Saturday, 5 August 2017

Floods Again: What Can Be Done Differently in South Asia?

Floods are age old but must South Asia's response to floods be age old as well? South Asia is now emerging to be a leader in reducing disaster risk. Such regional efforts were well received by Asian countries in the recent Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) held in Delhi in November 2016.
The ongoing floods in Assam in the North East of India and Gujarat in the West of India offer an opportunity to re-look the flood response in South Asia.
Therefore, this issue of enlists what can be done differently. Cyclones are one such area. Floods and cyclones go hand-in-hand and the recent cyclone Mora in Myanmar offered an opportunity to look at floods recovery in an urban setting. New ways must be found to deal with floods in cities and towns that propel South Asia's economic growth. What is needed is "new dimensions" that David Sanderson and others offer in the recent book titled, "Urban Disaster Resilience".
The second area is dams. A large number of dams are built in South Asia, and many more are being built to irrigate and mange floods. But are these dam safe from floods? Are they safe enough to protect the development and progress that they are supposed to spawn.
Third, obvious but not well recognized area is floods and forestry in South Asia. Forests slow down run-off and thus reduce floods. Floods wash away forests. Both impact each other and yet there is no clear direction on how to manage floods in forests and manage forests to reduce floods in South Asia. Women leaders in Nepal are thinking and reflecting on this overlap from a leadership point of view.
The Fourth area is ongoing activities around DRR road maps. DRR road maps do not adequately address issues of rampant and repeated floods and how to reduce flood impact as well as its causes. A road map for flood prone areas such as Assam or Gujarat in India is overdue. Hazard specific action plans are overdue at the sub-national level. The challenge of mainstreaming floods in South Asia's DRR road maps is widely shared in civil society members in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Fifth, is it smart for a city to be flooded: have water logged roads and partially submerged housing colonies? Smart City infrastructure investments in India offer an opportunity to reduce risks, if not all, at least flood risks faced by its economic hubs and low income communities.
Sixth, relief offered after floods is not new to South Asia. What is new is possible and now pioneering use of cash transfer in such relief. ECHO South Asia has done effective work in cash transfer after floods with its partners in Odisha in India in 2014. And the direction is promising.
The above six are not the only ways to deal with floods differently in South Asia. But the above are some of the key ways that need urgent and additional attention while dealing with floods in South Asia.
– Mihir R. Bhatt
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Friday, 4 August 2017

Understanding Crowds

India is no stranger to large gatherings or crowds. Crowded railway stations, market squares and temple complexes are all commonplace. Given the ubiquity of crowded places, Indians tend to have a high tolerance for them. Thus, it is important to understand how crowds operate.
As soon as the word "crowd" is heard, the first instinct is to "manage" them, if not control them. Given the unusual number of stampedes taking place at religious congregations in the country it is important to manage these crowds both efficiently and creatively. Through the work of All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) in India across nine states, sixty nine districts and over thirty five cities it has been found that all crowds do not need to be managed or controlled; that all crowds are not unruly or out of control; that in fact crowds offer energy and numbers to move towards something creative and constructive in society from time-to-time.
In AIDMI's resilience building work in four most important temples of Gujarat - Somnath, Dwarka, Pavagadh, and Dakor - it was clear that crowds that gather around and in the temples on daily as well as occasional basis do pose a risk and can cause a major disaster like a stampede. But it was also evident that crowds have their own ways of working out cautious movements, harmonising pace, re-orienting direction, and avoiding injuries. But this informal, self-organising, local ways of crowds are hardly studied, which is why they've never been used to enable crowds to self-manage. In fact there are hardly any crowd studies available in India though crowds are everywhere. What AIDMI has found in its work with these temples is that crowds can act and commit to be and remain safe, can re-organise and re-orient, can balance between internal and external processes that lend to risk, and evolve a coherence to its members for a given time and place. This is not on effort to romanticise crowds, but to leverage the inherent creativity and capability of a crowd for the common good.
Rahul Mehrotra, India's leading architect, has re-introduced Kumbh Mela, world's largest gathering to us. Kumbh Mela is self organising, seamless, cost effective, safe, and a bliss to all who attend this world's largest crowd. In fact he argues that such traditional gatherings offer us a new and more rooted way of planning cities and settlements in India.
At a presentation of his book on Kumbh Mela at L.D. Institute of Indology in Ahmedabad what became clear to me was the need to change the design and delivery of the environment within which crowds gather and operate. That is, changes in the ability of decision makers to understand crowds; changes in coordination and collaboration as well as the mobilisation of crowd management; and change in institutions and institutional capacities to respond to the needs and energies of crowds.
So if we were to launch crowd studies in India what will be its top four research priorities? First, start with the history of crowds that gather at say the Jagannath temple in Bhubaneswar or the Jama Masjid on Eid in Delhi. Second, find out where can crowd studies be placed among academic disciplines – in city planning, emergency management, security, and more. Third, look at crowds as people, individuals with will and concern both. Fourth, design and develop programmes and events that help us better understand the inherent good of crowds.
These first steps can go a long way in ensuring that our country does not have to suffer tragedies like stampedes in the future. Crowds do not remain a problem but become a solution.
– Mihir R. Bhatt

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Women's Leadership in Forest Recovery in Nepal

A Round Table discussion on "Agriculture, Environment and Forestry: Role of Women's Leadership" was held in Ahmedabad on July 10, 2017 with women leaders from Nepal who have been working on key issues of sustainability and conservation in Nepal ever since a devastating 2015 earthquake had hit their country.
The role of small business in forest produce trade; the scope for green bonds to invest in forestry; and linking forestry recovery with national development planning came up in the discussions.
The leaders discussed ways to feminize forestry activities in favour of work, income, and ecosystem away from profits, timber trading, and singular business interests.
The leaders agreed that there was a need to rethink the very foundations of modern forestry with historically grounded, highly current, and well argued lessons from ongoing recovery in Nepal. The earthquake recovery may deepen the inequality between those who benefit from forests and those who do not. For the people dependent on forests for their livelihood, the aftermath of the earthquake mattered more than the actual earthquake.
In addition needs capability building were discussed, which included ways of understanding multi-sectoral forestry needs of women; disaster vulnerability of forests; integrating women's livelihoods and protection programming for forestry recovery; and understanding new stakeholders in forestry recovery.

The participants pin pointed four areas for more work in building resilience of forests to disasters: formal and informal institutions; forest households; forest produce markets; and forest related policies such as water harvesting, and carbon sink.

It was concluded that more investment was needed in building capabilities of local leaders to find local ways to plan for DRR compliant forestry in the districts. A pedagogy of risk reduction is needed for the forests of the past, present, and the future.
– Mihir R. Bhatt

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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Making Dams Safer: Investing in Dam Safety

As the SSD project stands completed after 56 years of its inception, perhaps it is time for a little introspection. We should introspect on how to make the SSD resilient to the various climate and disaster risks so that the gains that it delivers to the people are safeguarded. What is needed is a framework to reduce disaster risks faced by SSD. Under the leadership of NCA, GSDMA, and NDMA, the SSD can become India's first SFDRR compliant dam.

One of India's largest hydro development projects, the Narmada Dam in Gujarat, has received the final clearance from the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) giving a go ahead to the Gujarat government to close the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) gates on the Narmada river. This marks the completion of the project, almost 56 years after the dam's foundation was laid by the then Prime Minister in 1961. Perhaps it is time to think of the various ways of reducing the risk of extreme events like earthquakes, droughts or floods on projects such as the SSD.
These risk reduction activities can be led by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) which plays the key role in guiding national investments for disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities across India. Similarly, this effort can also be complemented by the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) which builds the resilience of the citizens of Gujarat to the various disaster risks faced by them. The NCA permitted increasing the dam's height by lowering of 30 sluice gates and impounding of water in the reservoir upto its Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of EL 138.68 metres.
The latest move by NCA will lead to completion of the project and will result in an increase in the dam's storage capacity from 1565 million cubic metres (MCM) to 5740 MCM and also lead to a rise in hydro power generation from current 1300 MW to 1450 MW.
The water audit (use for agriculture, industrial and domestic purposes) can provide useful findings for future risk reduction actions for the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) and other water institutions.
About one crore people would get assured drinking water and irrigation facilities. The SSD would primarily meet the water requirement of drought prone and desert areas of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In some ways SSD is one of the biggest anti-drought and anti-desertification measures in India.
The time has come to protect SSD, the life line of Gujarat, from all kinds of disaster risks, including that of floods and earthquakes by considering the recommendations of the national authorities and the Sendai Framework.
The Resettlement and Rehabilitation sub-group chaired by the Union Secretary of Social Justice & Empowerment had also reviewed the rehabilitation and resettlement of project affected families as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award and the Supreme Court order was delivered in February 2017. The next step is to build the resilience of these families to the disaster risks they face.
Dam Safety Measures in India
Close to 80% of India's 5,198 large dams are over 25 years old and are confronted with safety challenges. Many experts believe that the wear and tear along with the sub-par maintenance of these dams is jeopardizing their safety. The most worrying are those dams that lie in high seismic zones and can be destroyed by medium to high intensity earthquakes. In this context, it is essential to review the safety measures and policies in place to protect the big dams and economic growth of India.
The Central Water Commission (CWC), which is the apex organisation for water resources management, in 2006, asked the states to come up with an emergency action plan for large dams and laid down guidelines for that purpose.
Needless to say disaster preparedness needs to be an integral part of these safety measures to prevent any mishaps. Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the financial support from the World Bank has embarked upon a six year Dam Safety Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP) in the year 2012.

Reducing Disaster Risk
Water: There is a total of 28 million acre feet water of Narmada in SSD. The state wise distribution is thus: 18.25 MAC to Madhya Pradesh, 9 MAC to Gujarat, 0.5 MCA to Rajasthan and 0.25 MAC to Maharashtra. How to protect this water flow from floods and drought?
Electricity: Total 1450 MW hydro power to be generated at the dam site by SSD. Madhya Pradesh gets lion's share with 57 % total power to be generated, Maharashtra gets second largest portion of 27 % and Gujarat gets 16 % of power. What can be done to reduce flood, cyclone, and earthquake risk faced by this hydro-power grid?
Canal Network: Total 71,747 km long canal network of SSD spread in over 20 districts in Gujarat. So far, the authorities have completed 47104 km long network, which means 66 % works stand completed. Who will reduce risks of disasters faced by these canals?
Project Affected Villages: Total 244 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have been affected, submerged fully or partially due to SSD. From these villages, 46840 families have been resettled and rehabilitated with compensation by the authorities. What measures are needed to make these families and villages resilient to disaster and climate risks?
– AIDMI Team
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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Community Based Disaster Preparedness

In the event of any disaster, it is the members of the affected local community who are the first responders, primary beneficiaries and principal actors. Disasters and emergencies are known to overwhelm the response capacities of communities leading to large-scale loss of life, property and livelihoods. It is therefore imperative to build the capacity of the local community to effectively respond to disasters and emergencies. One way of doing this is by enhancing the preparedness level of the community through capacity building initiatives.

Participants explaining the findings of group exercise, depicting the hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities of in and around areas of the conference hall building. (Photo: AIDMI)

The north-eastern state of Assam is of special strategic and cultural importance to India. Not only does it bind India to the north-east India, it is also blessed with many natural resources and can be considered a biological hotspot teeming with rare animal and plant species. However, Assam is exposed to a variety of climate and disaster risks. These include earthquakes, landslides, floods, and strong winds. Floods and the resulting everlasting river erosion have proved to be particularly detrimental to Assam's economy and citizens. To build up the resilience of Assam against such aforesaid risks, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) routinely takes up disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation initiatives. And All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) has found that in these initiatives the citizens of Assam play leading role when given a chance.
Recognizing the need for building the capacity of communities to effectively respond to disasters and emergencies, ASDMA launched its capacity building initiative called 'Community Based Disaster Preparedness' in July 2016. The goal of this initiative was to empower communities at the local level with the knowledge, skills and expertise to manage the risks they are exposed to. This goal was to be achieved by organizing capacity building sessions in all the districts of the state with the grassroots level workers from various government departments such as social welfare, health, or agriculture along with volunteers and members of community based organizations. The AIDMI was the technical partner in this initiative and conducted these trainings sessions at ASDMA's behest.
This partnership has been special. It generated results on the ground, influenced the two institutions, and created enabling environment for DRR in Assam.
As the first phase of these trainings draws to a close, I am happy to report that this initiative has been successful in achieving its stated objectives and goal. Hitherto, a total of 1055 participants from 27 districts of Assam have been covered under the ambit of this initiative. The participants have become informed respondent. So many of them committed advocates of disaster risk reduction. And some of them have become local leaders in reducing risks. But these numbers, as impressive as they are do not cover the wisdom, ingenuity and creativity with which the local communities in Assam have managed and mitigated their risks. AIDMI has learned more from the participants, not only what to do and how but also new ways of thinking about both, risk and Assam. Perhaps the most important lesson from this initiative was the effectiveness of risk reduction measures if they are carried out in an inclusive, participatory and democratic manner.
Community based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) refers to all those activities and measures undertaken by a community using a locally owned and locally appropriate approach to reduce and manage its disaster risks. In essence, CBDP implies a community based approach to risk reduction done by using existing resources in a contextualized and localized manner. In simple words, AIDMI team started from where the communities were, building upto where they want to be. Given the participatory nature of CBDP, the pedagogy followed by AIDMI in imparting these trainings emphasized introspection, deliberation and dialogue.
These trainings focused on providing technical skills such as conducting hazard, vulnerability, capacity (HVCA) assessment; drawing seasonal hazard maps; capacity-vulnerability matrix and compiling community resource inventories at the block level. These technical skills helped the participants in identifying the underlying causes of their vulnerability to disaster risks and then proceed to make elaborate preparedness plans. Similarly, the best practices on CBDP from previous projects and programmes was also shared with the participants.
Although the technical knowledge imparted during these trainings will help these participants to carry out disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities in a systematic and coordinated manner, perhaps the greatest achievement of these trainings was that it encouraged the participants to speak up on their perception of risk, vulnerability and preparedness. People from different parts of Assam experienced risks differently and would often suggest innovative approaches to manage them.
I once again commend and congratulate ASDMA on organizing this initiative and successfully empowering citizens of Assam to plan, prepare and manage their risks. This is AIDMI's small contribution to operationalize National Disaster Management Authority of Government of India in Assam with citizen of Assam.

– Mihir R. Bhatt, AIDMI

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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Resilience to Disaster and Climate Risks in Education

Education is taken as a key sustainable development indicator and the need to scale up and mainstream CCA and DRR in the education sector is imminent and unavoidable even at the local administrative levels, as it is a key policy and planning strategy for increasing children's capacity to become agents of change and enhancing their resilience to climate change and disasters.

The demand and debate for mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in to key development sectors has potentially seen the most rapid expansion over the past decade. The recently promulgated global frameworks be it the Sendai Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Climate Agreement, have equally voiced the concern for having an integrated approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) across sectors.

Since children are one of the hardest hit demographic group by climate change and disasters, their rights need to be protected. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mitigating environmental risks could save the lives of 4 million children every year. Thus, inclusion of DRR and CCA in education will contribute in enhancing children's resilience in the face of climate change and disasters. Girls, boys and women are typically the most affected due to climate change and disasters. Thus, children need to prepare for, cope with and thrive in such complex environments. 
The diagram represents the framework for comprehensive school safety with DRR-CCA integration for resilience. Comprehensive School Safety Framework
The major benefit of mainstreaming DRR and CCA in education can also serve communities through school children. After access to quality education they can also share the information with their families and neighbors and this will increase resilience and also develop a culture of safety. This will empower the whole community and contribute to its ability to reduce risk and to adapt and secure more stable and sustainable livelihood strategies.
There is increasing evidence in Assam that students of all ages can actively study and participate in school safety measures on the one hand, and can work with teachers and other adults in the community towards minimizing disaster and climate risk on the other. The state authorities and education department can effectively reach out to schools and educational institutions and protect them as well as getting a contribution from them in integrated DRR CCA in the education sector to achieve greater community resilience. So far pilot projects by state and national authorities have provided useful lessons to design and implement district wide programme on school safety.
For capacity development, education sector is providing crucial services in terms of DRR CCA such as large human resource and infrastructure support from the state to local levels, volunteer support from NCC/NSS and scouts. However, these services and platforms need to be strengthened to get maximum advantages for making Assam safe from disaster and climate risk.
The educational institutions and department must ensure that their infrastructures are multi-hazard resilient. It requires widespread investment in capacity development by disaster management and the education sector on infrastructure services where each mason is trained for safe construction, engineer staff is trained for retrofitting techniques, technical consultant can audit and monitor infrastructure resilience needs and the policy planners are able to allocate sufficient resources for resilience of infrastructure.
The capacity building and training actions with and for teachers, NCC/NSS and scouts and guides volunteers in DRR CCA is an important area to capitalize upon. The sector can provide tremendous opportunities for DRR and CCA that contribute to the sustainable development in the long term. The trained resources from education sector can build the widespread impact to reducing disaster and climate risk and also contribute in the climate change mitigation aspects.
The state already had experience of the NSSP pilot project, district wide school safety trainings, and pilots, etc. Now there is a need to emphasize upon massive roll-out reaching across the state and all levels of institutions. The state has the ability for such capacity development actions. The lessons from NSSP, recommendations from SDMP, DDMP, SAPCC, etc. can provide useful inputs for covering DRR and CCA, on various components including building resilience among its stakeholders, particular audience - children and teachers; particular locations - schools and other educational infrastructures; particular services - educational services.
The department of education (Elementary, Secondary and Higher education) has taken concerted training and capacity building efforts including school safety programme. It requires, facilitation service from technical institutions like NIDM, SDMA so that the department and its institutions are able to address basic services like fire safety, school DM planning, evaluation mapping and drills, actions. Only the training component is not enough. The consultation and facilitation with impact study is required to institutionalize the process and increase the ownership. The state has already implemented school safety projects. The experience should be shared at 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction at Cancun, Mexico to promote similar safety measures. 
Vishal Pathak, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute 

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Floods Again: What Can Be Done Differently in South Asia?

Floods are age old but must South Asia's response to floods be age old as well? South Asia is now emerging to be a leader in reducin...