Disasters are rising day by day due to global warming, climate change and various other issues. As the disasters are increasing, the economic losses and number of affected people are also rising. A continuous and large amount of physical, social and economic losses for developing countries can reduce the speed of national growth.

India is a diverse country in terms of disasters as well. It tops the list of almost all kinds of natural disasters (first in the field of climate- and weather-related disasters; second in the list of all disasters triggered by natural hazards in 2019, according to the recent world disaster report 2020.) India is one of the most populated countries and also densely populated in almost every part of it.

Any kind of disaster can cause a serious impact on both human resources as well as infrastructural establishments. In such a situation, by making every section of the community aware of their roles and responsibilities for the worst disastrous situations by providing them with proper training and tools, we can build a more disaster-resistant society. It can be seen as a long-term sustainable approach to disaster coping mechanisms. 

Disaster management planning through participatory approach in rural area. (Source unisdr.org)

Role of Communities in Disaster Management: 

Community refers to the group of persons who live in the same place or have a particular characteristic in common, such as a common culture, value system, interests, etc. In India, we can find different types of communities based on different parameters such as – language, literature, physiography, ethnicity, work etc. India is a diverse country based not only on communities but also on climatic conditions, geological structure and developmental level.

Community plays a vital role in reducing the impact of a disaster as they are the most vulnerable and experience the greatest impacts due to several reasons. Due to their deep knowledge of the local topography, resources and livelihood options, they should be involved in disaster management from the beginning and supported by initiatives to develop their capacities and linkages so that they can help overcome the impact of the disaster. They are not only the first to be affected, they are also the first responders. That is why the efforts in this regard need to be encouraged.

Comprehensive disaster management is based upon four distinct components: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Comprehensive disaster management is based upon four distinct components: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The community-based disaster management approach is a bottom-up approach that addresses the challenges and difficulties from the grassroots level. The community has the most to gain if they can reduce the impact of the hazards in their community. Disaster Management Policy 2009 emphasises “a partnership for mitigation and community-based disaster preparedness.”

Representation of communities is important to facilitate the implementation of various disaster management activities at the field level. The communities assist the government and concerned agencies to understand the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities of the local area and to develop a participatory strategy or plan to reduce the vulnerability/risks of that area. The below table indicates the important activities which require the participation of the communities during various phases of disaster management.

Normally, it is viewed that the primary role of the community or community-based organizations in disaster management, is to assist the local authorities in rescue and relief work but with extra training, capacity building and dedication they can be helpful on every level of disaster management.

Some of such activities, along with examples of local regions are given below:

  • Coastal areas are mostly affected by cyclones, storm surges and tsunami waves. A community that is well-connected and equipped with an early warning system in the coastal regions can prepare better and take suitable actions on receiving the threat and can follow the emergency evacuation plans and procedures. 
  • Construction of cyclone-resistant houses can be done through community participation. Local engineers and masons can take part in the construction and demonstrate to the people disaster-resistant construction methods. They should be trained about site selection for houses, construction of water breakers and community hall on high elevations for shelters at the time of disaster. On normal days these buildings can be used as a school or other community centre. 
  • In hilly regions mostly, landslides occur due to human interventions such as cutting the edge and constructing roads, houses and other infrastructure. Communities can play a vital role in the identification of unstable land areas. Compacting ground locally, slope stabilization and avoiding construction in hazardous areas are something that the community has to agree on to avoid the damages from possible landslides. 
  • In flood-prone regions, sediment clearance, reforestation programmes, dike and floodwall construction can be taken as part of the community-based mitigation programme. The community can take part in the flood-fighting by organising work parties to repair embankments, pile sandbags and stockpile needed material.
  • In the industrial region, the resident community should be aware of the hazardous installation and how to combat it if any worst situation happened. Community members should also monitor the pollution parameters and participate in the mock drills. 

A community-based disaster management plan can be developed for all the communities to delineate their roles and activities during various phases of disasters. In this way, the community can participate in every type of disaster and help the Central and state authorities by strengthening the local infrastructure. The impact of disasters can be minimized if we can make a community more aware and more resilient to upcoming disasters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Garima Aggarwal & Shreyash Dwivedi

Dr. Garima Aggarwal is a senior consultant for the Resilient Infrastructure Division, National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Aggarwal has a Ph.D. in geography with 18 years of experience in disaster risk management. She has worked with UNDP India and supported the Government of India, the Ministry of Horne Affairs in the implementation of National programs and schemes on disaster risk management. ... Shreyash Dwivedi is a junior consultant for the Resilient Infrastructure Division, National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. As an independent research scholar, Dwivedi has worked under the aegis of the most reputed universities and think tanks in the country, such as JNU, PhD Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Delhi. He has a few publications and certificates in remote sensing and GIS.

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