Managing Disasters

Managing Disasters

Narendra M Apte

A cursory reading of front pages of newspapers in many countries conveys the same hard reality that ours is an unpredictable and uncertain world. Occurrence of disasters, both natural and man-made, has become a common and almost regular happening. Economic cost of disasters in the form of loss of human life and property and non-economic cost in form of misery is quite huge.

Experts have pointed out that climate change is the major cause of unseasonal and heavy rains, droughts and cyclones and that climate change impact is essentially a man-made happening.

Climate change is now recognized as a huge threat to all countries. Of course, there is a very small community of individuals who have refused to accept that climate change is a reality. These skeptics will continue to be in denial mode, despite evidence to the contrary. Nothing can be done to change these skeptics’ views.

The World Bank (WB) in its report on climate change has pointed out that India is among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. India, according to WB, has one of the highest densities of economic activity in the world, and very large numbers of poor people who rely on the natural resource base for their livelihoods, with a high dependence on rainfall dependent farming activities.

According to WB reports, one of the most significant ways that climate change will impact the lives of people in India will be through its water resources. While water sustains life, it all too often wreaks havoc through devastating floods and droughts. A changing climate will only aggravate these shocks.

A quick glance at flood map of India indicates that major flood prone regions earlier were Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, most of the Gangetic plains including Uttar Pradesh, North Bihar and West Bengal, the Brahmaputra valley, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, and South Gujarat. Floods in other parts of India were very rare happenings. During the second half of the last century, loss of human life and property on account of floods was relatively unknown in Maharashtra and the Southern States. Last major flood recorded in 20th Century in Chennai was way back, in 1943.

However, flood map of India is undergoing a dramatic change during the current century. Flooding of Mumbai in July 2005, of Chennai in 2015 and Kerala floods of 2018 and floods in some districts parts of Maharashtra in 2019 are all recent happenings. These disasters, which are partly natural and partly man-made disasters, have sounded a warning of future calamities. Current scenario is such that we have to accept that disasters will happen and will happen with a fair degree of regularity. However, the location of likely disasters is unpredictable.

We citizens have no other choice but to accept the inevitability of both natural disasters and man-made disasters. Ideally, our strategy to manage disasters would have to be based on old adage “a stitch in time saves nine”, which means prevention is better than cure. Of course, with so many external factors which can never be controlled, prevention of disasters is easier said than done.

In the existing scenario, there can be two responses on the subject of climate change. At macro level, the government has to take steps to prevent disasters and if disasters do happen, then manage the scenario post-disasters. Governments in all countries have to make all efforts to protect the environment from further damage in the form of global warming.

Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a body set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. IPCC is dedicated to providing the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change, its natural, political and economic impacts and risks, and possible response options.

Again, at the macro level, governments in the developed and developing countries, have set up organizations to manage disasters. In India the Central government has set up an organization called ‘Disaster Management Authority of India’ (DMAI). There is a special force called ‘National Disaster Response Force’ or NDRF, which functions as a part of DMAI and entrusted with many functions like protection of human life, protection of movable and immovable property and providing relief material and in some cases, rehabilitation work.

In order to minimize the possibility of environmental disasters and consequent loss of property and human life, it is imperative that we citizens accept curbs on individual freedom in areas like energy/fuel consumption. Similarly, policies that reduce emissions might make our industrial sector less competitive. This is tough, but preventing climate change requires tough decisions.

The response to minimize impact of climate change at an individual level would require every citizen to do what he/she can do. This may mean making choices that can negatively affect one’s family or the entire society. As an example, taxpayers can ungrudgingly accept the burden of a special tax, proceeds of which can be spent on activities for environment protection. This would mean less money available for some personal comforts.

In conclusion, one can say that it is better to make efforts for the environment’s protection but get ready to manage disasters in the best possible manner.

(Narendra M Apte, a qualified chartered accountant and freelancer.)