters and their management

image courtesy UNISDR
India itself has seen many calamities:

  • The Latur Earthquake of September 30th 1993 (7,928 people died 30,000 injured),
  • The Pneumonic Plague in Surat in 1994,
  • 1996 cyclone in Andhra Pradesh left 1,000 people dead, 5,80,000 houses destroyed, Rs. 20.26 billion estimated damage.
  • The Jabalpur Earthquake of 1997,
  • The Orissa Super Cyclone in 1999, Over 10,000 deaths, 2.5 million heads of livestock and 90 million trees
  • The Bhuj Earthquake of 2001 left 13,805 deaths 6.3 million people affected
  • The Asian Tsunami 10,749 deaths 5,640 persons missing, 2.79 million people affected, 11,827 hectares of crops damaged, 300,000 fisher folk lost their livelihood.
  • The Kashmir earthquake of 2005: 1400 deaths in Kashmir (86,000 deaths in total) in Indian Administered Kashmir
  • The Kosi floods of August 2008 left 527 deaths, 19,323 livestock perished, 2,23,000 houses damaged, 3.3 million persons affected
  • Flash floods in North Karnataka in October 2009 left 300 people dead in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Delhi, Maharashtra

They all taught us that natural calamities can cause widespread disasters in vulnerable populations if they lack resilience… if they lack resources or Plan B to restart their lives. India is no stranger to man-made disasters either. We have had:

  1. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy,
  2. The pogrom following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,
  3. The Venus Circus Fire,
  4. Kerala Boat tragedy,
  5. Communal flare up in Orissa,
  6. Gangaram Building collapse,
  7. Train accidents,
  8. Hijacks,
  9. The Air India Kanishka Bombing,
  10. The IC 814 hijacking

…and so many more calamities – either natural or man-made, that they have taken a very, very heavy toll of human life. These disasters sowed the seeds of disaster mitigation / disaster management but the Asian Tsunami was quite literally a watershed in disaster management. Among the man-made disasters that India has suffered from are:

  • Aviation disasters
  • Building collapses,
  • Communal strife,
  • Dam bursts
  • Hijackings,
  • Industrial disasters,
  • Multi vehicle road and other highway accidents,
  • Pogroms
  • Shipping disasters
  • Terrorism,
  • Train accidents and
  • Urban infernos,

The Seismic Zone map of India prepared by the Bureau of Indian Standards and hosted on the website of the National Disaster Management Authority lists the highly seismic zones in India. The seismic zonation mapping of India is the basic attempt to earmark seismically active zones to channelize efforts at resilience and preparedness.  The seismic zones of India are:

  1. Andaman Nicobar Islands,
  2. All the north-eastern states – that is – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim
  3. Himachal Pradesh and whole of Jammu and Kashmir
  4. The Himalayan stretch of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar… and
  5. The Kutch region of north-western Gujarat.

(Source: NDMA Resilience also helps in combating pandemics, epidemics. Callous administration and neglect of civic mentality were the root cause of the breakout of Pneumonic Plague in Surat in 1994. Unattended garbage attracted rats – the carrier of pneumonic rat flea that spawned pneumonic plague, causing the death of 52 lives, and 693 suspected cases of pneumonic plague within a span of 60 days. The Plague in modern day was caused by unattended garbage that led to a super abundance of rats in the town of Gujarat. Unverified reports broadcast on BBC and CNN led to rumours that drinking water sources were poisoned. It spawned a mass migration causing unexpected consequences. Indians travelling abroad were quarantined, including those travelling to the Gulf States for employment. Travel advisories were issued by Russia; planes travelling from India were disinfected in Rome and Milan, and foreign travellers to India cancelled their visits. Invited foreign journalists too declined travel invitations … all accumulating to an economic loss of around US $600 million. ( There was no means of early warning, forecasting, evacuation, permanent shelters for disaster prone areas etc in the Indian Ocean Rim Countries before the Asian Tsunami. The concept of reducing the risk to vulnerable populations by “preparing for the calamities” was not in place in the world in 2004. The basic checklist for disaster mitigation includes: During earthquakes or any calamity

  • Medical teams then need to be prepared with pain killers of varying doses to substitute for anaesthesia.
  • Disaster managers have to be equipped to cut steel and concrete debris.
  • Supplies of medicines, culture sensitive nutritious food with long shelf value, clothing, portable housing material like tents, are all necessary equipments.
  • A clinically certified portable blood bank, mobile surgical units need to be in operative gear 24 X 7 in every Panchayat or village administrative council in India.
  • This mobile surgical van is part of the Medical Preparedness guideline for every organisation – be it paramilitary forces like CRPF battalions, reserve police forces, or Fire force. Every public space – be they school, university, college, police station, bank, financial institutions, hospital, industry, and trade body must have it.
  • Air ambulances have to be on standby 24X7 in calamity prone Andaman Nicobar Islands 24X7X365. The reality in the Islands is a far cry from Avant garde preparedness.
  • The Indian Railways is equipped with a mobile surgical van and ambulances with sophisticated equipment. The idea is treatment can be given to the injured without any waste of time in transporting the injured.
  • In India medical supplies food aid packets and civil supplies do not include sanitary towels for homeless women. This needs to be introduced to the survival kits of cyclone refugees. However in the aftermath of the Asian Tsunami relief supplies did include sanitary towels for menstruating women. This is however amiss in cyclone relief.
  • Women who were evacuated during Cyclone Phailin in Orissa that this author spoke to in village Arakhabad in Puri District of Orissa confirmed that no sanitary towels were given and that toilets in the cyclone shelters were very badly maintained.

Disaster management and disaster risk reduction are nascent evolving concepts of public administration in the public discourse today…

Malini Shankar,




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