OPINION | Has India Emerged as a World Leader in Disaster Management?
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OPINION | Has India Emerged as a World Leader in Disaster Management?

By Prof. Manish Yadava
Asmara University, Eritrea

OPINION | Has India Emerged as a World Leader in Disaster Management?

Genesis of Disaster Management in India started with the setting up of a high powered committee in August 1999. Until 2001 the responsibility for disaster management was with Agriculture Ministry which was transferred to Ministry of Home Affairs in June 2002 and in due course of time National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established on 28th September 2005 and with the Inclusion of Disaster Management in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution on 23rd December 2005, Disaster Management Act was enacted.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is an apex body with the Prime Minister of India as the Chairperson; it has a National Executive Committee with Secretaries of 14 Central Ministries and the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. At the Centre Level for disaster management we have Central Ministries, National Disaster Management Authority, National Institute of Disaster Management and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) while at the State Level we have SDMA headed by Chief Minister and State Executive Committee (SEC) and at District Level we have DDMA headed by District Magistrate.[1]

NDRF is world’s first stand-alone Disaster Response Force; A multi skilled and high-tech organization for all types of natural and man-made disasters, with specialized and fully equipped search and rescue teams; specialized CBRN Response Teams equipped with Hazmat Vehicles and state of the art surveillance and detection tools. It also enhances the capabilities of ‘State Disaster Response Forces’ and various other stake holders like community volunteers; Sensitizing community through Community Awareness Programmes and providing disaster management cover in mass gathering events like religious, social and cultural congregations which are almost regular feature in India.

In 2014 NDRF took on numerous relief operations like Flood in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Meghalaya, Bihar, U.P and in various parts of the country, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, Landslide in Pune, Chennai Building Collapse and also overseas disaster related operations in Japan and Bhutan saving over 400,000 lives and benefitted 35, 28,216 community volunteers through its community awareness programs.[2]

Speaking on the 10th Raising Day of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stressed on greater use of technology in relief and rescue operations, he said and I quote “During disasters, communication is the first casualty. NDRF should think how this obstacle can be surmounted through technology such as satellite phones. Strength of email and social media can be leveraged to reach more and more people in disasters quickly,” .The minister also pushed for integration of fire services, civil defence and home guards with NDRF for comprehensive response to disasters. NDRF has also signed a MoU with Apex Trauma Centre of AIIMS which will facilitate in establishing a proper field hospital with the support of medical component of NDRF.[3]

On the international humanitarian role of India, NDRF team was one of the first foreign teams to reach Nepal after an devastating earthquake hit it in April 2015.The help included 295 NDRF personnel and around 46.5 tonnes of relief material with five sniffer dogs and a RAMT (rapid aero medical team) of doctors and paramedics air lifted by One IL-76 aircraft from Bhatinda Air base, One C-130J Super Hercules and Two C-17 Globe masters from Hindon Airbase. [4]

After the initial response as mentioned earlier 10 NDRF teams comprising 450 trained personnel were flown to Nepal for quake rescue and relief. All NDRF teams were fully equipped with collapsed structure search and rescue equipment, including cutters that work with wood, concrete and steel, life detector machines, breathing equipment, airlifting bags, communication equipment like satellite phones, VHF and UHF sets. Each team also had para-medics, equipped with stretchers and basic medicines for the first aid, and two sniffer dogs.[5]

UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) under the operational command of NDRF was also used to map the destruction in the neighbouring country and help rescue efforts. NDRF IG Sandeep Rai Rathod said “ We are at the operational command of Nepalese Authorities ….The first 72 hours are crucial as after that, the chances of those trapped surviving is minimum”. NDRF sources said The UAV’s also helped in locating survivors in half collapsed buildings and were used to look through balconies or windows for any trapped victims.[6]

 The Indian Government has said that India, after having very swiftly directed its rescue and relief efforts in earth quake-struck Nepal, has emerged as a leading nation in disaster response. Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for home affairs Kiren Rijiju said that technology was extensively used by the country to respond to natural calamities. 

He also said the 12,000+ strong National Disaster Response Force was ready to meet any situation round the clock in India. Responding to questions by members on India’s preparedness to handle disasters, the MoS said that Indian Rupees 61,220 crore has been allotted to the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for the period 2015-2020 to provide assistance to people affected by natural calamities. 

On the estimate of economic losses from disasters in India, he said the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Global Assessment Report for 2015, while listing the risk profile for India, estimates that the average annual loss from multi hazard disasters in India is approximately $9.8 billion every year. Of this, the average annual loss from floods is $7.4 billion. The Minister, however, added that these figures are not vetted by the government. He said that damage and losses due to natural disasters are assessed by state governments concerned, as they were primarily responsible for managing the situation after any natural disaster.[7] 

The Global Assessment Report (GAR) 2015, produced by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has urged countries, particularly in Asia, to treat this as a wakeup call and make adequate investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) or it will hinder their development. On this report the head of UNISDR Margareta Walstrom said “The report is a wakeup call for countries to increase their commitment to invest in smart solutions to strengthen resilience to disasters”.

The GAR 2015 is an assessment of the last 10 years ever since the HFA was signed in 2005. Globally climate change has resulted in economic loss of $300 billion every year; says the report. It says disaster risk is impacting low and middle- income countries more and they need to augment investment to strengthen their population’s resilience.

According to the report, “An annual global investment of $6 billion in disaster risk management strategies would generate total benefits in terms of risk reduction in tune of $360 billion”. This is equivalent to a 20% reduction of new and additional annual economic losses, it adds. A Thomas Reuters Foundation report said about 4.8 million Indians are hit by disasters each year at present, but by 2030 that could rise to about 19 million if India doesn’t invest in  DRR measures.

India has projected a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure in the next five years and unless adequate steps are taken to make them resilient to floods and other natural calamities, the investment runs the risk of going waste. 

India, as part of the 14th finance commission grants, has already pledged to invest a little over $9 billion in the next five years towards disaster management. The funds will be made available to states and local bodies to invest in DRR initiatives. However; that seems a pittance considering the economic losses due to disasters annually in the country is close to $10 billion. New Delhi would have to seriously make provisions in all public and private partnership projects with inbuilt DRR measures to build resilient infrastructure. 

On the way forward globally UN member countries met in Sendai, Japan and signed a new DRR protocol that has replaced the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA).The new framework, like the HFA which came in 2005 after the Indian Ocean tsunami has a commitment plan for a 10 year period.[8]

India’s disaster management credentials have come in praise from the UN and world over after it successfully limited causalities in the Hudhud cyclone and achieved a similar feat in 2013 when cyclone Phailin struck the Odisha coast. These success stories are likely to be adopted as part of the global framework for DRR. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction took up India’s remarkable demonstration of “zero casualty” for discussion at the UN World Conference on disaster risk reduction at Geneva. Margareta Walstrom, head of UNISDR, praised India for accomplishing large scale evacuation and being able to safeguard lives. In a statement she said: “India has demonstrated again to the world that if you set the bar high for reducing your exposure to risk then you will save many lives and reduce your economic losses”. Cyclone Hudhud (2014) was just as great a threat as Cyclone Phailin (2013) to a densely populated coast-line, the UNISDR chief said, lauding the coordination between different departments.[9]

Areas of concern in India’s Disaster Management are absence of a National, State and District level directory of experts and inventory of resources, lack of properly structured National, State and District level Disaster Management Plans, sustainability of efforts, effective Inter Agency Co-ordination and standard operating procedures for stakeholder groups, especially critical first responder agencies and also lack of emergency/critical care medicine and first aid facilities.[10]

Underlining that there is “no trade-off” between climate action and robust economy, UN chief Ban-Ki-Moon said India will need to go further than reducing energy intensity as part of action on climate change in line with its development goals.“India is the world’s largest democracy and a country with immense potential. It has its own development path and needs. That being said, the country is highly vulnerable to climate change. More than 37 million of its people live along its long coastline and are vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise,” the UN Secretary General said.

It is interesting to note that 90% disasters are weather related. According to UN reports there were 6500 recorded floods and storms in last 20 years. Vulnerability profile of India being Earth quake 58%, Drought 16%, Flood (Rural as well as Urban) 12%,Cyclone 8% and Land Slide 3%; other  being Tsunami and Snow Avalanches.[11] 

According to global assessment report of 2015, 4-8 million people are hit by disasters in India and it can go up to 19 million soon. India is the third country affected by disasters after US and China and about USD 9.8 billion were spent by India in disasters out of which 7 USD billion was spent on floods alone. Here in comes in the role of NDMA and NDRF.   

The hi-tech new technology and versatile machines procurement like LED Balloon lights, snake eye camera and deep penetration ground sensing radars worth Rs.58 Crore’s by the Indian Government  will help the primary response force, the NDRF… communicate better and reduce response time. “Disasters are a very regular phenomenon in terms of intensity and frequency in India and that is why India is going to be a response-based country for an another 5-10 years,” NDRF Director General O P Singh said during the force annual press conference.   

In order to improve communication facilities during disasters, Singh said the NDRF has recently got and has started deploying quick deployable antennas (QDAs) on which quick and smooth voice and data can be sent for use by rescuers working in disaster zones. The NDRF is also testing two smart equipment’s, one for de-contamination of an area affected by a chemical, biological or radiological attack and the other is a see through wall detector which can relay signals about the presence of any person behind a wall or collapsed structure from 20 meters. In 2015-16, NDRF has procured 21 high end gadgets for use during rescue operations, while some 21 new gadgets are under consideration.  

Reaching out in time of distress NDRF has rescued 400,000 people this year, largest since its inception in 2006. In the recent urban floods of Chennai, NDRF’s 50 search and rescue teams evacuated 22,450 people and in all NDRF conducted 168 rescue operations all over the country in which 234 teams were deployed 322 bodies were found 132 heads of live-stock recovered. NDRF also conducted 163 mock exercises with various States/UT in which over 1, 02,460 persons have benefitted.[12].   

Finally to conclude we have seen National Disaster Management Authority of India has emerged as a world leader in disaster response and has come a long way in projecting India as a resilient power capable of protecting lives of its inhabitants and infrastructure while also showcasing its soft power credentials to the world not only it has done an commendable job in search and rescue operations in the recent floods of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh but was also involved in search and rescue when Earthquake hit Manipur and other regions of North East India earlier this year. Their prompt and excellent response in regions affected by cyclone Phailin and Hudhudin has also not gone unnoticed. NDMA’s good work in the recent Nepal earthquake(Operation Maitri) where India’s humanitarian diplomacy came in to  full play was appreciated world over in the Organizations and Forums like UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction at Geneva, and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).The UN member countries  which met in Sendai, Japan and signed a new DRR protocol replacing Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) has also heavily borrowed from the best practices and positive inputs of National Disaster Management Authority of India.

About the Author:

Dr. Manish Yadava, (TR RID : L-8456-2016), is an Associate Professor with the Department of International Relations at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Adikeyih National Commission for Higher Education (Asmara University). He is an alumnus of Indian Law Institute and Indian Society of International Law, New Delhi, India (V K Krishna Menon Memorial Gold Medallist) and has also served as an UNDP-UNV Doctor in Malawi (Africa) in the near past, his special Interest lies in Health and Humanitarian Diplomacy.


[1]. Source: http://ndma.gov.in -accessed and retrieved on 3.3.2016. 

[2]. Advertisement –The Times of India, National Disaster Response Force- Building a safer and disaster resilient India- 10th Raising Day (2015). 

[3]. ‘Race for growth leading to disasters’ The Times of India, New Delhi/ Gurgaon, Jan 22, 2015, p-16. 

[4]. Super jets prove their worth in gold-Globe master and Super Hercules Give India Edge in Humanitarian Operations- The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, April 26, 2015, p-10. 

[5]. India comes to rescue in record time The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, April 26, 2015, p-9. 

[6]. India sending UAV’s to map destruction-The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, April 27, 2015, p-8. 

[7]. India has emerged leader in disaster response: Govt, The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, April 30, 2015, p-13. 

[8]. Disasters cost India $10billion per year: UN report, The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, March 11, 2015, p-13. 

[9]. Country’s anti disaster skills win UN praise-The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, Oct 17, 2014, p-23. 

[10]. Source: http://ndma.gov.in- accessed and retrieved on 3.3.2016. 11. Ban: No trade-off between climate action and economy-The Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Gurgaon December 11, 2014, p-22. 

[12]. NDRF gets hi tech gadgets to reduce disaster response time. The Times of India, New Delhi/Gurgaon, Jan 1, 2016, p-10.

Cite this Article:

Yadava, M. "OPINION | Has India Emerged as a World Leader in Disaster Management?" IndraStra Global Vol. 002, Issue No: 08 (2016) 0042 http://www.indrastra.com/2016/08/OPINION-Has-India-Emerged-as-a-World-Leader-in-Disaster-Management-002-08-2016-0042.html | ISSN 2381-3652

AIDN0020820160042 / INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652 / OPINION | Has India Emerged as a World Leader in Disaster Management?