The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), in conjunction with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), organized a day long seminar on ‘Disasters Risk Reduction: Another Important Route to Poverty Alleviation’ at the Foundation’s auditorium on November 24, 2011. The seminar was attended by a large number of luminaries and guest speakers included Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Dr. (Ms.) Syeda S. Hameed, Member Planning Commission, Mr. M S Reddy, Vice Chairman, NDMA, Mr. Aslam Pervaiz, Head of Disaster Risk Management System at Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, (ADPC), Bangkok, Dr. Mohan Kanda, former Chief Secretary Andhra Pradesh and former member NDMA and Prof. V K Menon, former member, NDMA, among others. Mr. Ajit Doval KC, former Chief of Intelligence Bureau and Director VIF, Gen (Retd.) N C Vij, former Chief of Indian Army and former Vice Chairman of NDMA, and Lt. Gen (Retd.) Ravi Sawhney, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Distinguished Fellow at VIF formed the core group of in-house experts who shared their perspectives on linkages between disaster risk reduction and poverty alleviation at the seminar. Mr. Doval presented the welcome address while Gen Vij, who was instrumental for organizing the conference, delivered the key note address on reducing poverty through mainstreaming of disaster management into governance. The valedictory address was made by Mr. M S Reddy who outlined the various efforts undertaken by the NDMA in addressing disaster related problems across the country.
Affable and widely respected for his inspirational speeches, Dr. Kalam exhorted the youth to strive for innovations and emulate qualities of creative leadership. His speech at the seminar, ‘Poverty Reduction through Management – An Indian Perspective at national Level’, was replete with personal references, drawn from a highly illustrious career spanning over forty years in space and defence research, culminating finally as the President of India. Dr. Kalam dwelt upon the need for integrating development with disaster risk reduction policies. He however suggested that the 12th Five Year Plan should take up Bihar as a modal for integrating inland waterways both as a measure for flood control and diverting surplus river water to drought prone areas. A noted nuclear scientist, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam also tried to allay fears raised over the potential damage to Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu due to environmental hazards. He also stressed that the nuclear power plant at Koodankulam met the highest standards of safety.
In his welcome address, Mr. Ajit Doval noted with concern that as India progresses further on the path to development, especially with industrialization and urbanization poised for quantum jump in the years ahead, the country would be further exposed to environmental hazards. He was at pains to elaborate that India’s increasing vulnerabilities to disasters, both natural and man-made, could result in washing away the hard earned gains of economic development which the country had painstakingly accumulated over the decades. Mr. Doval however expressed hope that the suggestions that would emerge over the course of seminar would be picked up by policy makers in consolidating policy framework on disaster management.
Mr. Anil Sinha, Vice Chairman Disaster Management Authority, Bihar, also a panelist at the conference, pointed out that there is no mention of word ‘disaster’ in the approach paper to the 12th Five Year Plan, which is an indicator to the fact that disaster risk reduction is hardly a priority for the Central Government. He suggested the need to evolve a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) modal as part of disaster management plan. Dr. (Ms.) Syeda S. Hameed, Member Planning Commission however opined that the seminar was being held at an opportune moment as the final chapterization of the 12th Five Year Plan was underway. She expressed her hope that inputs gathered from the seminar would be utilized towards better formulation of policies for disaster management. Ms. Syeda Hameed however felt that while women remain the worst sufferers of all disasters, various relief measures which are undertaken in the post-disaster scenario display a distinct gender-bias against them. General NC Vij stated that policy planners needed to take a paradigm shift away from the erstwhile relief-centric approach to a pro-active, holistic and integrated approach on disaster management. A key note speaker at the conference, General Vij while establishing the connection between development and disasters, as also between disasters and poverty, said that poverty alleviation policies needed to be linked with poverty reduction and developmental policies.
The seminar clearly brought out that Disaster Management Act 2005 lacks sufficient teeth, especially at the state and district level. The act needs to be made more transparent and accountable with inclusion of penal clasuses. Against the backdrop of country’s projected economic progress, there is greater need to accord priority to disaster management at the planning level. No government can act alone against natural or man-made disasters. Disaster Management is in fact everyone’s responsibility. International and regional cooperation is equally crucial for disaster risk reduction measures. Countries can learn from each other’s experiences and present a united front against disasters. Sensitizing government apparatus and general public alike however is the key to success in combating disasters.
Spread over three sessions with a session each devoted to a regional perspective, an Indian perspective at functional level and challenges and road ahead, the seminar on Disaster Risk Reduction and Poverty Alleviation focused squarely on every single dimension of the problem including role of the corporate, NGOs, Panchayati Raj institutions, technology etc towards disaster risk reduction. Prof Vinod Sharma, Dr. J V Thomas, Mr. Mihir R Bhatt, Mr. Bajaj Singh Chowhan, Mr. Nirankar Saxena, Lt General JR Bhardwaj, a former member NDMA, were among other prominent panelists at the seminar.