Soon after the Orissa Cyclone and thereafter the Gujarat earthquake the Government of India prioritized a national policy on disaster management and advocated a change of direction from a post disaster reactive approach to a proactive stance before the occurrence of disasters, provided a new legal framework and greater harmonization of disaster management efforts.
The policy set forth principles (including significant community role and active civil society participation), objectives (including emphasis on prevention, DRR and promoting regional and national cooperation), strategies and provisions for promoting inter-sectoral complementarities. The Disaster Management Act 2005, mandates National, States and district authorities to develop policy, guidelines, plans for proper implementation of Disaster management plans to reduce adverse impact on communities and to facilitate timely and effective response.
It stresses upon inclusion of mitigation, preparedness and DRR measures into development. As a result SDMAs in various states initiated development of district disaster management plans. However, some plans were merely a collection of contact phone numbers of important authorities and departments from the district. There were significant gaps in these operational plans mainly due to non availability of a standard framework, lack of expertise and dedicated resources.
Lack of community participation and that of relevant stakeholders in the preparation process has resulted in lack of ownership among intended users and beneficiaries. Disasters tend to happen to people at risk. People are at risk because they are vulnerable to hazards. This vulnerability can be best reduced by increasing people’s capacities to deal with underlying social, cultural and physical factors. The key to successful disaster management plan is to ensure involvement of people who are victims and who are at risk or could be potential victims.
If this is not practiced it is often unsustainable, costly and ineffective. Most DDMPs in the country lacked participation of affected communities and civil society. A participatory community level disaster management involves a cross section of people in the design and development process of the plan. When local people develop these plans there is more interest, greater ownership and understanding resulting in successfully reducing suffering and losses. The key principles of this approach thus are:
* Community themselves are best placed to prioritize threats and take effective risk reducing actions. The best time to reduce the impact of disasters is before the next disasters occur. Hence, preventive actions should be integral part of the effective disaster management plan. * The identification and mapping of hazards along with who and what may be affected is necessary before risk reduction plans can be made. * Progress has to be well publicized to maintain interest and strengthen the culture of disaster reduction. An example of this is found in the recent NDMA/SDMA collaboration with civil society coming together to develop community led DDMP in Madhubani.
One of the basic highlights of the Madhubani DDMP process is that though it oriented towards response but it also incorporates reduction and prevention thrust. Incidentally, prevention has been recognized as an important aspect of DDMP by the district and state/SDMA but also in the poverty reduction strategy. As a result of DDMP several agencies/departments in Madhubani have shown willingness to incorporate prevention measures in their regulations, such as the building codes by the town planners that regulate development of settlements.
It was encouraging to note high level of commitment from various stakeholders to improving DRR mechanism. Tearfund has been working along with its partners to lobby with governments at all levels for influencing the policies and development of effective people friendly plans. The Madhubani DRR project implemented by its partner organisation EFICOR in 30 villages in Madhubani was instrumental in development of pilot District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP) along with support from SPHERE India.
The strength of this pilot has been the process it has embarked upon wherein involvement and participation of all level of stakeholders from community to district/state/national government authorities in development process of this DDMP. In view of intensive involvement of all relevant stakeholders the pilot has received good response and acceptance from the NDMA and SDMA. This is considered as the first ever attempt in developing a DDMP which has come up from the active involvement of first respondent in any natural disasters.
As mentioned above the thrust of development of DDMP is that it is being developed involving affected community, hence, the approach has been bottom-up, however at the same time, all relevant stakeholders, be it government departments or the NGOs and other actors have been involved and participated at all stages of development of the plan. This is truly a plan developed by the people and for the people. This plan has also influenced many other civil socieities to take up similar preparations for other districts and states with the support of NDMA.