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It is essential to have a coordinated and structured approach to manage environmentally sound reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes, and to avoid waste of resources, writes Sachin Sandhir

India by its natural topography and geo-climatic conditions is prone to natural disasters of varying intensity and impact. Floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides, and earthquakes are a recurring phenomenon in the country. Every year such natural calamities have catastrophic effects which put a strangle-hold on both human and economic life. Going by government estimates, ~60% of landmass is prone to earthquakes; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; and about 8% and 68% of the total land is susceptible to cyclones and droughts respectively.

Emergency situations are usually characterised by panic, chaos and uncertainty, which makes it essential to have a coordinated and structured approach to manage environmentally sound reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes, and to avoid waste of valuable resources through inefficiency, misuse and corruption. It is therefore imperative to bring about a paradigm shift in the approach to disaster management.

Most of the construction industry in the country is still fragmented and requisite technical knowledge on the availability of safe materials, construction practices and design principles is not available. Traditional planning frameworks in India have not been able to address issues related to all aspects of growth in cities. Therefore, the impact of disasters in urban areas is further heightened as a consequence of flaws in land use planning and poor quality of building stock.

Additionally, there is an imposition of ‘uniform low density’ in development plans which do not respond to the real estate market, resulting in restricted supply for serviced urban land.

Consequently, development ends up in the unauthorised domain, resulting in the creation of unsafe living conditions and increased vulnerability to disasters. With growing emphasis on the construction and real estate sectors to channelise their capabilities to meet the demands of the nation and support efficient operations of the economy, it is required that ‘disaster management’ not be viewed as a separate sector but integrated within all strategic planning.

Over the last few years the Government has made strides to bring about a radical change in its approach to tackling disaster situations. Its new approach proceeds from the conviction that development cannot be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is incorporated into the system. On the basis of this premise, the ‘National Policy on Disaster Management’ has been approved in October 2009 and the ‘National Disaster Framework’ covering institutional mechanisms, disaster prevention strategies, early warning systems, and mitigation, preparedness and response mechanisms has been created. Additionally, the enforcement of the ‘Disaster Management Act, 2005’ is heavily stressed upon to enable state and district level bodies to have adequate powers when confronted by crisis situations.

However, to mitigate risk further, especially in the land and built environment arena, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which stipulates codes relevant to multi-hazard resistant design and construction of buildings, needs to revise existing codes and develop new ones to be adopted by the construction industry. This should further be reinforced by several changes that need to be incorporated to laws and bye-laws of building regulations ensuring that adequate steps are taken at both the design and implementation stages to enable buildings to withstand harsh conditions.

While the National Disaster Management Institute is taking concerted steps to realize the vision of a ‘Disaster Resilient India’, it has also highlighted that the government alone cannot cope with the challenges that these scenarios pose. International agencies, educational and scientific institutions, and corporate and community based organizations are just some of the stakeholders that can contribute to the efficient and effective realization of this goal.

The RICS Disaster Management Commission is one such global endeavour that brings requisite skills and knowledge on the built environment to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable communities to reduce disaster risks and improve post-disaster recovery. This commission works in partnership with governments, international organizations and local civil societies to influence policies and practices for more effective disaster management in developing countries. The body comprising of surveyors, engineers, planners, and architects with international and development experience help disseminate knowledge and training within this area.

For this purpose the RICS Disaster Management Commission has drafted a ‘process protocol’ as a customisable tool to bridge the gap between the provision of humanitarian relief and the commencement of reconstruction of the built environment. The framework provides for well coordinated, consistent, and transparent process management to all stakeholders acting at various points throughout the disaster management and reconstruction lifecycle. It provides a map of the activities that need to be undertaken throughout the process, including preparation before a disaster event. This aides’ in transparency, structures knowledge, identification of the position of emerging knowledge within the process, and provides a reference point for management decision making.

The author is Managing Director & Country Head, RICS India. He can be contacted at ssandhir@rics.org

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