Nine lessons that we can learn from the Kerala floods

India, prone to hydrological disasters due to drought, floods and cyclones, must learn to manage both water excess and scarcity.

 |  5-minute read |   02-09-2018
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Kerala recently witnessed one of the worst floods in its history. Twelve out of 14 districts were affected. More than 450 human lives were lost and resulted in destruction valued at more than Rs 25,000 crore. During the period of rescue and relief, there were stories of worries, threat, courage, heroism, compassion, confusion, despair, generosity, and we witnessed the entire country standing in support of Kerala and the affected communities.

The moods were sombre and festivities were toned down. Media covered all possible stories and participated in relief operations, directly or indirectly. Both government and non-government stakeholders were concerned and stood by the survivors.

No disaster response is useful without learning lessons, and this article brings out some of the initial lessons that we could learn from response mounted so far. The author is pretty much sure that in-depth analysis would provide better and greater insights and learning from this response. Here are some initial lessons.

kerala2_090218110740.jpgNo disaster response is useful without learning lessons. (Photo: PTI)

Be prepared for possible mega-disaster

Often, disasters come without clear notice or warning, and hence we need to be prepared to launch a large response involving multiple stakeholders at different levels all the time. Failure to do this will only escalate the human casualties, suffering and damage to property.

Learn ways to manage water

A large part of India is prone to hydrological disasters on account of drought, floods and cyclones. Hence we, at various levels, need to learn to manage scarcity as well as excess water. Growing urbanisation and effects of climate change are forcing us to do this with greater urgency. We need to take a careful look at integrated dam management, proper contour and precipitation inundation maps, formulate effective land management laws and ensure their enforcement. Use of better technology, ensuring political will at different levels and institutionalising resolve to enforce rules and regulations is the need of the hour.

Disaster management instruments

The Centre and different state governments have formulated acts, plans, protocols and other instruments for effective disaster management in the country. The 2005 Disaster Management Act enacted by Parliament, 2016 National Disaster Management Plan from National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), various Guidelines from NDMA, state government acts and notifications are some of them. There should be a concerted effort to put these guidelines and plans into action.

kerala1-copy_090218110815.jpgIndia needs to establishing a Unified Command consisting of multiple responding agencies. (Photo: PTI)

Better forecast and effective synergy

Weather forecasting needs to become more effective. To achieve this, not only the science of forecasting but also its dissemination and follow-on actions after the forecast need to be improved. Agencies such as India Meteorology Department (IMD), Central Water Commission (CWC) and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) should have pre-notified national and state-level agency liaison protocols for appropriate information and warning.

Plan for critical infrastructure

Significant public resources are invested to set up critical infrastructure such as airports, railway stations and others. They need to have appropriate disaster management plans to ensure they are well protected from disasters. It is sad to see some critical infrastructure facilities like airports which were critical to mounting a response were shut as they were impacted. For example, airports in Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and now Cochin were closed due to recent disasters. It will be interesting to learn what lessons they learned and whether adequate plans will in place to ensure their safety in the future and strengthened ability to respond in future.

Ensure better coordination

This is one area where there is always scope for improvement. Worldwide, different governments are dealing with this issue with great attention. A situation where multiple stakeholders come together suddenly needs to be coordinated well to make response effective, and this is easier said than done. NDMA issued an Incident Response System (IRS) guidelines in 2010, to strengthen disaster response management and planned event management (such as Kumbh Mela).

Based on these guidelines, some state governments have notified IRS in their states but many are yet to act on this. There is also a need to strengthen IRS training and its implementation during disaster response. Establishing a Unified Command consisting of multiple responding agencies is one of the strategies discussed in IRS.

This is pertinent in large disasters as multiple agencies such as Military, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Fire Services, Police, Coast Guard and others come together for search and rescue operations. Unified Command involving these agencies will help in common planning and clear demarcation of geographies for effective rescue and response action.

Promote support to NGOs

It is once again demonstrated that the NGOs can move in quickly and support relief efforts in a meaningful manner. Due to their flexibility, NGOs are able to address the specific needs of the survivors. NGOs need resources to undertake their efforts and the government should help NGOs and promote their efforts to enable them to raise resources. One way the government can support NGOs is by creating a level playing field by provisioning tax exemptions to the donors on par with the tax exemptions available for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. In absence of a level playing field, NGOs will find it difficult to raise resources.

kerala-3-copy_090218110840.jpgSuitable system and operational procedures should also be in place to extend government support to local community efforts during disasters. (Photo: Reuters)

Strengthen local capacities

The fishing community of Kerala moved quickly and participated in rescue operations shoulder to shoulder with the national rescue agencies. This very well demonstrates the importance of local capacities to deal with disasters. There should be clearly articulated efforts to strengthen community capacities to cope with disasters. Suitable system and operational procedures should also be in place to extend government support to local community efforts during disasters. The fishermen of Kerala could achieve what they have, due to the support government extended to them.

Fund-raising from media houses

Many media house are supporting fund-raising for the Prime Minister’s relief fund, Chief Minister’s relief fund as well as for NGOs. Multiple media appeals for different funds and NGOs may potentially confuse donors. The worst is if they decide not to donate in such situations.

When government also actively raises funds, then many big donors, such as companies may also consider political appropriateness rather than actual use of funds while donating. To avoid this confusion, and to promote routing of citizen’s donations to NGOs, media companies could come together and formulate one single appeal and then go on to work with NGOs with the resources they raised. Experiences of this kind have greatly facilitated fund-raising from the public in the UK.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Kerala floods: Shame how we Indians politicised a national calamity and tragedy

Writer

C Balaji Singh C Balaji Singh

The writer is Executive Director, Care Today Fund, an India Today Group initiative.

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