“Culture of preparedness – A paramount thought”

By Maitphang Syiem

Natural disasters and natural calamities are inevitable phenomena which we cannot escape and which we are bound to meet and face the consequences of. We have seen in the recent aftermath of the super cyclonic storm “Fani” how it ravaged human lives and settlements disrupting normal life and processes. However in this context we should indeed applaud the IMD team for giving early information on the movement of the super cyclonic storm “Fani” and the necessary steps taken by the Odisha Govt to evacuate the population before the landfall of the super cyclone in Odisha. This requires a coordinated management on the part of the concerned authorities and the communities at risk.

In the present age of information and technology much information on tropical cycloneic movements are available on the websites and particularly with the IMD websites such as RAPID which stands for Real-time Analysis of Product and Information Dissemination whereby we get real-time satellite imageries of cyclones from the space-borne INSAT 3DR satellite belonging to ISRO. Such information to the public has been very helpful in early preparation and evacuation thereby avoiding the adverse effects of the storm.

In the context of disaster management we have always been following the conventional stereotypical style where much of the subject matter is emphasised only during and post disaster activities which involves response, relief, recovery and rehabilitation. This has been the normal process which many of the controlling authorities follow. With the passage of time the effects of natural disasters have also changed with changes in the human developmental activities and have become more devastating. One of the major factors for instance in the context of cyclones is the “Climate Change and Global Warming effect.” We may not realise how ravaging the cyclones in recent times will be with the increasing rate of Global Warming. Therefore taking into consideration all natural disasters, how prepared are we and how prepared are our controlling authorities to facilitate timely measures?

As mentioned earlier we have been following the conventional measures only during the cyclones and post disasters episodes but in the recent time-scale there is a huge paradigm-shift which focuses more on disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness. World organisations such as the UNDRR (United Nation Disaster Risk Reduction office) focus on disaster risk reduction activities and disaster preparedness. It has clearly stated that its aim is substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses would ensure a sustainable future. Disaster Risk Reduction aims at preventing new and reducing the existing risks that disasters can affect and building the resilience of the population and also strengthening of systems and approaches. Therefore a legitimate question arises in this regard and indeed practical one. We need to ask ourselves if we are aware of the nature of the disasters and the impacts they have on us and are we equipped with the knowledge to counter the risks? Do we have a preparedness plan? Do our controlling authorities emphasize on disaster reduction and disaster preparedness? If so how effective have these plans been when put into action? Have the public been made aware of such plans?

As seen from many cases, in many of the approaches there has always been a gap between the controlling authorities and the public. A stereotypical top to down approach is followed where we only execute what has been put across without integrating the essential indigenous knowledge of the people in the approaches. In this very context towards disaster management approaches it is imperative that we should now focus on community based disaster preparedness. As we clearly know the elements that are at risks and that could be severely impacted are the populations in various communities whether rural or urban and the buildings and several infrastructures. Communities as institutions are emerging as a very important entity in many aspects of development. It is recommended that the controlling authorities should focus on strengthening them, giving them the knowledge and awareness and de-centralizing the planning processes, thereby allowing the communities to participate in the process of planning with respect to disaster preparedness and disaster reduction. The higher the participation from the communities the better will be the countering measures against the impending risks from a disaster.

In this regard we would like to ask ourselves what is a “Community based disaster preparedness plan?” The keyword to understanding is “Community”, therefore preparedness plan made at the community and with the participation of the community is a comprehensive document which includes measures to be taken up by the community before, during and after the disaster. It is a participatory approach to planning. Therefore through such participatory approaches the controlling authorities will have a better management and also a lesser load to take at the time of the disaster and also during the post disaster period.

It is practical to allow communities as they have major roles to play such as offering mutual support and solidarity, strengthening peoples’ ability to face crisis, generate awareness and consciousness, organizing  the collective, acquisition of skills and knowledge in varied spheres.

The communities whether rural or urban can participate at several levels while preparing the plans namely at the pre-disaster level, during disaster level and post disaster level. Activities such as orienting the community towards the nature and the effects of disasters, taking stock of the resources at the community level, formulation of task team and specifying their roles, search and rescue operations and monitoring activities are critical to the plan. Our controlling authorities should take note that such approaches will help in minimizing the costs of relief and recovery measures and target only the affected area. Also it will empower the communities to participate in the monitoring process which will help in avoiding discrepancies in the relief and recovery measures.

Awareness and knowledge on disasters by the public is not such a difficult task to acquire since much information about it is readily available on the internet and in the smart-phones. However, that’s only from an information perspective which only remains as information and which may not be taken seriously one way or the other. What is really needed now is to cultivate a culture of preparedness. Let us ask ourselves if we have a culture of preparedness and whether the controlling authorities are helping us to cultivate that culture of preparedness? It is high time that communities should start thinking on the lines of disaster preparedness and also on the part of the controlling authorities to initiate programmes targeting the grassroots and rural and urban communities to help cultivate a culture of disaster preparedness and resilience.

To shed more light on Community Disaster Preparedness Plan, the communities can participate and take the lead in activities such as hazard mapping and zoning, formulating community preparedness and contingency plans, forming of disaster task force, arranging of mock drills and also creating a network with the concerned NGOs and government agencies.

There have been many case studies on how communities in different parts of the world have taken a lead in countering the effects of the impending disasters and subsequently saving many lives. Perhaps we can learn from such case studies in cultivating a sense of preparedness and creating disaster resilience. Communities should take responsibility and display a sense of ownership and stewardship.

Quoting from Petra Nemcova, “We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge so that many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.” It is pragmatic to go by these lines since cultivating a culture of preparedness and starting with community preparedness through a participatory approach will eventually help us in minimizing the risks of an impending disaster and subsequently preventing the ill effects of disasters and ultimately saving lives that are most at risk.

(The author is Geospatial Expert and Disaster Management enthusiast)

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