Learning from the Gujarat quake

It is more than two years since the terrible earthquake struck Gujarat. In this period the catastrophe-struck areas have witnessed rehabilitation work on an enormous scale. The Disaster Mitigation Institute, an Ahmedabad-based community action hub, evaluated the relief measures undertaken by the government and humanitarian agencies in the aftermath of the calamity

 
By Mihir R Bhatt
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Learning from the Gujarat quake

-- It is more than two years since the terrible earthquake struck Gujarat. In this period the catastrophe-struck areas have witnessed rehabilitation work on an enormous scale. The Disaster Mitigation Institute, an Ahmedabad-based community action hub, evaluated the relief measures undertaken by the government and humanitarian agencies in the aftermath of the calamity. It concluded that while the tragedy has taught important lessons, many critical ones still remain to be learnt.

Gujarat has immensely bolstered its mechanism to face up to a crisis like this by purchasing and pooling tools, equipments and by developing a well-connected system to conduct rescue and search operations. The state can now also avoid the common mismanagement that hampers relief operations in India. It has built up, in a short span of time, an institutional mechanism in the form of Gujarat State Disaster Management Association that can reach out to people in the face of any natural calamity without slowing down government functions. The importance of institutional capacities especially for management of finance and administrative coordination is realised in government relief administration agencies.
Transparent reconstruction The rebuilding and reconstruction processes in Gujarat have taught some remarkable lessons in vulnerability reduction. These might prove useful in case of natural calamities elsewhere. The Gujarat experience has taught that building shelters with lesser vulnerability to earthquakes should take into account also the specific needs of the victims and not remain just a top-down humanitarian endeavour. The United Nations Development Programme aided setus or information bridges run by Abhiyan -- a network of non-governmental organisations (ngos)-- and other local ngos aims to make the recovery process more informed and better understood for the victims. The Sneh Samuday network in 120 villages -- a refuge for poor victims -- run by ngos such as Gantar and saath is giving new direction to prioritising vulnerability reduction in a transparent, accountable and inclusive way.

The International Fund for Agriculture Development has supported the Self Employed Women's Association and government of Gujarat initiative in community-based livelihood security for earthquake and drought victims. This project has the potential to shape future disaster response and development projects in Gujarat as well as in other drought-prone states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The Gujarat Women's Economic Development Corporation initiative in reviving women's businesses after the calamity provides many practical lessons in regenerating local economies and artisan markets. This project supported by the Asian Development Bank, puts premium on investments in income generation and asset building after a natural disaster. The farming kits provided to affected farmers by Gujarat's agriculture ministry is showing promising results after two seasons.
What remains to be done There are many areas that require additional attention. Coordination between government, local ngos, and local community initiatives -- both for rescue and search as well as rehabilitation-- is weak. This might imperil future response and cause delays, overlaps and also a waste of relief material and efforts. The victims in slums in the affected towns remain low in the current rebuilding agenda; the injured and handicapped in rural areas remain susceptible to additional burdens of rebuilding their lives after the disaster. Construction labourers who have come in large numbers to Kutch to rebuild towns and villages live in miserable conditions. Bringing the poor into the centre of Gujarat's reconstruction efforts, therefore, must be on the agenda in the coming years. Otherwise, there is a grave danger that those who are often bypassed by the mainstream development process will be overlooked in the reconstruction process as well.

Mihir R Bhatt is with the Disaster Mitigation Institute, Ahmedabad

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