Disaster management in vulnerable times - GulfToday

Disaster management in vulnerable times

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The United Nations has pointed out that the pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of our global systems when it comes to environmental, health and economic issues. It has also repeatedly drawn attention to the role that multiple economic, social and institutional drivers play to exacerbate environment risks, including global heating, resilience and human health.

With specific reference to India, a UN notification highlights that it is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, with hydrological (water-related) disasters being among the most frequent and having high mortality and damage costs. It suggests that nature-based solutions offer some of the best ways to mitigate the impacts of flooding.

According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study – titled ‘Impacts of Natural Disasters on Households and Small Businesses in India’, of the different types of natural disaster, hydrological disasters have the largest number of recorded instances and the highest mortality and damage costs in India. Since the 1990s, floods have accounted for more than half the natural and climate-related disasters in the country, with damage costs running into billions of dollars.

It is in this context that Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) has to be understood and implemented. Eco-DRR is an approach where the regulatory functions of ecosystems (such as forests, wetlands and mangroves) are systematically harnessed to mitigate, prevent, or buffer against disasters. It recognizes that ecosystems can provide disaster risk reduction services as well as offer other ecosystem services of productive and cultural value, which also contribute to building local resilience to disasters and climate change.

One such project is scaling-up Eco-DRR interventions and promoting large-scale implementation of Eco-DRR in Kerala, southern India. With funding from the European Commission, it is being coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with Partners for Resilience.

The focus is on developing capacity to undertake ecosystem restoration for DRR as part of the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guaranteed Scheme, a nationwide programme which employs 2.6 million women in Kerala. The project entails developing training modules, a handbook and undertaking training on ecosystem restoration for DRR with local government technical staff, elected officials and local technical staff.

The main aim of this project is to develop different models for demonstrating implementation of Eco-DRR, which can be scaled up using existing programmes, which advance implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Agenda.

The project, which runs from 2019 to 2021, will be managed by UNEP’s Crisis Management Branch. The branch also houses the secretariat of the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction, a global alliance of 24 international agencies, non-government organizations, and specialist institutes.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority will act as the main institutional counterpart for UNEP. The Kerala Institute of Local Administration will lead the development of the training materials, handbook and training workshops, drawing on the expertise of national and international experts.

Floods account for more than half of climate-related disasters in India and have cost the country over US$50 billion since 1990, according to the ADB study. It analyses the impacts of extreme precipitation on vulnerable households and small and medium-sized enterprises in Mumbai, Chennai, and Puri districts and highlights the heterogeneity of flood impacts and their potential to push the poor into a debt trap and further poverty. The study states that the need is to characterize and analyze the impacts of extreme precipitation events on different actors in the economy and society and to formulate policies and plans to mitigate them. The assessment and characterization of flood impacts on households and businesses helped the researchers understand and appreciate how extreme events affect people and the assets they have built as financial protection or to improve their lives.

The findings raise important questions regarding the long-term economic impacts of extreme events on poor families and the need for a protective social safety net to prevent their downward spiral into poverty and debt. Adaptation policies and plans should be designed to protect poor and vulnerable people from risks associated with extreme events. This will help mainstream adaptation into larger development and poverty reduction policies and programmes.

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