Unusually heavy rains in densely populated areas can brew a deadly cocktail for disaster. And recent Chennai floods have made us realize that proper planning is a must for any city in the 21st century.
- Therefore, today, as India massively ramps up infrastructure and promotes smart cities, it’s time to build resilience into the blueprint for the future, strengthen cities’ ability to respond to a disaster, as well as to recover rapidly if it does occur.
What’s been done so far?
From the time a super-cyclone hit Odisha in 1999, and a devastating earthquake shook Gujarat in 2001, India has sought to build a safer, disaster-resilient nation.
- Odisha and Gujarat were among the first states to set up institutions to deal specifically with disasters. Then, in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, and following legislation in 2005, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established in 2006.
- India’s coastal areas are also making a beginning with a number of projects, including the Union government’sNational Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), building the resilience of power infrastructure by placing electrical cables underground, among other measures.
- The NCRMP, being implemented by the NDMA, is developing a digital platform that will help determine vulnerabilities to weather-related events along India’s coastline. This will help define land-use along the 7,500-km coast — three-fourths of which is cyclone-prone — and determine how strong we need to build to save lives.
At the global level too, efforts to boost urban resilience are gaining momentum. In 2014, nine institutions, including the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) — the world’s largest fund for disaster prevention and recovery — announced the Resilient Cities Initiative, a worldwide collaboration to make cities safer.
What else can be done reduce the impact?
- To increase resilience, critical infrastructure and services — schools, hospitals, water, electricity, communications systems, transportation, etc — will need to be built or retrofitted to withstand multiple hazards so that they continue to function in an emergency.
- Preventing urban flooding will be equally critical. Similarly, it will be important to upgrade waste collection as carelessly handled garbage and construction debris are a major cause of clogged water outlets.
- While modern technology can help forecast floods and cyclones, no precise methods exist to predict earthquakes. Enforcing building codes will therefore be imperative, especially in India where almost 60% of the landmass is seismically vulnerable.
- Timely data availability has to be ensured. All towns and cities will benefit by collecting and sharing data on population densities, critical infrastructure, buildings, etc, enabling them to direct urban growth to safer places.
- A swift response can keep casualties low. On the lines of Gujarat, emergency response centres should be established across India. Such centres should also be provided with specialised search and rescue equipment, and outfitted emergency vehicles so that they could navigate narrow city lanes expeditiously.
- Involving local communities is also critically important. In Odisha, for example, local volunteers have been trained as first responders and equipped to provide first-aid and conduct search and rescue operations, with special evacuation procedures to be followed for the disabled and elderly. In Gujarat, all schools, including rural ones, conduct exhaustive earthquake and fire drills that instil a deeprooted culture of safety and preparedness.
- Also needed is the reduction in the multiplicity of urban authorities and their alignment with disaster-conscious ways of thinking.
- There should also be disaster drills conducted to educate the public on what to do during an earthquake.
Natural disasters are, of course, beyond human control. But human action and inaction can profoundly affect their outcome, exacerbating or mitigating their effects on people. Preparedness is the key to managing any more such disasters.
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