COVID-19 and its devastating consequences, both in terms of loss of lives and economic recession, have brought the attention of the policymakers on the growing non-traditional security (NTS) threats posed to the entire world. Most of the world has been witnessing an economic recession far worse than one seen during the 2008 financial crisis. India is no exception to this and has entered a technical recession with subsequent negative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth numbers seen in the first two quarters (Q) of the current financial year (FY), with the GDP contracting by 23.9 per cent in Q1 and 8.9 per cent in Q2 of FY 2021. In terms of lives lost too, COVID-19 alone is responsible for causing more deaths than all of the wars fought by India since its independence in 1947, with COVID-19 deaths standing at over 1.34 lakh as on 23nd November 2020. There is hope that the current pandemic will redirect sincere attention towards NTS threats faced by the world. The NTS is a security view which focuses on threats other than non-conventional state to state military threats, which mainly includes the human, environmental and cyber security as well as terrorism.
Disaster Risks in India
One critical aspect of NTS is environment-related threats posed to societies including natural and man-made disasters. While these are a natural phenomenon, they are increasingly influenced by human-driven climate change, posing heightened risks by way of increased severity of natural calamities and volatile weather patterns. India is particularly at high risk of being affected by natural calamities. According to the National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM) 2009, 58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes, 12 per cent of the land is prone to floods, and 5,700 km of the total 7,516 total coastlines is prone to cyclones and tsunamis, while 68 per cent of the total cultivable land is prone to droughts. For India, with high population density and diverse geography, this presents a strong case for making structured and considerable investments in its disaster management capabilities. According to a National Crime Record Bureau report, deaths due to natural calamities in 2019 stood at 8,145 which was 18 per cent more than 2018’s figure of 6,891. On the economic impact, a United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction report highlighted how India has been one of the top countries in terms of the economic losses of natural disasters and the country suffered economic losses of USD 79.5 billion between 1998 and 2017. Things are probably going to get only worse as the global climate crisis worsens.
Disaster Management in India
India’s disaster management structure is guided by the Disaster Management Act of 2005 which led to the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority. India’s disaster management structure is rather well laid with a comprehensive approach involving national, state and district level authorities. The National Disaster Management Plan 2019 guides India’s renewed and far more mature approach towards disaster management which focuses more on proactive preventions, mitigation and preparedness than mere relief and reconstruction activities. The policy incorporates several commitments and objectives in the disaster risk reduction domain associated with the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 and the subsequent global frameworks post 2015 as well. The policy also recognises the importance of technology for effective disaster management whether it for risk management in terms of risk assessment and vulnerability mapping by using remote sensing, Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) as well creating and maintaining relevant databases. The policy also highlights the lack and importance of critical infrastructure in most vulnerable areas as well as the need to establish and upgrade the forecasting and early-warning systems of various types to plug technological gaps to be able to better manage future calamities.
More Investment Needed
While India’s efforts and policies to manage natural disasters better must be appreciated, there are considerable shortcomings that must be remedied to ensure the safety and well being of Indian citizens and residents. First, the most important of all the troubles is the resource allocation for disaster management in India. The economic losses caused due to the numerous disasters warrant better funding than the current one. Since disasters are not military threats and do not occupy the centre stage in high politics of the country or the world, its impact on lives and economy does not get enough attention and thus, fiscal support. In FY 2010-11, the defence budget of the country stood at INR 1,47,344 crore and the budget for disaster management was INR 690 crore. After a decade in FY 2020-21, while the defence budget has grown three-fold to INR 4,71,344 crore, disaster management budget has risen to double, which in absolute terms stands at a mere INR 1,499 crore. While the conventional military requirements are justified given the military threats India faces, a more appropriate budget allocation must be made for preparing the country to tackle the severe natural disasters that are bound to occur. Second, there is a need for setting up and maintenance of databases for damage and loss estimation as a result of disasters which can help in fostering political motivation for improving current disaster management related policies and actions. This was still at a nascent stage of planning according to the 2018-18 report of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Disaster risks and its management are often overshadowed by the geopolitical tussles and domestic politics and the space they occupy in our public discourse is often minimal. This eventually translates into insufficient debate, research and fiscal appropriation directed towards a matter that affects those vulnerable among us the most. Not only do natural disasters cause loss to lives and critical infrastructure but also hinders the country’s socio-economic development. The case for making reasonable investments in our disaster management capabilities is not only limited to domestic matters. India’s ability, primarily through its armed forces, to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) to its immediate and extended neighbourhood has been a vital instrument of soft power for the country. The political goodwill advantage of disaster relief operations is becoming clearer to India’s rivals, both China and Pakistan. China’s expedited help to Nepal in the aftermath of 2015 Nepal Earthquake is a testament to the importance of HADR in foreign relations as well. Thus, for India, substantial funds commitment continued research and proactive policies aimed towards disaster management is a must for both national and global reasons.
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