Transcript: Is India ready for the next big disaster?

New Delhi:  It's now established that natural disasters are occurring around the world and in India both with greater ferocity as well as greater frequency than ever before. And over the next few years India can expect an increased number of floods, earthquakes, cyclones and the shattering loss for all of us of thousands of lives that these ferocious natural disasters bring in their wake. Can we learn from the history of disasters? Can we in India take steps to save lives? Below is the full transcript of 'Is India Ready For The Next Big Disaster with Dr Prannoy Roy'.

NDTV: Hello and welcome, it's now established that natural disasters are occurring around the world, and in India, both with greater ferocity as well as greater frequency than ever before. And over the next few years India can expect an increased number of floods, earthquakes, cyclones and the shattering loss, for all of us, of thousands of lives that these ferocious natural disasters bring in their wake.

But as they say earthquakes don't kill, badly constructed buildings kill. It's man's intervention that is so critical here. As global studies have shown that in fact a great deal can be done to save lives before, during and after a natural calamity. Can we learn from the history of disasters? Can we in India take steps to save lives?

Well, the answer is yes. While India can indeed expect with certainty that there are going to be a large number of natural disasters ahead over the next ten years, but yes, India can save hundreds of thousand's of lives, if we take some simple, not expensive simple steps. But we have to take these steps right now.

That's why I like this report published by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Here it is, it's called India's Disaster Report No.2, the first one came out in 2000. Now India has got a long, long way to go in streamlining the way we handle disasters. It is a question of life and death for millions of people. So we better read this report and get our implementation right.

This is a call to the government as much as to all of us. In fact it's crucial for us because poverty, you'll find in the report and all studies, poverty exacerbates the destruction and the lives lost caused by disasters. Take an example, a disaster of the same level in a rich nation that kills a hundred people, that same level of disaster kills 5000 people in India or in a poor country. 100:5000 for the same kind of disaster.

Well, today we have a panel of the very best minds, with real on the ground life experience, to discuss ways in which India can save these hundred of thousands of lives that we know are going to face, many will be lost over the next ten years because of different kinds of disasters.

First let me ask Dr Parasuraman who is the lead author and Unni Krishnan, the co-author of this. Sir if you can make a quick introduction of key things you are looking for in this report

Dr Parasuraman: The report tries to examine the nature of human activities and how they have been impacting the ecosystem, and as a consequence of the changes in the ecosystem, how natural phenomenon like floods have been, you know, exacerbating the intensity of the disaster

NDTV: So the intervention of man in conjunction with the disaster. Man makes it worse?

Dr Parasuraman: Yes, the human activity in the ecosystem has made it far more difficult and amplified the impact on people and the other resources. I think that is an important point.

NDTV: So less, not so much an act of God, it is the act of man that kills the people.

Dr Parasuraman: It is an act of people, act of policies and act of other processes

NDTV: Yes, I think that's a very key point that we must go into in detail here. Dr Unnikrishnan, you have travelled around the world, you have visited the worst disasters of the worst times. What was your motivation in this report? You are the co -author...

Unni Krishnan: I think it's becoming very clear that you may not be able to stop an earthquake, you may not be able to stop a tsunami, but you can very well stop a disaster from becoming a crisis. This is where a very strong leadership, primarily from the Government side, and the government able to galvanize the collective capacity, which includes the civil society, the NGO's, the media and others together to make it work. So you can't stop a disaster, but you can very well stop a disaster from becoming a crisis. It's possible

NDTV: Now Lisa Grande is the UN Resident Coordinator in India and the UNDP Resident Representative in India. You've had a wide range of experience. Can we learn from history that there are certain steps, which may not require lots of funds? Can we learn that there are steps we can take that can save millions of lives?

Lisa Grande: NDTV, you are absolutely right about that. Colleagues may be aware that the United Nations tracks the impact and the scope of disasters around the world, and in the last ten years since we have been part of the decade that is associated with the framework called the Hyogo framework. What we have seen is that out of the 193 countries in the world, 93 of them have had a major disaster.

For each of those disasters, at a minimum, a 100,000 people have been impacted. What the studies also shows, just as you said NDTV, is that the impact of the disasters is hardest on the poor. All the evidence shows that. I like the statistic that you used when you said that if there is a disaster in America if a hundred people are affected, 5000 people would be affected here. Let me share another statistic with you. We know that in poor developing countries that have a disaster, the impact on the GDP can range from 1.5 GDP to a staggering 12% of the GDP. I think one of the...

NDTV: That's huge

Lisa Grande: ... key points that we want to raise; one of the key messages is that disaster risk reduction in a developing country is not a secondary priority. It's a top priority. It's not a secondary priority. It has to be right at the top of the list of national priorities.

NDTV: Right, right, and we have a long way to go in that still. We have to learn and be prepared. Preparedness is another area we must look at.

Lisa Grande: NDTV I hope you give me one another chance to celebrate India .The United Nations Development Programme in May of this year produced an important report that looked at implementation of the Hyogo framework that I am referring to, and allow me just to share a little bit about what that framework is. In 2005 all the countries of the world came together, now the conference had been planned for months before hand, but in terms of timing, ironically, the conference was held right after the terrible tsunami.

So the impact around the world was clear, countries knew that much more had to be done globally in order to address this question of disaster risk reduction. What they did is something that was special in the UN, they came together and they created not a complicated long framework, they came together and they created a really smart, really sequenced, really intelligent framework for action called Hyogo. Now what that framework said is there are 5 things that should happen in a country. So, first of all you have to make disaster risk reduction a priority.

Second, you have to make sure that people know where the risks are, know where they are. Third, you have to help, this is a point you have been raising NDTV, you have to make sure the communities are resilient, that they can cope when the disaster comes, that's the third priority in the framework.

NDTV: Just want to ask you on the second one, we, like every community want to know where are the potential disasters? Is there a huge damn nearby, could you be near a coast and a tsunami, earthquake prone zone? They need to know that.

Lisa Grande: That's it. And you know this came up Dr. Roy very much in the Uttarakhand, the terrible tragedy that just happened, because many communities in Uttarakhand knew about the risk from landslides, they knew about that. They had been briefed on it, they were aware of it. They knew some of the steps they needed to take. What wasn't as clear, to many communities, is what the risks were implied by a sudden cloudburst. So this is close to the point that you are raising, that you have to map the risks and really understand what the implications of them are.

NDTV: Right. Sorry I interrupted you. Yes, the fourth point.

Lisa Grande: The fourth priority is to address the underlying causes of the risk and the fifth priority under Hyogo for all countries is to be prepared to deal quickly and effectively with the disaster. Now the report that the United Nations Development Programme issued in May said that there are five countries around the world are ready, Mozambique, Indonesia, Armenia, Ecuador and India.

NDTV: Okay, that's good to know. Okay, Nanda Kumar you've been in the government for a long time and now you are heading this rather very important National Disaster Management Authority. How much of this is central and how much of this is local, that people in the local areas must react fast?

Nanda Kumar: Yes it does, it does. But let me also add three more points...

NDTV: Yes please do.
Nanda Kumar:
...which I think are very important for what we are discussing. I think looking ahead what should we do? One I think we need to have a very clear policy of mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in all of our development programmes. NREGA is one example. The second is, I think we need to seriously expand our observational and forecasting capabilities, use of space technology, use IMD, whatever else you want.

NDTV: Doppler, we keep hearing about this.

Nanda Kumar: We were supposed to have 55 Doppler weather radars by the end of the last Plan. We are still at 20. So this is one of the issues. The last is I think we need to seriously invest in capacity building, from community level right up to the top, even the Chief Engineers sitting designing a dam.

NDTV: Right. Just before we go to questions. I just want to know Unnikrishnan, how big is the problem? How big is it? We've seen disasters before. Is it really getting worse or is not statistically proven yet? Or is it we can expect big disasters coming in the next ten years?

Unni Krishnan: This is, the speculation is difficult, but we can learn from history what has happened. Trends show that the number of difficult disasters, you know the one which we find it difficult to cope is going up. And there is a clear trend to that, especially on floods, in our context cyclones but in the context of the Caribbean Region, the hurricanes, and South East Asia typhoons. So floods, hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones and drought, leading, triggering to food crisis. So these types of disasters the incidence is increasing. If you look at the last three hundred years, this thirty-year period, the world has also seen more number of earthquakes.

NDTV: Compared to the last three hundred years before that.

Unni Krishnan: So, the number of recurring repeated disasters are definitely going up. In fact that's one reason why humanitarian workers like me end up in more places now, now there is more demand. Even in the context of India such incidents are going up, there is more pressure on the government as well as UN and Universities and other aid agencies to respond so the demand is going up.

NDTV: Not only in India, around the world more and more lives lost. This is what we have to look forward to unfortunately.

Unni Krishnan: Just one correction there, lives are affected and lives are lost but at the same time the good thing that has happened is that we are able to save more lives, we are able to lift more people out, especially actions by local community.

NDTV: Let's take a question from the audience. Yes there's a mike behind you, yes. If you can, say who you are.

Audience 1: Hi, I am Murli. I work with PLAN. I just would like to ask question to the panel. The first priority itself, the goal 1 basically, look into our own policies whether they have considered the disaster risk reduction, while developing those policies and whether they have considered or not the vulnerabilities of the communities, while framing the policies, for the vulnerable people? It's a big challenge still we have, because disasters and development are interlinked. We can't see as separate, two different things

NDTV: Unni Krishnan?

Unni Krishnan: Yes. Disaster risk reduction as a priority, as I said that there is evidence growing, which shows that if you invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness, it tells to save more lives and is better value for money. And most importantly, lives are being saved. And that's one of the key highlights for the framework for action.

There are some efforts, which started, but we are far away from being anywhere near what should be happening on that front. Does it cost money? Yes it costs some money, but its not the money that makes the difference, it's the political will of the government to make thing happen. For example, one classic example is that today disaster preparedness and response is a curriculum for school and universities in some places. Why should it remain in some places? The whole country is vulnerable, so it should be in more and more places. So does it cost money?

NDTV: Should be part of the curriculum in schools as well?

Unni Krishnan: Absolutely.

NDTV: Yes, Lisa Grande your experience around the world, are local communities, getting them to understand what the potential risks are. How does one get that word spread out? Do you have a drill once a year? What is done? What's the best way of getting people prepared, actual drills, one day, a year?

Lisa Grande: There's a wonderful example of West Bengal where there was community preparedness, the kind of awareness raising what you are discussing and training on first aid, and training on where to go if there's an emergency and how to keep yourself alive until help can reach you. And in another community near by that didn't happen and when recently there was flooding, the impact was obvious.

Community with that kind of preparedness had been made, the death toll and the morbidity much, much less, the destruction much less, the impact much less. And yet just next door, in the community where that hadn't happened people were far worse affected, than had they been part of the training programme that the other community had been in.

NDTV: So training programs at local community levels are crucial

Lisa Grande: And you know the evidence shows that, and you made this point earlier and it's a really important one. That it's not that expensive. The most important kind of training in this case is again knowing where the risks are, knowing what you do in a first response, where do you go for safety, basic first aid and how to keep yourself alive until help comes. These are kind of training programmes that don't cost very much. They do require a big effort. You have to have people go there and participate, but it's a bargain, it doesn't cost very much and the impact is enormous.

Unni Krishnan: NDTV, a very simple test you know .For this group or those who are watching your programme, just to close their eyes for thirty seconds and think, if this building or wherever they are watching your programme starts shaking or there is a calamity....

NDTV: Do they know what to do?

Unni Krishnan: ... do they know exactly the three things that they should be doing when the building starts shaking? If they know the answer we are far from, we are doing a good job. If not it's a litmus test

NDTV: Sir, I would say forget the government companies, organisations need to have daily, one drill a year, one day of drill a year to get people to understand these threats. Organisations all over the country are not doing it. And they should take oath now that once a year at least, they will go through drills of disaster management as you say, if the building shakes or whatever.

I want to ask you Nanda Kumar but some of the very tough challenges, not a good thing to ask right at the beginning but I'll give you a real life example. You go to a, there's a road in Mussoorie, they have built along that road, like four storey, five storey terribly built buildings and there's a road just going under it. If there is the slightest earthquake, that entire road will, those buildings will collapse.

You can see it, in fact lot of people don't go on that road, just because in case that, there an earthquake happens you are finished. Now it's there, or there are maybe 20,000 families living in these seven storey, five storey, kacchha badly constructed buildings. What do you do? Then the earthquake comes 20,000 people die in one place. The people say the Government, why doesn't it do something about it? But what can you do?

Nanda Kumar: No this, you know the...

NDTV: And it's all over the Himalayas

Nanda Kumar: Yes, It's all over the Himalayas. It's also in Delhi

NDTV: It's everywhere.

Nanda Kumar: ... and in parts of Bombay as well, I think we have discussed this, we have written to all these state governments on the need to amend their building by-laws and enforce them. And you know very well that's one area where our enforcement is terrible.

NDTV: It's the weakest.

Nanda Kumar: It's terrible. Now Delhi buildings collapse without an earthquake and that's the kind of building that you meant.

NDTV: Yes, exactly

Nanda Kumar: Now I think, we have to make it very clear to the people that don't go and buy a flat, an apartment, which is not certified to be built according to a certain seismic zone standards. Now we have got RBI to issue a guideline that banks will not finance such buildings. So to some extent we have taken a slightly convoluted route, if you make call that to get there, but I think we have to get our Municipalities act in order.

NDTV: So a key area I think Dr Parasuraman, bad buildings, you know, poor construction, saving money, you know builder saving money and then renting, not telling people, selling flats. There's already a stock of, like it's a disaster waiting to happen in India.

Dr Parasuraman: It's a disaster waiting to happen across the country, like you know the colonies have come up purely on illegal basis where authorities have allowed those buildings to come up. People have invested their life savings into those buildings and as Dr Nanda Kumar said, they are waiting to collapse. You don't need an earthquake for that.

NDTV: Every time you see a flood in a river, you see a building, a whole building falling into it, now there are so many, so what do we do about those?

Dr Parasuraman: Dr. Roy the important point is that we do have laws, regulations, a whole lot of things we have. You know certainly there is precision where you cannot have a building. I think you know the level of enforcement and accountability and people not doing their job, the penalty for people not doing their job, we needed to get that right. You know in the outskirts of Mumbai, in Thane, buildings can come up regularly and collapse regularly killing whole lot of people and taking away their life savings. And nobody pays for it at the end of the day.

Unni Krishnan: It's an issue linked to that. In addition to the buildings, when cities are growing, vertically rather than horizontally, the whole issue of urbanization, if it is not planned, it's a tinder box just waiting to explode.

NDTV: Right. I would like to move on to, I mean this is a depressing thought that there is already a stock of disasters waiting to happen, but I'd like to move on to dissemination. How do you disseminate that a disaster is coming? Uni, What is the best way to get that last mile message to the inhabitants of a vulnerable area?

Unni Krishnan: I am tempted to say it's a good question. Next question please because a very complex issue. But I think what we have now is all the companies we get advertisements when we are in the most rural pockets in Tamil Nadu or Bihar. We get advertisements, you know, offering you know this thing and that thing so the penetration of the mobile phone technology today is a huge advantage that needs to be capitalized.

NDTV: One is mobile phones, so mobile phone companies must get involved, take an oath themselves to get involved in disaster prevention messaging, not just allow people to talk to each other, but be able to broadcast messages which experts tell them to do.

Unni Krishnan: Absolutely, right.

NDTV: Any question on dissemination? Yes Sir.

Audience 2: Good evening, my name is Gaurav Ray. I work with the International Federation of the Red Cross. On dissemination, how is the Government of India taking into consideration the whole economic value that the volunteers of the community add. They have a big role, I think India is big and to transfer messages and have programmes in the ground level, that is one very powerful technique or method to use, to use the people themselves.

NDTV: Right, could you tackle that?

Nanda Kumar: There are two levels at which we are trying to work with the communities. When I speak of the communities, I am including all the non-governmental organisations as well

NDTV: And panchayats also?

Nanda Kumar: And panchayats. Now we did a major programme for elected representatives, PRIs through the Indira Gandhi National Open University. That's one way of disseminating. The other is one of my colleagues is working on a set of guidelines, how to engage NGO's in pre-disaster preparedness and post disaster rescue and relief operations. But we would like to see this as part of the district disaster management plans and that's where it actually is a cutting edge.

NDTV: Now you have all this knowledge, you need to disseminate it to people to warn them how to do things. Can media help? Why don't you tell us just do this? We are happy to do it and we can, we have the technology to target a message to particular areas because the satellite can address the cable operator's boxes. They know the number, so I can say, these 5000 boxes, only this message, that's on a coast; these boxes in the hills, a different message. You tell us, we'll do it and would you like us to do it? Media, would you like mobile phones to, they can also go by location because they know which towers to, why don't you push us? We are ready to do it.

Nanda Kumar: Okay.

NDTV: Done, done? Done deal okay?

Nanda Kumar: But, let me also tell you that only certain disasters come with warnings, like cyclones, where we can forecast. Heavy rains, we can probably say next six hours you are going to have heavy rains. Earthquakes - no way.

NDTV: Lisa Grande, one of the points that was raised just now Lisa was that Bangladesh and I think Unni Krishnan said Cuba. Now these are not rich countries that are doing well on disaster management. So it doesn't have to be expensive, it just has to be well organised, well thought of. Is that right? Or does it cost a lot?

Lisa Grande: The question of the investment is an interesting one. In preparing for this panel we were looking for the global figures, the amount of money that donors and governments invest. And of all the funding of the world that goes into disasters and humanitarian assistance only four per cent of that money is actually used for disaster risk reduction.

Only four per cent of it and its obvious that if there were greater investment in disaster risk reduction, earlier in the process, then you would save hundreds of millions if not billions of the latter end. Four per cent of what we put into this area goes into the things that matter the most. Obviously the priorities there are wrong, the priorities need to be adjusted.

On the question of you know it doesn't take very much. I was looking at the report in order to be able to tell you how many countries, since Hyogo were introduced in 2005, have adopted the kinds of early warning technologies. I was adding it up very quickly. More than 40 countries have done exactly the kind of thing you are talking about.

And countries as developed as Jordan, countries that are still struggling to come on line, places like Kenya, South Sudan are doing this kind of work. So it's not so much a question of whether or not the country is very advanced. It's really a question of is there a political will and is there an intelligent use of the right kinds of technologies?

NDTV: Well I think for the private sector, I mean for media organisations or mobile phones, it costs us nothing to disseminate the message that your area is prone to flooding. These are the steps you should take. Just do it ten times a year, twenty times a year.

Dr Parasuraman: The very important part here is that we need to establish a level of trust with the people. You know right messages are given out, because I think there is a trust deficit between the people and the state.

NDTV: But you know they trust their mobile phones and they trust some media, not all media. My standard line is never trust the media but in this case I think...

Dr Parasuraman: No, no I think we need to, because what you said is very extremely important .How can we transmit information in local languages that people can read and targeted to particular areas...

NDTV: and targeted to particular areas. Can easily be done

Dr Parasuraman: This is one part of it. The second is that I think NDMA has already started working on the schools, the School Education Programme on Disaster Management. And the second thing which I think we are developing is that develop a set of ideas, education programme and transmit through NSS programme, National Service Scheme programme where, when they go to villages, they can pass on these messages.

I think we need to have a multiple strategy as to how we can reach this. Unfortunately the radios have gone out of fashion, You know the proportion of households having radios is less than 20%. So I think our opportunity is with television, our opportunity is with mobiles.

NDTV: But the key here Unnikrishnan is that it's good for preparedness, it's good for educating, but when a disaster strikes the mobile towers don't work, the set top boxes don't work, you don't get, so that's a second dissemination problem. At the time of a disaster, how do you get your message across?

Unni Krishnan: The most important is to have an authentic voice coming out and it depends a lot whether people would consider it authentic, or not, depends on the trust that would have been existing. So this is where it cannot be seen as a stand off.

NDTV: So one is the trust, second is how does that voice get to people?

Unni Krishnan: So if you look at, except earthquakes, most of the time including cyclones, till the landfall happens it's possible to use these technologies. And one area, which we haven't touched at all is the human made conflicts and communal riots situation, where the rumours come into play, where today the mobile technology could be a very dangerous catalyst.

NDTV: This is a very important point actually. Could you just expand on that because we've seen and its wonderful to have the Internet and to have the SMSes, and everybody is using it, we have 900 million phones but they can be dangerous tools as well, you can spread rumours, which are unchecked. Now how do you handle that?

Unni Krishnan: I was working in Kenya in 2008 during the post election violence where over a period of 2-5 days, more than 2000 people were slaughtered in communal conflict. It all happened in a period of 5 days, 2000 precious lives. Mostly this was triggered using mobile phone technology where rumours were going out and messages of hatred was going out, so that triggered, that amplified the crisis in a big way.

If you look at the potential in places where the mobile has penetrated to the most rural pockets, it's important we recognize that issue and take some measures for that. It's not a call to regulate or for censorship. There's a difference between these two.

NDTV: But I would say that it is a call for some kind of regulation actually

Unni Krishnan: Yes that's correct.

NDTV: But not by the government, but by the judicial system under certain circumstances, but if you allow the government they will be using it all the time. Sorry, you wouldn't, but otherwise, so dissemination crucial. Now we move on. If you have got questions on what action during a disaster calamity, any action, key points, Lisa Grande, key points when a disaster strikes a flood or what actions should we take?

Lisa Grande: Yes again the evidence shows that if people, in areas that are prone to disasters, know what to do in terms of first aid, know where to go, know what the exit options are, know where in the community there's high ground, know where in the community there are safe areas if there is an earthquake. When that kind of preparation is made, when people are aware of that, are alert to the possibility if something goes wrong and when it actually does go wrong, all the studies show that the mitigation impact is much greater than if they don't know.

NDTV: We have found in India that there are two types of reactions. Knee jerk, government going all over the place and very systematic and extremely, something we are extremely proud of, the Army. Wherever the Army works, they seem to deliver, they know what they are doing. Is that a common pattern? Should we use the Army all the time in disasters?

Lisa Grande: There is no question in looking at Uttarakhand crisis a few months ago that the Army behaved heroically, what they did was wholly impressive and it was noted around the world, the Indian Army made India very proud. Everyone saw that, everyone salutes that.

NDTV: Every disaster more or less but it's a sad state, I mean, also a reflection on civil society

Lisa Grande: I think that those of us who have worked in a number of emergencies will often make a distinction between what we refer to as the first line of response and then the second response, and what you're pointing to is that, in a number of instances, that first line of response we see that the security forces, the Army, other organisations that are trained to do this kind of first response work really behave impressively.

Now the second line of response where things become more difficult and here, the issue of co-ordination between the various actors that are involved in the second line of response becomes crucial. We have seen that where there is good co-ordination in second line of response things go pretty well, where there is bad co-ordination...

NDTV: Co-ordination is crucial.

Lisa Grande: For that second line of response, it's absolutely essential. Will make a distinction in the UN between command and control functions where there is somebody really in charge calling the shots for that first line response. Second line response requires co-ordination, a lot of consultation, a lot of collaboration and there the record is not as good and often a lot of countries really struggle with that. I think India has put in place some important mechanisms for dealing with co-ordination between the central levels, the district levels, the village levels, that we all have to recognise is a tough thing to do and improvements are probably needed.

NDTV: Nanda Kumar, you as government co-ordination and organizing everything together, is a crucial role you have to play. You find that we are equipped for that?

Nanda Kumar: Yes it's often difficult because at the Centre it's much easier. I mean you look at the way the Cabinet Secretary's Committee functioned, either during the Kosi floods or even in Uttarakhand or the Sikkim earthquake. The Sikkim earthquake happened around 6:15. I think the first meeting of the Ccabinet Secretary was at 7:30 that evening and it was a Sunday. And everybody was there, the Defence Secretary, the Home Secretary. Flights were ready to take off.

But we find that in the district and the state level one, the information flow is quite weak, so whatever we do from here is based on whatever information you get. And as it rolls out it becomes; but I think one of the good things that happened after that Tsunami was the setting up of central monitoring in Hyderabad. Now it's able to pick up all Tsunami warnings in that coast and give out a message in about 8 minutes.

NDTV: Eight minutes. Well that's a big, big improvement. So, Unni Krishnan, in terms of priorities, hundred years, ten years, five years, every year do we need to map India? And say these are the areas, which need immediate focus because they get, are the very high probability disaster prone areas.

Unni Krishnan: Yes it's possible, there has been an effort to do the vulnerability atlas of India which has identified a few pockets, but the good thing about disasters, the one good thing about disasters is that if you prepare for one disaster, it's as good as preparing for other disasters as well. There is one thing which we firmly believe in disaster management discourse, is that failing to plan is planning to fail, so this is where you need to engage every actor have that vision.

NDTV: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Unni Krishnan: Absolutely, that's what it is

NDTV: Good one. That's actually very true. Jammu Kashmir has a very good record on disaster management.

Dr Parasuraman: Yes, they do. And I think there is a demonstration happening in terms of, how can disaster management plan be developed by the people themselves

NDTV: I am being a bit critical of the government so let me be critical of the media. I feel when there is a disaster or the immediate one week of the disaster, the media should not be involved in the blame game, who is doing this? They should be involved in helping that disaster. After it's over, tear anybody to bits but what we tend to do at the moment is just go straight into here's this, nobody is doing this, nobody is doing that. Where is so and so? There is a time and place to be critical and a time and place to be constructive. I think media needs to learn that.

Dr Parasuraman: A very important role, which you suggested, of course the information dissemination. And there is a second important role that the media can play, that of course not to get into the blame game but to information dissemination in terms of people can support each other. The third, the most important thing, is that how do we galvanise the media in order to generate resources that can be very productively used? The United Kingdom has for the last you know 50-60 years has had the network of media coming together and issuing a joint appeal.

NDTV: Right

Dr Parasuraman: And that resources are used in a systematic way in order to respond to relief and rehabilitation and reconstruction and there is a very clear-cut accountability mechanism put in place.

NDTV: Wonderful idea. If TISS takes this initiative, I will ensure that we get all the media houses together and listen to you, and we contribute time and space towards this dissemination. I think if you do this we will follow.

Dr Parasuraman: And then there is and the media group itself can bring in a steering committee in order to see how that money is basically used. I think there is enormous power with our media. With the penetration of television in our country, I think we can play a significant role in making sure that people get information. People also get support.

NDTV: We will follow that up with you together on this. Finally, last and we'll close, after that calamity happens we have done preparedness, we have done action, but that's not the end, Lisa Grande, it's after the disaster. When the floodwaters have receded, when the earthquake is over, the post disaster management, that is crucial and that's when a lot of the work has to get done.

Lisa Grande: Yes you are right and its very expensive, one thing I didn't want to lose in this very interesting discussion that's going on is how a number of countries have dealt with the problem, the dilemma that you put forward just a few minutes ago, when you said how does a country use its resources and prioritise them against an expected disaster? If the disaster is going to recur once every hundred years, do we really want to take our limited resources and plan for that? What do we wan to do?

One of the instruments that a number of countries are using is what's called a disaster loss assessment. What you do is you analyse the cost of what a particular disaster would be, you figure out if it's going to be a big cost or a little cost. That then becomes integrated into the development plan for the country and most importantly it gets turned into the budget of the country.

So the people in the ministries of finance, who have to make the decisions about whether they take part of money and put it against this issue or that one, know what the disaster loss assessment in front of them. What the real economic cost would be if there was going to be a major cyclone...

NDTV: Crucial

Lisa Grande: ...if there was going to be a major earthquake. We've seen that the countries that have adapted that kind of an assessment are doing really well. On the issue of a post disaster assessment, one of the things happened, it still happens, but it really happened a lot ten, fifteen years ago is, a crisis would occur and a lot of people would all come, all at once and try and help, chaos in many locations.

I am sure a number of us have been a part of some of these big chaotic operations. Lot of wasted time, lot of waste resources, people are suffering, nothing is getting done. International system recognises that more can be done when you do things smarter. We now have a mechanism called Post Disaster Needs Assessment, PDNA.

It's from a process where the big players internationally, at the request of the government, come in after a disaster and use a systematic assessment methodology to figure out what the costs are, what needs to be done and what should be sequenced. We're seeing that countries that are using the post disaster needs assessment process recover, ready, four times faster.


Lisa Grande: So it's a mechanism that's very powerful and we're seeing a number of countries around the world recognising that and taking that up.

NDTV: So Unni Krishnan, just last words with you just to wrap it up. First of all whenever there is a disaster, shouldn't come as a shock, oh God there's a disaster. You should be able to know all the stages how to act, pre, post, how much it's going to cost, as Lisa Grand was saying. How does one get into that state? Where you have all these systems ready and the disaster can happen next year, it can be ten years from now.

Unni Krishnan: It's not rocket science. It's a question of mindset.

NDTV: It is not rocket science?

Unni Krishnan: It's not rocket science. It's a question of mindset.

NDTV: And prioritising I guess.

Unni Krishnan: Specifically the ministers and the government authorities. There has been lot of progress in our, like some states picking it up as a curriculum. The next stage is all the states picking it up and the Relief Commissioners, who are brought in a yearly basis, for yearly retreats. Can it be more frequent, a countrywide drill every six months where everyone at the same time is able to connect.
A countrywide drill every six months.

Unni Krishnan: Where these multiple disasters are attended, for example the whole building starts shaking now, how would you deal with that? And this is primarily, this will happen only when we start treating disasters and the response to them as not a 100 metre sprint. There is a long marathon, that's what we have seen in post floods situations, water accumulation leading to mosquito proliferation often leads to epidemics, which silently kill more people, than what the flood would have covered. And unfortunately, the media they have already left the place. So people die silently, these are silent disasters. So the importance of treating...

NDTV: Silent disasters are one of the most difficult

Unni Krishnan: Absolutely, the heat waves, the cold waves in places like this, you know the cold waves, homeless people; they are more vulnerable in a disaster situation, even in a city like Delhi. So what measures put in place, in 3 months down the line, 2 months down the line winter will be coming in, what are we doing this time differently to save those lives and protect them? So the importance of treating disasters not as 100 metre sprints but as long marathon races.

NDTV: Do you think just as a last, I don't know if this happens but regular meetings of all the Chief Ministers of the states, we get them together would TISS be able to help them understand exactly what they do? And maybe not only Chief Ministers but some major panchayat leaders?

Dr Parasuraman: I think we should.

NDTV: Because a lot of this is going to be at the state level, it's not just central government.

Dr Parasuraman: I think we need to have much more sensitisation programmes, at the state level, with all the required officials and the ministers would be very very important actually.

NDTV: Well for TISS and for both of you and for the UN and you are in the most key position, thank you all very much, in fact I'd like to thank everyone. I wish there were more questions but I am sure our viewers, I've learnt a lot and I am sure our viewers have learnt a lot too. But it's now clear from this really excellent report by TISS. It's their second report and the next one's coming next year?

Thirteen months. But we face a future with more and more disasters than ever before and each one with greater intensity and greater ferocity. That is a worry. But the good news that we have heard today is that we can be much better prepared and preparedness is crucial in saving lives. Small steps in preparedness can save millions of lives. So each state government as we were talking needs to take these steps right away. They are not expensive.
They need a will to act and we need to learn from other countries and the UN can help us in that. So dissemination of information, by mobile phones, SMSes, Internet must be stepped up and used in disasters.

Mobile phone companies and our media companies need to be committed to dissemination and preparedness for disaster. Not just report and, but just get involved in actually saving lives by disseminating information.

Finally, action while the disaster is on needs to be coordinated and understood well in advance, and the post disaster work, which we were just discussing is crucial to prevent epidemics. So let's call for a nationwide meeting of all Chief Ministers, TISS will help them understand the implications of this report, but in any case, once again as we said and we repeated in many ways disasters like earthquakes themselves don't kill. It's man's haphazard intervention in nature, like badly constructed buildings, it's not nature, it's often man that kills in disasters. Thank you all very much indeed.

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