Thursday, 29 June 2017

Community Based Disaster Preparedness

In the event of any disaster, it is the members of the affected local community who are the first responders, primary beneficiaries and principal actors. Disasters and emergencies are known to overwhelm the response capacities of communities leading to large-scale loss of life, property and livelihoods. It is therefore imperative to build the capacity of the local community to effectively respond to disasters and emergencies. One way of doing this is by enhancing the preparedness level of the community through capacity building initiatives.

Participants explaining the findings of group exercise, depicting the hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities of in and around areas of the conference hall building. (Photo: AIDMI)

The north-eastern state of Assam is of special strategic and cultural importance to India. Not only does it bind India to the north-east India, it is also blessed with many natural resources and can be considered a biological hotspot teeming with rare animal and plant species. However, Assam is exposed to a variety of climate and disaster risks. These include earthquakes, landslides, floods, and strong winds. Floods and the resulting everlasting river erosion have proved to be particularly detrimental to Assam's economy and citizens. To build up the resilience of Assam against such aforesaid risks, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) routinely takes up disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation initiatives. And All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) has found that in these initiatives the citizens of Assam play leading role when given a chance.
Recognizing the need for building the capacity of communities to effectively respond to disasters and emergencies, ASDMA launched its capacity building initiative called 'Community Based Disaster Preparedness' in July 2016. The goal of this initiative was to empower communities at the local level with the knowledge, skills and expertise to manage the risks they are exposed to. This goal was to be achieved by organizing capacity building sessions in all the districts of the state with the grassroots level workers from various government departments such as social welfare, health, or agriculture along with volunteers and members of community based organizations. The AIDMI was the technical partner in this initiative and conducted these trainings sessions at ASDMA's behest.
This partnership has been special. It generated results on the ground, influenced the two institutions, and created enabling environment for DRR in Assam.
As the first phase of these trainings draws to a close, I am happy to report that this initiative has been successful in achieving its stated objectives and goal. Hitherto, a total of 1055 participants from 27 districts of Assam have been covered under the ambit of this initiative. The participants have become informed respondent. So many of them committed advocates of disaster risk reduction. And some of them have become local leaders in reducing risks. But these numbers, as impressive as they are do not cover the wisdom, ingenuity and creativity with which the local communities in Assam have managed and mitigated their risks. AIDMI has learned more from the participants, not only what to do and how but also new ways of thinking about both, risk and Assam. Perhaps the most important lesson from this initiative was the effectiveness of risk reduction measures if they are carried out in an inclusive, participatory and democratic manner.
Community based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) refers to all those activities and measures undertaken by a community using a locally owned and locally appropriate approach to reduce and manage its disaster risks. In essence, CBDP implies a community based approach to risk reduction done by using existing resources in a contextualized and localized manner. In simple words, AIDMI team started from where the communities were, building upto where they want to be. Given the participatory nature of CBDP, the pedagogy followed by AIDMI in imparting these trainings emphasized introspection, deliberation and dialogue.
These trainings focused on providing technical skills such as conducting hazard, vulnerability, capacity (HVCA) assessment; drawing seasonal hazard maps; capacity-vulnerability matrix and compiling community resource inventories at the block level. These technical skills helped the participants in identifying the underlying causes of their vulnerability to disaster risks and then proceed to make elaborate preparedness plans. Similarly, the best practices on CBDP from previous projects and programmes was also shared with the participants.
Although the technical knowledge imparted during these trainings will help these participants to carry out disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities in a systematic and coordinated manner, perhaps the greatest achievement of these trainings was that it encouraged the participants to speak up on their perception of risk, vulnerability and preparedness. People from different parts of Assam experienced risks differently and would often suggest innovative approaches to manage them.
I once again commend and congratulate ASDMA on organizing this initiative and successfully empowering citizens of Assam to plan, prepare and manage their risks. This is AIDMI's small contribution to operationalize National Disaster Management Authority of Government of India in Assam with citizen of Assam.

– Mihir R. Bhatt, AIDMI

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1 comment:

  1. The efforts are very considerable and commendable. The point is how do we take these learnings to other disaster prone regions in India and in the neighborhood? Can we institutionalize these measures so that wherever applicable, the learnings can be replicated?


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