Developing countries can't manage them
Year: 2001 Total natural disasters: 701 Percentage occurrence in Asia: 40 Total fatalities: 25,000 Percentage deaths in Asia: 85 Total economic loss: US $36 billion Economic loss in Asia: US $14 billion
These grim statistics were presented by H C Shah of us-based Risk Management Solutions Inc at the recently held World Congress on Natural Disaster Mitigation at New Delhi. Using these figures, he proved that developing countries like India have made little progress in either reducing fatalities or economic losses from natural disasters. Worst still, these countries are yet to tap the insurance sector's potential, as countries like the us do. "From 1950s to 1990s, the number of major disasters has gone up from 20 to 91. Corresponding losses have escalated from us $42 billion to us $660 billion, out of which hardly 19 per cent was insured, concentrating chiefly in the industrialised countries," Shah informed.
The situation is grim in other developing countries. Geethi Karunaratne, director of Centre for Housing Planning and Building, Sri Lanka, pointed out how a single day of rainfall (350 mm) on May 17, 2003 led to severe floods and landslide in five districts of Sri Lanka: policy and institutions existed there, but lacked legal back-up. Amod Mani Dixit of the National Society for Earthquake Technology, Nepal said that many initiatives in earthquake management existed in the country, but institutions hadn't the capacity to implement emergency response or risk reduction.
Releasing the country report on Disaster Management in India, R K Singh, joint secretary (disaster management), Union ministry of home affairs, said, "A national roadmap to disaster management has already been prepared and sent to the states for comments. The national policy statement on disaster mitigation will be released by March 31, 2004." His ministry is also setting up a National Emergency Management Authority, and launching two projects -- the national cyclone mitigation project and the national earthquake mitigation project. Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have already notified their respective disaster management acts.
Other institutions are also trying. "The national building code is being revised to ensure that every building has to take a clearance from a structural engineer. We have also prepared an Engineers Bill and forwarded it to the Indian government for discussion and notification," said O P Goel, president of ie. A group of amateur radio operators demonstrated how useful their equipment is during a calamity (see: "A social good").
Prevention is key to disaster management. V Suresh, former chief managing director of hudco explained, "Disaster resistant features in a house costs only 5-10 per cent more, but retrofitting, carried out after the building is constructed, costs 15-25 per cent extra. We need a paradigm shift from post-disaster mitigation to planning, partnership and prevention." As V K Mathur, director, Roorke-based Central Building Research Institute, sums it up: "For every rupee spent on management, an average of Rs 10 is saved on cost of recovery."
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