New Delhi: To improve India’s preparedness in tackling natural disasters, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) plans to bring out a comprehensive database in the next one year.
This is the first time an attempt is being made to map calamities in all 596 districts of the country that would catalogue 32 types of disasters, including industrial accidents, NIDM executive director P.G. Dhar Chakravarti said.
Even though floods, droughts and cyclones are a regular occurrence, India is often ill-equipped to either respond adequately to such emergencies or gauge their impact on the nation’s economy.
The country’s preparedness is also compromised from a lack of adequate data that could help the government deal with both major and minor disasters.
“Minor disasters are happening across smaller districts and they are not completely captured by our statistical systems,” Dhar Chakravarti said. “But they are significant for policy design and programme.”
NIDM, an arm of the home ministry, will update the database every year, he said.
The new system, which will also record population and land use details of each district, will enable economic-impact studies, he said. Currently, while damage assessments are often carried out following an event, micro-economic analyses or loss assessments in relation to the country’s GDP are rarely done.
NIDM is taking help from the Central Statistical Organisation—governed by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation—for the project.
India’s disaster management programme was mainly handled by the agriculture ministry because floods and droughts affected large sections of the population depending on farming for their livelihood. This responsibility was shifted to the home ministry, which now implements rules under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The task is daunting, not the least because various arms of the government independently collect data relevant to this project under different categories.
For instance, the labour ministry collects data on factory accidents and depends on the states to furnish the information. Some states have not updated their submissions since 2005.
All this does not include data on chemical accidents, a list of which is maintained by the environment and forests ministry.
Major responsibilities of manufacture and storage of hazardous chemicals were vested with the ministry of environment and forests, which regulates 1,743 dominant users, from pesticides to petrochemical companies, classified as major accident hazards.
“While there are guidelines for dominant users, there are thousands of other industries using toxic chemicals and combustible material that are not covered under the existing legal and institutional arrangements. It will be a great challenge to cover this segment,” said Dhar Chakravarti.
India amended its Factories Act, 1948, to include various safety norms after a lethal gas leak on 3 December 1984, at Union Carbide India Ltd’s plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, killed and maimed thousands.
This Act, however, keeps small factories outside its purview. According to Anil Gupta, an associate professor at NIDM, the larger problem in collecting data on disasters is that India’s vast small and medium enterprises escape inspection because they fall in the unorganized sector. There are other issues as well.
Harinesh Pandiya, chief executive of Janpath, a network of voluntary organizations that oversees relief and rescue operations in Gujarat, rues that preparedness in India “actually begins only when disaster strikes”.
“In 2006, when the floods came (in Gujarat), there was mechanized boats available but there were no trained staff to drive them.”