Interviews | VOL. 9, ISSUE 53, March-April 2009 |

Combating Natural Calamities

General N C Vij, Vice Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), is a highly acclaimed military strategist and recipient of several awards for his exemplary service towards the nation. Bold and imaginative, his vast hands-on experience in disaster management has catapulted the five year old Authority to new heights.  Speaking to the editor, General Vij, outlined the roadmap prepared to combat disasters, especially in the wake of the new experiences gathered from the successful management and rehabilitation of the victims of the Kosi floods.

 

Do you perceive an increase in the intensity of natural calamities such as floods and droughts due to climate change?

Climate change is predicted to have a range of serious consequences, some of which may impact over a longer term – such as rise in sea level and spread of diseases, while some which may have obvious immediate impacts in the form of extreme weather events – like intense rain and flooding. The current warming trends is likely to lead to natural disasters related to extreme temperature highs and heat waves. Lack of precipitation and associated droughts on one side – storms and hurricanes on the other, is also anticipated. Our role in such situations becomes crucial to the survival of thousands of hapless victims.

 

Despite floods being a fairly well understood phenomenon, both funding as well as area under flood is simultaneously increasing. Please comment.

Flood damage statistics maintained by the Central Water Commission do not reveal any increase in flooded area. However, the overall damage caused by floods is showing an increasing trend mainly due to encroachments, both authorised and unauthorised, into the flood plains of the rivers for habitation and other activities. Mostly the encroachers are from the socially and economically weaker sections. While it is necessary to take up flood protection measures for ensuring the safety of the people and the assets in the flood prone areas, it is imperative that measures for regulating development of the flood prone areas such as flood plain zoning are implemented by the state governments and the urban and rural local bodies to prevent further encroachments.

 

Is it possible to train students (area specific) to assist during the evacuation process in calamities such as earthquakes, floods, tsunami, etc.?

Training of the community, particularly the school and college students will certainly provide a boost towards the management of disaster. The potential of the youth based organisations like NCC and NSS needs to be optimised to support all community based initiatives and disaster management training should be included in their programmes. The introduction of the subject by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the curriculum through the Central Board of Secondary Education, must be extended to all schools through their Secondary Education Boards. The education content should inculcate skill based training, psychological resilience and qualities of leadership. Disaster education will aim at developing a culture of preparedness and safety, besides implementing school disaster management plans. Curricula for the NCC students and colleges are under preparation and will be finalised in due course of time.

NDMA is in the process of starting a pilot project on school safety. This project will be implemented in 22 states falling in zone IV and V as well as in the vulnerable coastal states of the country. The pilot project will be taken up for implementation during the current financial year. One model secondary school in each of the targeted districts will be selected for retrofitting. In case of coastal districts, the school buildings located within a radius of 10 km from the coast will be selected for retrofitting.

 

What has been the most challenging task in managing the flood hit area of Kosi?

Floods in the Kosi region is a recurrent phenomenon. As this is an international river, sharing borders with Nepal, an international treaty to manage the menace of recurring floods is a must. The most challenging tasks in managing the flood hit area were evacuation of the afflicted population; settling them in relief camps; prevention of epidemics; and distribution of relief supplies.

NDMA deployed 20 teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) with 171 boats from 20 August 2008 onwards. The NDRF teams rescued and shifted nearly one lakh people to safer places. NDMA coordinated with the Indian Railways, Indian Air Force, all Union Ministries and the corporate sector to dispatch 1589 tents, 1125 tarpaulins, 4.2 lakh drinking water bottles, and 5 water purification plants.

 

Is working in tandem with a wide network of government organisations during a situation of calamity – restrictive or supportive?

Disaster Management is a multi disciplinary activity involving a large number of stakeholders. Therefore, it is necessary to network with governmental and non governmental organisations. In principle, efforts ought to be supportive and not restrictive in nature. However, it does take time to develop such an elaborate system. During the Kosi floods, the concept was put to test and it was found that the various ministries and departments of the central government, armed forces and NGOs worked with NDMA in a very supportive and coordinated manner.

 

Do you believe that we need to work out a national policy for disaster management for rural grass root organisations such as NYKS in the wake of climate change threat?

There is definitely a need for a National Policy for not only organisations such as Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangthan (NYKS) but also for the entire structure of the disaster management at the national, state and district level.

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