Volume 3 Issue 21 - November 01, 2005

The Disaster Management Bill-2005 is terrible: Dunu Roy

The Disaster Management Bill-2005 is terrible. It is against the very principles of disaster management and ignores vulnerabilities, including people with disabilities, says Dunu Roy, disaster management expert and Director of the Delhi-based N.G.O. Hazards Centre, in conversation with Parvinder Singh.

Picture of Dunu Roy

1. Please tell us about your organisation and its area of concern, particularly with respect to engagement with disaster management?

The Hazards Centre, a unit of the Sanchal Foundation, is a professional support group providing consultancy services to mass and community organisations of the poor, or voluntary groups representing them. "Hazards" are defined as events that threaten the survival of a community. The Centre works to clear these hazards. The bulk of the work of the Centre is in Delhi although some services are also provided to groups outside Delhi. The Centre consists of a dedicated staff of coordinators, researchers, legal and technical officers, and outreach workers. Their capacities are enhanced by a large network of professionals including engineers, architects, doctors, sociologists, economists, urban planners, lawyers, managers and community organisations who offer their expertise on a project to project basis.

2. Government of India has recently come out of the Disaster Management Bill-2005. What is your response to it?

My immediate response is that the Bill is terrible. It ignores the very basic principles of disaster management. In its form and approach, it is very bureaucratic and hopelessly tied down by the administrative approach. It does not mentions any specifics, neither in its detailing nor in terms of the involvement of the community at large. The Bill talks about early warning, evacuations and rescue but it does not refer to what mechanism would be placed to do this in terms of units on the ground. Pre-disaster aspect of the policy must be based on three specifics of rescue, relief and rehabilitation. The Bill in its current form has not laid down any principles and details of structures that would be needed in case of disasters.

3. People with disabilities, as has been highlighted by Tsunami and now Kashmir earthquake, are among the worst victims not only of a disaster but are also the least focused group in the country's disaster management approach. Please comment on this.

Yes, this is very true, and, going back to the Bill, there is no mention of vulnerabilities or how to deal with them in case of disasters. It is an unfortunate that the current approach to disaster management in India is solely geared towards non-disabled people. Assuming that, when a disaster strikes, people get an average 60 seconds to evacuate, people with disabilities, aged and other vulnerable groups will have greatest difficulty. Specialised attention and focus must be given to these sections.

4. What needs to be done to address people with disabilities and vulnerable sections? Is it an issue of resources?

At the very outset let me state that the issue of making a Disaster Management Policy that caters to vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, is neither an issue of lack of resources or knowledge. In the last ten years four major earthquakes have struck and despite that with each successive one it is revealed that we have not learned our lesson. The same thing happens over and over again. There must a mechanism to create a data base, beginning at the household level itself, of people with vulnerability so that when a disaster occurs these people can be evacuated.

What I am saying is that let us have disaster wardens who are constantly updated on information about the structure of households in the neighbourhood. And when there is a need for evacuation, lets say that the warden knows that on the fourth floor of a particular building is a 60-year-old lady who will need special attention or that there is a wheelchair user who will need to be moved. This is just one aspect,. Rehabilitation can also greatly benefit from such a focused approach. Further, the access is an important factor and each region and even locality has its own peculiarities when it comes to access, which plays an important role in determining the impact on vulnerable groups during a particular disaster. For instance, during Tsunami, a lot quicker and direct help could be extended to victims and affected people due to better access, whereas in Kashmir the terrain has made access a difficult issue.

5. Do you wish to share anything with readers of D.N.I.S in terms of involvement of community in disaster management and people with disabilities?

Disaster management has to be a consultative mechanism, this include the formulation of the policy as well, and needs effective coordination between the administration and the community at all times. The issue of treatment of vulnerable sections of the society has nothing to do with the developmental status of a country as was made starkly apparent during the recent hurricanes in United States. Community is a very important participant in the whole exercise and all policies in their content and process should be democratised.

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