What is a disaster?
A disaster is a physical event, phenomenon or human activity that leads to sudden disruption of normal life, causing severe damage to life and property to an extent that available social and economic protection mechanisms are inadequate to cope. Its origin can be natural or man-made.
Disasters could be, natural (geological, hydro-meteorological and biological) or induced by human processes (environmental degradation and technological hazards).
Disasters proceed by cause-effect due to endogenous (inherent) and exogenous (external) factors, which combine to excite the phenomenon into a large-scale destructive event.
Disaster is disturbance of ‘equilibrium’ which can be restored/ remedied by proactive Policy in this regard. Hence, traditional perception of disasters as natural phenomena outside the realm of human intervention is not true. Disaster Management is an attempt to inquire into the process of a potential damage (hazard) turning to disaster, to identify the causes and rectify the same through public policy.
Classification of Disasters
Disasters are classified into natural and man-made disasters.
Depending on the type of disaster, a nodal ministry has been assigned the task of coordinating all activities of the state and district administration and the other support departments/ministry. The following table below vividly gives the information:
Natural disasters in India
India’s Key Disaster Vulnerabilities are as follows:
• Coastal States, particularly on the East Coast and Gujarat are vulnerable to cyclones.
• 4 crore hectare landmass is vulnerable to floods
• 68 per cent of net sown area is vulnerable to droughts
• 55 per cent of total area is in seismic zones III-V, hence vulnerable to earthquakes
• Sub-Himalayan sector and Western Ghats are vulnerable to landslides.
The succeeding text analyses in brief vulnerabilities to specific natural hazards in India:
Seventy five per cent of rainfall is concentrated over four months of monsoon (June – September) as a result of which almost all the rivers carry heavy discharge during this period. The problems of sediment deposition, drainage congestion and synchronisation of river floods compound the flood hazard with sea tides in the coastal plains. Ex. Brahmaputra and the Gangetic Basin are the most flood-prone areas. The other flood-prone areas are the northwest region of the west flowing rivers like Narmada and Tapti, Central India and the Deccan region with major east flowing rivers like Mahanadi, Krishna and Cauvery. While the area liable to floods is 40 million hectares, the average area affected by floods annually is about 8 million hectares.
India has largely monsoon dependant irrigation network. An erratic pattern, both low (less than 750 mm) and medium (750 – 1125 mm) makes 68 per cent of the total area vulnerable to periodic droughts. A 100-year analysis reveals that the frequency of occurrence of below normal rainfall in arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid areas is 54-57 per cent. Severe and rare droughts occur in arid and semi-arid zones every 8-9 years. The semi-arid and arid climatic zones are subject to about 50 per cent of severe droughts that cover generally 76 percent of the area. In this region, rare droughts of most severe intensity occurred on an average once in 32 years and almost every third year was a drought year.
India has a long coastline. There are two distinct cyclone seasons:
1. Pre-monsoon (May-June)
2. Post-monsoon (October-November).
The impact of these cyclones is confined to the coastal districts, the maximum destruction being within 100 Km. from the centre of the cyclones and on either side of the storm track. Most casualties are caused by coastal inundation by tidal waves, storm surges and torrential rains.
The Himalayan mountain ranges are considered to be the world’s youngest fold mountain ranges. The subterranean Himalayas are geologically very active. In a span of 53 years, four earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8 on the Richter scale have occurred in this region. The peninsular part of India comprises stable continental crust. Although these regions were considered seismically least active, an earthquake that occurred in Latur in Maharashtra on September 30, 1993 of magnitude 6.4 on the Richter scale caused substantial loss of life and damage to infrastructure.
E. Landslides and Avalanches
The Himalayan, the northeast hill ranges and the Western Ghats experience considerable landslide activity of varying intensities. River erosions, seismic movements and heavy rainfalls cause considerable activity. Heavy monsoon rainfall often in association with cyclonic disturbances results in considerable landslide activity on the slopes of the Western Ghats.
Avalanches constitute a major hazard in the higher reaches of the Himalayas. Parts of the Himalayas receive snowfall round the year and adventure sports are in abundance in such locations. Severe snow avalanches occur in Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the Hills of Western Uttar Pradesh. The population of about 20,000 in Nubra and Shyok valleys and mountaineers and trekkers face avalanche hazard on account of steep fall.
Man-made disasters in India
A. Nuclear and radiological disasters
Any radiation incident resulting in exposure or contamination of the workers or the public in excess of the respective permissible limits can lead to a nuclear/radiological emergency. As the world is competing in nuclear race, nuclear and radiological emergencies are of relevance and concern to us.
But nuclear emergencies can still arise due to factors beyond the control of the operating agencies e.g. human error, system failure, sabotage, earthquake, cyclone, flood, etc. Such failures, may lead to an on-site or off-site emergency.
To combat this, proper emergency preparedness plans must be in place so that there is avoidable loss of life, livelihood, property and impact on the environment.
Nuclear emergencies being man-made in nature, maximum emphasis has been laid on the prevention without diluting other aspects. However, in the event of any emergency, these guidelines recommend a series of actions which are:
• Mitigate the accident at source
• Prevent deterministic health effects in individuals and limit the probability of stochastic effects in the population
• Provide first aid and treatment of injuries
• Reduce the psychological impact on the population
• Protect the environment and property, all under the constraint of available resources.
B. Chemical disasters
The growth of chemical industries has led to an increase in the risk of occurrence of incidents associated with hazardous chemicals (HAZCHEM).
Chemical accidents result in fire, explosion and toxic release. The nature of chemical agents and their concentration during exposure ultimately decides the toxicity and damaging effects on living organisms in the form of symptoms and signs like irreversible pain, suffering, and death. Meteorological conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, height of inversion layer, stability class, etc., also play an important role by affecting the dispersion pattern of toxic gas clouds further.
The dangerous gas and hazardous substances release during the chemical disasters affect life forms across the boundaries of neighbouring states and countries.
Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984- is the worst chemical disaster in history, where over 2000 people died due to the accidental release of the toxic gas Methyl Isocyanate, is still fresh in our memories. Such accidents are significant in terms of injuries, pain, suffering, loss of lives, damage to property and environment. Chemical disasters, though low in frequency, have the potential to cause significant immediate or long-term damage.
C. Biological disasters
Biological disasters are caused by epidemics, accidental release of virulent microorganism(s) or bioterrorism (BT) with the use of biological agents such as anthrax, smallpox, etc.
The existence of infectious diseases has been known in human civilisations since the dawn of history. The development of bacteriology and epidemiology later, established the chain of infection. Along with nuclear and chemical agents, who are derived from technology, biological agents have been accepted as agents of mass destruction capable of generating comparable disasters.
Along with the growth of societies, crop and animal diseases acquired more and more importance. Epidemics can result in heavy mortalities in the short term leading to a depletion of population with a corresponding drop in economic activity.
D. Toxic wastes
Human beings change their environment to suit their biological and social needs and in this transaction they utilize the resources and produce harmful by-products. These by- products are termed as Toxic wastes and may be in the form of gases, liquids or solids.
Direct or indirect exposure to toxic wastes has numerous adverse effects on humans from cancer to birth defects. The old pollutants like lead, mercury, industrial solvents and pesticide residues, are of great concern.
These wastes are derived mainly from chemical industries, energy production industries, pulp and paper producing factories, mining industries and leather tanning processes. Though all wastes are disposed off into the environment, some wastes are treated before disposal and others are disposed directly from the source.
Wastes produced from the combustion of fuel by motor vehicles are emitted directly into the atmosphere, and sewage wastes are disposed into rivers and oceans. Since air, rivers and oceans are global commons, this common ownership has facilitated unregulated disposal of wastes.
E. Urban flooding
Flooding in Urban areas is significantly different from rural flooding. Rapid urbanization leads to developed catchments which increases the flood volumes by up to 6 times. Consequently, flooding occurs very quickly due to faster flow times, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
Urban areas are centres of economic activities with vital infrastructure which needs to be protected. They are also densely populated and people living in vulnerable areas, both rich and poor, suffer due to flooding. It has sometimes resulted in loss of life, damage to property and disruptions in transport and power, bringing life to a halt.
Even the secondary effects of possible epidemics and exposure to infection takes further toll in terms of loss of livelihood, human suffering, and, in extreme cases, loss of life. Therefore, management of urban flooding has to be accorded top priority.
F. Road accidents
A road accident, also known as a motor vehicle collision (MVC), occurs when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, animal, road debris, or other stationary obstruction. Road accidents may prove fatal and may result in injury, death and damage of property.
Of the worldwide annual average of 700,000 road accidents, 10 per cent occur in India.
In India, the situation with regard to road accidents is particularly acute. First official data of accidents in 2002, recording 80,118 deaths and 342,200 injuries on Indian roads but conceded at the same time that many cases went unreported and that 1,200,000 required hospitalisation.
Financial losses are staggering. A decade’s worth of saving the Rs 50,000 million estimated loss in traffic accidents every year could finance building 7,000 km long, six lane national highway at today’s rates. The figures are always on the increase, which corresponds to the tremendous increase in the production and sale of motor vehicles.
G. Wars and population displacement
War is a state of armed conflict between societies or countries. It is generally characterized by extreme aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces. An absence of war is usually called “peace”.
War is no more confined to war zones. In recent times there have been more civilian deaths than military deaths and thousands of people are being displaced as refugees. A high percentage of those dying or affected in these conflicts are children. Air power and wide ranging nature of modern war put entire population at risk, disrupting food production, imperilling fragile ecosystems and forcing entire populations to flee from their natural habitats.
During the past five decades civil wars representing power conflicts within nations have increased sharply. The relationship between people and their environment can be changed significantly during wartime. Certain resources are used more rapidly to fuel the war effort. Long lasting adverse environmental effects are attributed to areas where biological weapons are developed and tested.
H. Global warming
Global warming and climate change are terms used for the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and its related effects on global climate. Multiple scientific evidences shows that the global climate system is warming
Human activities are tremendously contributing to environmental problems like global warming and ozone layer depletion. Both these problems have the making of a disaster. An increase in global temperatures is likely to affect many atmospheric parameters like precipitation and wind velocity resulting in an incidence of extreme weather conditions.
Indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels, emissions of pollutants from motor vehicles, emission of poisonous gases from chemical industries contributes to global warming. The effect is accelerated more by industrial and developed nations and the effect will be acutely felt by all the nations for no fault of theirs.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) acknowledged that human activities have been substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and is determined to protect the climate system for the present and the future generations. The signatories agreed to promote and cooperate in education training and public awareness on various aspects related to climate change and encourage widest participation in this process including that of nongovernmental organisations.
Disaster Management Institutions in India
In the Central Government there are existing institutions and mechanisms for disaster management while new dedicated institutions have been created under the Disaster Management Act of 2005. Thus, the two structures co-exist at present.
The National Disaster Management Authority has been established at the centre, and the SDMA at state and district authorities at district level are gradually being formalized. In addition to this, the National Crisis Management Committee, part of the earlier setup, also functions at the Centre. The nodal ministries, as identified for different disaster types of function under the overall guidance of the Ministry of Home Affairs (nodal ministry for disaster management). This makes the stakeholders interact at different levels within the disaster management framework.
Two distinct features of the institutional structure for disaster management may be noticed. Firstly, the structure is hierarchical and functions at four levels – centre, state, district and local. In both the setups – one that existed prior to the implementation of the Act, and other that is being formalized post-implementation of the Act, there have existed institutionalized structures at the centre, state, district and local levels. Each preceding level guides the activities and decision making at the next level in hierarchy. Secondly, it is a multi-stakeholder setup, i.e., the structure draws involvement of various relevant ministries, government departments and administrative bodies.