Introduction to disaster risk reduction

By Malini Shankar,

Digital Discourse Foundation

Disaster is by definition the impact of a calamity – natural or man-made - on the human landscape. Disaster risk reduction – it follows is the attempt to reduce the impact of the calamity on human society – including lives, livelihood, landscape, livestock, so that human beings and their dependents can recover better from the next inevitable calamity. To increase resilience, we need to build back better after every calamity.

Man-made disasters include Aviation disasters, Building collapses, Communal strife, Dam bursts, Ethnic conflict, Hijackings, Industrial disasters, Multi vehicle road and other highway accidents, Migration, Pogroms, Shipping disasters, Terrorism, Train accidents, Urban infernos.

The terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001 in New York and Washington DC are unparalled in human history. The wanton destruction and manslaughter of thousands of human souls and dent on the economy created a paradigm shift in policy, defence strategies, indeed geo politics, and paved the way for strategizing on terrorism preparedness.

Disaster Risk Reduction is not an attempt to prevent the next natural calamity! That is possible however in preventing the next manmade disaster. Natural calamities belong to the realm of inevitable geological processes. DRR aims at reducing the impact of calamities on the human landscape – by increasing the resilience of vulnerable people and people living in hazard prone areas.

Natural calamities are variously subsumed as under:

Geological calamities that include earthquakes, volcanoes, Tsunamis; the rarer phenomena include asteroid strikes, meteor hits, solar flares, Geomagnetic storms, El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the very rare reversal of poles.

Hydrometeorological disasters include: Avalanches, Blizzards, Cloudbursts, Coastal Incursion, Cyclones, Droughts, Desertification, (differential impact of) El Niño Southern Oscillation, Epidemics, Floods, Flash Floods, Famine, Forest Fires, Fog, Hailstorm, Hurricanes, Landslides, Mudslides, Sand storm, Sea surge, Storms, squalls, Thunderstorms, Tsunamis (although tsunamis are usually related to seismic triggers they can be caused by iceberg melts), Typhoons.

Planning is the quintessence of disaster risk reduction © Satyawan Narinedhat

The jury is still out there if climate change is part of an inevitable geological cycle, nevertheless there is irrefutable evidence that anthropogenic factors are exacerbating the frequency of the current cycle of climate change events.

The impact of these extreme weather events can weaken the vulnerable sections of society in all sovereign states, regions, territories and areas. There is hardly any sovereign state, region, territory or area that is not at risk of any one or more of the natural and man-made disasters. Vulnerable sections of society include fishers, indigenous people, differently abled people, ethnic and religious minorities, unemployed people, frail and infirm, nursing mothers, infants, people living with mental health issues etc.

Building resilience calls for instituting risk reduction strategies like early warning, standard operating procedures, aware public that knows the Dos and Don’ts, robust infrastructure preparedness, inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction strategies aimed at reducing disaster impact on differently abled people, geriatric population, and people living with mental health issues; transparent governance, trained first responder communities, regular mock drills in all administrative units, and broadcast / webcast / dissemination of mock drills in all hazard prone areas are quintessential to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).