The five Ps of disaster management, writes Abhishek Singhvi – analysis
Representing West Bengal (WB), as I do in Parliament, I remember seeing the deadliest cyclones in the world, especially the so-called Oxymoronically Bhola (1970) that claimed 500,000 lives. Amphan was the first supercyclone in the Bay of Bengal after 1999 (i.e. wind speeds greater than 220 km / h). Although the temporal spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) seems larger, Chief Minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee may be accurate, at least in temporal proportionality, when she calls Amphan “a bigger disaster than Covid-19” . A constitutional authority cannot be ignored if it says that 70% of the state’s population has been seriously affected and when it underlines the quadruple Covid-19 coup, the confinement, the resettlement of migrants and the cyclone.
In less than two days, Bengal lost around Rs 1 lakh crore. The cyclone left 80 dead, hundreds of thousands of homeless people, uprooted trees, devastated houses, abandoned houses, electricity and telephone lines, flooded cities and towns, looted embankments, fences and boundaries. It caused ecological destruction and devastation, especially in ecosensitive Sundarbans. No less important was the ruin of Kolkata’s iconic Great Banyan Tree, among the largest in the world.
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s air tour produced an aid package of Rs 1 billion rupees ($ 132 million) for WB and Rs 500 million rupees ($ 66 million) for Odisha. These figures underestimate both the size of the disaster and, consequently, the size of the palliative.
The Gujarat earthquake prompted the central government to release Rs 500 million (2001 value, 20 years ago) plus the ad hoc release of participation in central taxes. The Center has not yet released to Bengal the outstanding refunds of the Goods and Services Tax of approximately Rs 2.4 billion rupees for the last quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year (Bengal is certainly not alone in this regard). The CM has rightly reminded the Prime Minister of Rs 53 billion crore due to social security reimbursements from central government schemes (such as Mahatma Gandhi’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Food Security Act , etc.) owed to the state.
Elementary but elementary steps are needed in an emergency to ensure efficient rehabilitation and effective growth of affected areas.
First, there is a need for a genuinely non-discriminatory and egalitarian approach in all states. The Gujarat episode led many international agencies to seek financial assistance, including the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank ($ 300 million), and the Asian Bank of Development ($ 500 million). Regardless of Bengal’s eligibility, capacity, or political orientation, the Center owes these states special communication with international institutions.
Second, there is a need to exponentially increase government allocation to combat natural disasters. We should not be affected by the same “fiscal stimulus inflexibility” syndrome, reflected in the Prime Minister’s alleged Covid-19 Rs 20 lakh crore package.
Third, we cannot, on the one hand, correctly project India as a world leader and, on the other hand, pale when it comes to justified proportional global comparisons. In the 2011 tsunami earthquake, Japan allocated $ 167 billion for rehabilitation and recovery. He made a five-year plan to do it comprehensively. Similarly, the United States Congress allocated $ 121.7 billion in hurricane relief in 2005 and 2008. Earthquake-prone Iran allocated 2% of its annual national budget for disaster risk reduction, including $ 4 billion in 2012. Although precise figures for the “per vulnerable group” allocation are not available, it is clear that comparisons with India by affected population produce a bleak picture.
Fourth, randomisation is much less useful than targeted and targeted aid measures. Japan’s five-year plan focused on each stakeholder, from fishing to housing and energy. Instinctive reactions in large mega-announcements after cyclones, without specific sub-allocations, lose their limited vigor and vitality when they reach the ground target.
Fifth, planned and targeted measures must be combined with a sound institutional framework. After 2011, the Japanese government enacted the “Tsunami Resistant Community Development Law”, to efficiently combine structural and non-structural measures to minimize damage.
All municipalities had to write their model-based reconstruction plans, and the plans were based entirely on urban planning, land management, structural mitigation, and relocation. Such innovations have hardly been conceptualized in India, much less implemented and even medium-term thinking, let alone long-term planning, is clearly overwhelmed by short-term ad hocism.
Finally, and ironically, given our annual cyclical natural disasters, we have little political focus on pre-disaster countermeasures. Prevention is always better than cure, and such countermeasures will be highly effective and also cost-effective. Many countries in their disaster-prone coastal regions have built high retaining walls to protect vulnerable communities. Odisha Cyclone Shelters are a commendable but partial achievement, deserving of emulation.
We need five “Ps” to deal with recurring disasters: prominence, as in the role of governments; a group of funds; planning, especially long-term, of rehabilitation and development; policy as institutional support; and preparation as countermeasures.
There is light after the longest tunnels and only with these five “Ps” can we dream of the French impressionist Paul Gauguin, who said: “The cyclone ends. The sun returns; the tall coconut trees raise their plumes again; the man does what The great anguish has ended, the joy has returned, the sea smiles like a child. “
Abhishek Singhvi is a third term deputy; former president of the Permanent Parliamentary Commission on Law; ex ASG; and main national spokesperson, Congress
The opinions expressed are personal.