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Covid-19: Experts brainstorm challenges to disaster management plans

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on May 19, 2020

The pre-monsoon thunderstorm season (Kalbaishakhi) and a prevailing super cyclone, likely being followed by heat waves and the monsoon and associated extreme weather hazards, have combined with the Covid-19 pandemic to pause never-before challenges to the country’s disaster management (DM) systems.

This brought DM experts and functionaries, scientists from across the globe, academicians from apex institutions such as the IITs and young professionals, converge on a webinar to brainstorm on implications, future action plans and preparations for monsoon and response to any emerging disasters.

Mapping major events

The webinar on ‘Extreme weather hazards and its implications on disaster management in the Covid-19 environment’ was jointly hosted by the Special Centre for Disaster Research, Jawaharlal Nehru University (SCDR-JNU) and the Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC) on Saturday.

Panellists included KJ Ramesh, renowned weather scientist and former director-general, India Meteorological Department (IMD; Anil Kumar Sinha, pioneering DM expert and former joint secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs; and Col Sanjay Srivastava, Chairman, CROPC, and a well-known proponent of proactive development and disaster management; and PK Joshi, Chairman, SCDR-JNU.

Ramesh mapped all the hazards from the global to the local level, and detailed out their impacts on lives and livelihood. He related the weather hazards to the Covid-19 environment and inherent risks. He listed out developments in the IMD and correlated them to various sectors such as agriculture and water management; economic activities such as tourism, fisheries, and communication.

Extreme climate events

Ramesh stressed the need for state governments as also district administrations to develop an ownership-based mechanism to disseminate information to the community and use it in their governance and development activity. Extreme climate events such as cyclones, heat waves, flood and lightning have shown a high surge in recent times and will continue to do so.

He expected the 2020 monsoon would be good and should help bring about better economic growth. Chronic flood-prone areas should plan for better response incorporating preventive guidance such as hygiene, sanitation, and community spread of infections. He warned the country of urban flooding risks and advised better preparations of urban sewerage and drainage systems.

Anil Kumar Sinha applauded the existing DM systems in India, especially institutional systems such as the National Disaster Management Authority, the State Disaster Management Authority, and the legal framework of the Disaster Management Act of 2005. He observed that the Covid-19 has brought about new learnings which the DM Systems should incorporate.

Improving DM systems

There is ample opportunity for states to improve their DM systems and enhance human resources down to the district level. “The monsoon is just ahead of us and this one month must be used to ensure higher preparedness,” he said. Stressing on the need for DM planning and reviews given Covid-19, he noted that Covid-19 guidelines such as physical distancing, hygiene and sanitation, use of safe water, enhancing personal and social immunity need to be incorporated.

Early warning system needs to be in place and upgraded suitably. Dissemination up to the last mile - the last woman standing and her language is most important here. Almost 70 per cent of the impact can be mitigated by capacity building and awareness plan. Mitigation plans assume vital importance here. “With the Home Ministry firming up the State Disaster Mitigation and Response Fund, I think the states have adequate resources for mitigation,” Sinha said.

States and districts should increasingly use data management and analytics into their plans. The seasonality and location of disasters should be identified, and the history of damages recorded. This should be given extra care due to the increasing incidence of multi-hazard events. Model relief centres with Covid-19-compliant facilities should be planned to accommodate the flood-affected. Business continuity of the DM set-up should be ensured. Urban ward members and Panchayati Raj members should be incorporated into the DM planning at the urban and rural levels to address disasters and strengthen DM institutional set-up at the district-level and below.

Published on May 19, 2020

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