When the first 24 hours are the most critical
Merril, 27 Feb 2015

Natural calamities like the flash floods in Uttarakhand in June, 2013 call for massive  coordination among various relief agencies

In December 2004, a tsunami of mammoth proportions shook the earth. An estimated 230,273, people were killed in 14 countries, of which 18,045 were estimated to be in India, and 1.69 million were displaced. Besides human lives, animals and sea life were affected, and several villages, towns were washed away.

Even after the 10th anniversary, India’s response to rescue and rehabilitation of disaster victims have not improved manifold, though the disaster machinery in India has just about started moving into action. After passage of the National Disaster Management Act in 2005, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDAI) and other state-level authorities were set up. “Many positions at NDAI and the state authorities lie vacant. It’s urgent that the government staff it up on priority as you do not know when the next disaster will strike,” shares Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India, where Humanitarian Response and Disaster Risk Reduction is a key focus area. In the last two years, India has seen several natural calamities affecting the country and the world alike. Forecasting these disasters, providing relief, rehabilitating the populations affected, and restoring the ruined areas, require top-class strategy, resources and skills.


NaturalTypes of disasters

Typically, disasters have two causes. One is natural calamities like floods, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. In June 2013, Uttarakhand witnessed devastating floods and landslides in the Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Tehri regions. Flash floods swept away lives and livelihoods of over 10 lakh people in the state. Oxfam India, one of the first relief organisations to reach the state, along with their local partners focused on life-saving support. They provided food to meet people’s immediate needs, built transitional shelters and did cash transfers to secure food needs, and improve people’s access to markets. Organisations like Habitat for Humanity (HFH) also assist in doing house repairs and building new homes for displaced people. Children and the elderly are often the worst sufferers in disaster, especially when they become orphans. Organisations like SOS Children’s Village especially focus on rescuing and rehabilitating children, while Helpage looks at senior citizens. Organisations like People For Animals (PFA) Dehradun come to the rescue of animals, which are typically, very low on the priority list.

The second kind of disaster is caused by conflicts between communities, be it caste, religion etc. “A conflict is different; people are angry, armed and out to kill each other. It can be scary, and we cannot justify helping one group and not another,” shares Nisha. Sometimes, a natural calamity is compounded by a conflict, which is what happened when the floods struck Assam. “Two communities were fighting, as people were displaced from their villages. They had no water, no sanitation. So, we went in and made sure they knew we were not siding with any community. Our effort was highly appreciated; people said no one else came,” she adds.


Need for better response

As you can imagine it takes teams with courage and multiple skills to be effective in any disaster. The National Disaster Response Force, which comprises 10 battalions, includes engineers, technicians, electricians, dog squads and medical/paramedics, all trained in disaster management, which can be a strenuous, dangerous, yet, critical process. However, India needs to scale up its disaster machinery in the coming years, and build an ecosystem of non-profits, corporates, individuals and trained disaster professionals, to respond fast and effectively when disaster strikes. 


Organisations in the field

National Disaster Management Authority

State authorities

National Disaster Response Force

Oxfam India

Habitat for Humanity

SOS Children’s Village

Save The Children

Plan India

World Vision India


CARE India

People for Animals

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Key Courses in Disaster Management



MA/MSc in Disaster Management

Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management, TISS, Mumbai

MA in Disaster Management

Panjab University Chandigarh, Tripura University

PG Diploma in Geoinformation Science & Earth observation in Natural Hazards
& Disaster Risk Management

Indian Institute of Remote sensing, Dehradun

M.Tech in Disaster Mitigation and Management

IIT Roorkee



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