Saturday, December 28, 2013

Are we chasing disasters?

In a meeting with the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ms. Margarita Wohlstrom held at the India Habitat Center in a meeting of UN and few select representatives for reviewing the suggestions that have risen from various consultations across the country on looking beyond the Hyogo Framework for Action, I mentioned that "If we do not move ahead of the disasters they would catch, and in fact they have already caught up, with us. If we do not catch up with disasters they would catch up with us. Are we chasing disasters? It is not about doing better against each disaster, but is about doing better to minimize risks against future disasters." 

Look at a dozen of major disasters that stuck us in the last year. We have lost over 20,000 lives, and have gone backward in billions of dollars on pure economic terms. All our responses have been getting better and more humane. Our reconstruction activities have been more and more getting standardized. But look at the linkage between development and disaster. There is still a vast gap. We just do not want to bridge it just how how hard it may look to be. None of the nations and states want to lose a pie by way of development matrix, but would not mind to lose a million in terms of hazards--both generated and responded.

One key indicator if we look at is waste generation and waste recycling. Waste has huge impact on the environment and can lead to several new hazards or increase exposure to such hazards. Look at the kind of E-Waste that we are generating. And then look at the municipal wastes. It is out rightly not in proportion. But by the fact that we are generating more e-waste, is a sign that "we are developing" (?). In fact the amount of e-waste generated would be 33% higher in 2017 in comparison to 2012. "The average Canadian, for example, generated about 24 kilograms of e-waste in 2012. That’s more than 860,000 tonnes for the entire country, roughly equivalent to the weight of about 1,700 fully loaded Boeing 747s at take off." (Source: The Star.Com )

How fast is our recycling units growing? The highest of waste recycled according to World Mapper is in Netherlands, and what is the percentage -- 45.2%, and then it keeps dropping drastically but for few rich and highly environment conscious countries. In other words, even Netherlands is left with more than half of its waste every year.  In this order, if we look at any of the other key indicator, air pollution, green house emissions, forestation, population management, and all these have a sad story to tell. 

Probably we are fighting a losing battle, unless we take up seriously issues that contribute to hazards and get ahead of disasters before they keep going ahead of us. Or else, we will literally be chasing the wind!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Gem of All

The first of the officers I wish to talk about is Mr. Amit Singh Negi. It was on 23 Sep that I met him at his office. The interaction was hardly for a minute as I was participating in one of the initial meetings on housing policy and related strategy of the government. He had not spoken much at that time. And there was nothing called a "first impression" that he made on me. But it was after that we started interacting on few issues relating to reconstruction of schools and ICDS centers which were technically not within his realm much. On 14 Oct for the first time he called me and wanted to help plan an NGO-Corporate meeting on Housing Reconstruction. That brought me closer to him. So, what I observed were a lot purely from professional point of view than a very personal observation.

He arrived every morning between 10.00 am and 10.30 am and remained till well beyond 8.00 pm at night. He had his own ways of sharing responsibility. Officers and staff, I found, had problem in talking to him of any differences of opinion or sharing their own views. He was extremely controlled with his emotions even when things were not going okay. Under extreme pressure, he still kept cool. He knew whom to approach to support him for what purpose. He picked up any phone, and if he were in a meeting, he would call back later. He had extreme sense of respect for human beings. Oh, yes, this is one Principal Secretary into whose room most people can just walk in! That is amazing! There was very little of the problem of access to him, unless he was in a very important meeting which happened rarely. Inside his own office he had set up two small work stations where officers can sit, discuss, plan, do informal/formal meetings, take decisions, all in a very transparent manner. 

I just fell in admiration for this person. He is just a rare gem in the cloud of many many Indian Administrative Service Officers who just stand out tall and unique.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where Government Meets People: Governance

I have recently begun to observe one important factor that really makes people feel that the government is closer to the people: an officer picking up a phone. In the last 14 years that I am carrying a cellphone, and have been connected with countless officers of various rank and file as I work in the arena of disaster management, I have seen how people can feel recognized and accepted. In one of the recent meetings a senior staff (both in age and experience) of an NGO commented in the presence of some very senior officers: "Whomsoever I phone, the only person I am sure will pick my phone, or shall call back is the UNDMT (United Nations Disaster Management Team) Coordinator sitting in the district or the state." It stuck me hard. 

Why do people get disillusioned with governments? Why do they think that the government doesn't heed to them? I myself have experienced this. I keep calling some officers three to four times a day, at different times of the day. But he / she just doesn't pick the phone. They do not have the courtesy to call back, if they were busy at the time of my calling. When I checked with other officers as to why such things happen, they mentioned that the particular officer may not have my number in his / her cellphone! That is surprising. How am I supposed to get my number into his/her phone? Send an SMS? You don't get replies!

As the day wears out you feel upset. Now if this is what happens to someone who understands the system, imagine what about ordinary people. It is not that all officers are of the same class. I have seen  at least three officers here who usually pick the phone or send a text message that they would call back, if they are busy. May be they forget to call me back later in the thick of activities, but I am glad that they acknowledged the call ! 

One important way for governments to show that they are accessible to people is to pick up the phone. It might cost time. But if you don't, it would cost the government! If a bureaucrat does not pick the phone, an elected representative of the government will lose votes in the election, and be shunted out! How on earth are people to believe that the government is closer to them? By governance. By making them feel that their needs are heard. By giving them the satisfaction that their calls will not be turned away. It is not all about solving problems. It is about making people heard, and recognized -- recognized as persons whose voice, time and self has a worth. 

About the three people who make me feel that they are with the people - I shall write in my next post.