The Brahmaputra river and its tributaries in northeast India nurture acres of lush paddy about its banks. But overfed by the rapidly melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and rains, the river often swells over during the monsoons releasing massive quantities of water which sweep off houses and raze crops. Photo Credit: Dominique Feron EU/ECHO 2012. http://goo.gl/0A4vS3

The making of district disaster management plans

The case study demonstrates how effectively the HFA 1 can lead to the incorporation of its five priorities at all levels. A policy initiative of India that made disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster management (DM) planning a national priority, has resulted in Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) revamping its DM plans that lay special impetus on DRR into local (district) level developmental planning by conducting risk assessments (HFA Priority 2). This focus on Priority 2 will pave the way for reduction in underlying risk factors (HFA Priority 4) in these districts. The focus on the need for cooperation and coordination in the preparedness and response plans also ensures that HFA Priorities 3 and 5 are appropriately addressed in the state of Assam in particular, and India in general.

Case Study

The Making of District Disaster Management Plans

HFA Priorities

The case contributes to all five priorities of action.

Location

State of Assam – India.

Context

The State of Assam is one of the most severely flood affected states in India since many rivers flow into it from the hills of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and from the mountain nation Bhutan. This cause severe floods in most parts of Assam.

The mighty River Brahmaputra in Tibet, whose waters are known for their destructive might, enters the plains in the north-eastern part of Assam from the hills of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. This causes large-scale damage to public infrastructure, private property, sedimentation and erosion of agricultural fields along with the loss of lives of animals and humans. The inundation also causes a rise in water borne diseases to both humans and livestock.This situation is a major challenge to both state and district administration in leading an effective emergency response.

Besides flooding, other major hazards, which include storms, hailstorms, lightning, road accidents, animal depredation, also have an immense impact on the districts. The effects of these hazards is compounded because of large-scale vulnerabilities that exist due to the poor economic strength of households, the lack of a disaster mainstreamed development focus and a limited scale of development. In addition to all these challenges, the district disaster management plans of several districts were not well prepared to play a role in risk mitigation, resilience building or even responding effectively to disasters.

What was done to address the problem?

The worst floods of 2012 were a tipping point. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) decided that the District Disaster Management Plans (DDMPs) of all 28 districts of the state should be audited with the classification of plans into Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. Type 1 referred to the most limited in scope, while Type 3 referred to the most comprehensive. The audit of all the plans was conducted between April and August 2013. Four plans were classified as Type 1. It was then decided that three of those four plans should be redrafted to cover all forms of hazards and make an assessment of vulnerabilities and capacities before preparation of active plans at district level.

Who was involved and what role did they play?

Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), which is the state’s lead agency for managing disasters was formed in 2007 and was the key stakeholder that initiated the proceedings for the redrafting of Type 1 DDMPs. ASDMA placed a disaster management specialist consulting organisation, the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI), based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat to provide technical support in the process to make DDMPs. Besides this, ASDMA played a pivotal role in leading state-district coordination and monitoring the project during the process to make the plans in three districts.

Apart from AIDMI, the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) was the key local agency that was involved in providing facilitation support to the technical support agency, AIDMI, within the district. DDMA played a key role in coordination meetings with Deputy Commissioner and the district administration that included senior officers and the heads of various line departments such as Water Resources, Public Health Engineering, and Forests, among several others. DDMA also facilitated the holding of one-to-one consultation meetings with line departments who were also involved in providing a greater depth to the challenges faced in the delivery of services from their end. DDMA also facilitated the selection of sample villages that could be ideal for the conducting of assessments during the exercise where meetings were held directly with the leaders of the local democratic institution, the Panchayati Raj Institution, and with village community members.

What were the main challenges and how were they overcome?

The prerequisite to the making of the plan was the conducting of a field assessment exercise, called Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (HRVCA). However, since some of the field assessments were made in very remote areas of the districts to make assessments comprehensive. Travel to these locations was in some cases extremely tough and time consuming with field personnel required to travel by boats to reach land masses separated by rivers, and even walk long distances to reach target locations.

One of the districts that had been hit by ethnic violence in the past proved to be a risky location from requiring the team to turn back. Both scenarios limited the available time in the field in some cases. However, the field visits in such locations were identified in advance and scheduled for an early start in the day along with Panchayat (cluster of villages) Presidents of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), and later on holding meetings with the community and ward members in villages.

One another key challenge was to ensure that local villagers made it in time for the community meetings with the field team. This challenge was addressed to a considerable extent by making direct telephone calls to the Panchayat Presidents and community leaders to ensure the community was mobilised and available in time to take part in the process. This approach was particularly useful as in some cases the circulars were not even delivered to them.

Apart from this, the risk of visiting sensitive field locations was alleviated by coordinating with the district police, sharing the team’s travel plan and reporting to the nearest police stations upon arrival in the Panchayat. All these initiatives played a key role in overcoming the challenges and reducing anything detrimental to field assessments.

What are the lessons learnt?

As a result of the exercise, it was learnt that it is necessary to make telephone communications with the local Panchayat Presidents at least a couple of days prior to the exercise to ensure timely arrangements, availability and active participation of the community for the meeting with the field team. Also, the circular must be sent to the Presidents of these rural locations at least a week in advance to ensure that they are received.

Panchayat Presidents and the community leaders must also be contacted before finalisation of sample locations to assess their availability to participate in the meetings that requires active community involvement and basic arrangements at the local level for the holding of the meeting.

What could have been done differently and why?

While the selection of the sample field sites was done, telephone communication prior to the selection of the Panchayat as a sample site was not done which led to few scenarios where the community didn’t participate actively because of limited or no efforts by the President. As a result, the field team had to adapt its approach in the field by holding interviews with community members rather than conducting group discussions.

What was the result of this approach/intervention?

The approach followed a complete process for the preparation of the plan and a report on the HRVCA was prepared that clearly dealt with a range of aspects to assess vulnerability and the capacity of the district that included social, economic, environmental and institutional aspects. This formed the basis for making plans for each district, and particularly to focus on making a plan for disaster risk mitigation and resilience building. Apart from this, separate plans were drafted for preparedness, response, recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

What were the key elements of success?

Before the drafting of the plan was initiated, there were certain key elements that were expected to be included. Before the advent of the India’s Disaster Management Act (2005), all disaster management plans in the country were responses plan that contained contact details of all emergency response officers. In a major shift, the focus was placed on making a plan that deals with aspects of climate change and ecosystems. The ‘Climate Change & Ecosystem Sensitive Risk Mitigation and Resilience Building Plan’ was prepared that focuses on preventing, minimizing and containing the impact of disasters, along with risk mitigation for man-made disasters through preemptive risk reduction measures. This plan also ensured the integration of disaster risk management (DRM) with district development plans. The plan addressed factors that have been having negative effects on the ecosystem, based on the HRVCA study.

Another key success factor was the preparedness, response plans that needed incorporation of factors that will ensure an effective and efficient response to any disaster. Thus, the Incident Response System (IRS) was introduced in sync with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines that elucidate the roles & responsibilities that are demarcated. A system has been drafted that will ensure selection of officers for relevant positions whose capacity building can be done during the preparedness phase (as per the preparedness plan), while also being available for response. In order to ensure that the IRS is a success, it was also ensured that clear guidelines are introduced for the placing of intellectually capable officers into specific positions.

Was the success/impact measured? What indicators were used to measure?

The success of the plan at the drafting stage was measured an exhaustive review of the plan by the ASDMA in consultation with the DDMAs and with some heads of key line departments. Their comments on gaps or improvements to make the plan executable were incorporated into the plan. The indicators used to assess the success were the incorporation of factors to assess vulnerability and the capacities of people and habitations in terms of: social capital; trust in public institutions; inter ethnic/religious group relationships; environmental wellbeing and damage assessments; economic resilience; and livelihood situations. Departments were assessed according to institutional assessments in terms of: physical infrastructure; access to financial resources; challenges in procurement and; availability of required manpower for operations. However, at the implementation stage, the plan is yet to be tested since it has only just been drawn up.

How have the results contributed to HFA progress in the country? Did HFA play a role in enabling the initiative?

In line with the HFA, there were five key priorities promoted by the plan. Before the designing of the project for the making of DDMPs, all the HFA priorities were referred to and played a crucial role in the design of the entire plan. As a result, the plan now contributes to the HFA 1 that ensures DRR is a local priority of not just the state, but also the district that leads developmental interventions locally while also being first responders in the case of disasters. DRR was made a part of the planning which has now been done department wide, responsibilities have been decentralised and stress has been laid on community participation in risk reduction and response. The plan also contributes to HFA 2 which focuses on identifying, assessing and monitoring disaster risks, as well as enhancing early warning by conducting micro level assessments with both community and line departments.

The plan also contributes to HFA 2 as it promotes the building of a culture of safety and resilience at the community level by planning the formation of village disaster management committees to lead DRR, and focus on the public awareness by the committees and also through media management by the district administration. The HFA 2 was pushed in the state through the Climate Change & Ecosystem Sensitive Risk Mitigation and Resilience Building plan. While this plan focuses on reducing the vulnerability of the environment due to disasters as well as susceptibility to disasters due to damage to the ecosystem, it also addresses factors such as risk transfer and better land use planning. Finally, the preparedness plan for effective response also contributed to the progress of the HFA in the districts of the state of Assam.

Can this initiative be replicated?

The approach can be easily replicated across the world because documentation gives a detailed insight that can be followed. At the same time, a number of tools have been made that can be used for making effective and exhaustive field based assessments at the community level as well as with line departments through one-to-one consultations. However, it has to be noted that there will always be a need for adaptation of the process, the tools (designed questionnaires) and the focus of the tools depending upon which part of the country or the world the process being implemented.

Contribution by:

Assam State Disaster Management Authority, Government of Assam

E-mail: asdmaghy@gmail.com