Sunday, November 25, 2012

Disaster Management Plans

I had the opportunity to study through at least eight disaster management plans from one of the districts in the last 25 days. I have also had the opportunity of studying more plans in the past year, specially while undertaking a study with colleagues in Unicef and State Inter Agency Group of West Bengal. As I get in deeper into them, I can identify the following positive points that are emerging over the period :

a) There is a lot more appreciation of integration of plans by various departments, although not all relevant departments submit their departmental plans.
b) There is a move to view emerging disaster risks, albeit the fact that these are mostly geophysical or infrastructure related risks. For example, a block has identified train accidents as a risk after a new rail line has come up in the block.
c) Good amount of data / information is being added into the plans in most blocks and districts.

Where do they lack in making a good plan?

a) All these plans are mostly response plans, and not risk reduction plans. Therefore, the plans have a life time of just one year, and need annual revision.
b) Tools are not used to identify and link the broader line of stakeholders into the plan. Therefore vital support services are not mapped into most of the plans. Critical services cannot run effectively without support service systems. For example, if a plan identifies hospitals for managing rail accidents, it has not mapped blood banks, ambulance services, crowd and transport management into the plan itself.
c) Disaster risks with emerging from external elements or elements with long-term impact are not planned for, and they are left as international issues or health hazards etc. For example, a block that has serious problem with floride contamination in water has not brought it into the plan as it is a "health hazard". Similarly, a block that has seen civilians dying in fire between Indian and Bangladeshi border security forces has not mapped any plan for civilian evacuation in such emergencies. Increasing deficiency in drinking water availability in a block has been  left as a drinking water problem, and not seen from the perspective of climate change issues merged with environmental exploitation that will lead to long term impact on the community.

What do we need to do immediately?

a) The disaster management plans must have two sections : one for emergency response and another for identification of long term risks and planning -- say for 30 years or 50 years.
b) Officers and elected representatives involved need to be seriously trained in long term risk reduction planning and risk assessment.

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