Are we prepared for disasters?

It is time for creating a scientifically validated risk vulnerability profile for all Indian states

Different parts of India are prone to different kinds of environmental disasters. It is therefore imperative to understand the kind of threats that prevail across the country. The National Disaster Management Authority acknowledges this fact and states that

India is vulnerable, in varying degrees, to a large number of disasters. More than 58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity; over 40 million hectares (12%) of its land is prone to floods and river erosion; close to 5,700 kms, out of the 7,516 kms long coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis; 68% of its cultivable area is vulnerable to droughts; and, its hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. Moreover, India is also vulnerable to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) emergencies and other man-made disasters.

The exercise of  creating a scientifically backed vulnerability profile precludes all the analysis and talk about disaster relief management, disaster response funds etc.  This point has been highlighted by many finance commissions, and the report of the 14th Finance commission(page 129)states the following

(…), they informed (us) that the index, which has been compiled by the Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC) under the Union Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation, has not been validated by any scientific study. The Ministry of Home Affairs also concurred with their view that there is scope for further improvement by making use of a digital elevation model.

The NDMA website has a vulnerability profile, but the last update on the page was on 26th September 2013, much before the commission’s report was made public. Clearly, the scientific validation is still not in place(or the website is yet to be updated with the latest profile).

It is time that Finance commission’s recommendation (reproduced in full below) is taken seriously, for it is unpardonable to lose lives, during disasters, due to lack of fundamentals.

Considering the usefulness of a scientifically validated risk vulnerability indicator to measure the type, frequency and intensity of disasters, and in view of the very wide responsibility cast on governments at different levels by the statute, we recommend that the Union Government should expedite the development and scientific validation of the Hazard Vulnerability Risk Profiles of States.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets @_quale