Monday 21 August 2017

Transformation: Initiatives Towards Resilience

Transformation is by nature multidisciplinary; by definition it combines past with future in the present by operating simultaneously on different systems and concepts. Insurance, markets, and private sector are some of the ingredients that can be leveraged by the humanitarian system to transform cities. We have more data than we have ever had, which gives us an opportunity to compare cities, communities, periods and stages of recovery to make transformation a reality.
Can cutting edge innovations that integrate disaster risk reduction with climate change adaptation transform our views on risk from the standpoint of individuals, institutions and investments that shape resilience?
AIDMI's two decades of work in South Asia has shown that "Uncertainty" is an opportunity for transformation. Dr. Lyla Mehta of IDS, drawing from her ongoing field work on Climate Change, Uncertainty and Transformation in the desert of Kutch and delta areas of Sunderbans, has often mentioned that transformation is a bottom up process where marginal voices, more specifically poor women's voices, are central. This issue also highlights an institutional effort in the desert of Kutch to transform the lives of the locals by the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE), reported by Dr. V. Vijay Kumar and Dr. Anjan Kumar Prusty.
Risk is never insular, it is always compounded by underlying vulnerabilities, which if not addressed in time can precipitate into disasters. AIDMI has found this reality in over 23 evaluations and reviews of risk and resilience projects in South Asia. Dr. Lars Otto of IDS, who is also working on the Climate Change, Uncertainty and Transformation project, opines that a way to approach transformation is through landscape analysis which is a first step towards transformation.
Dr. Aliza Pradhan and Dr. R.V. Bhavani from Chennai share M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation's (MSSRF) work that shows that the risks faced in agriculture are linked with the risks faced in coastal areas. Agriculture and farmers are a key to any coastal transformation towards resilience. Dr. Rajib Prakash Baruah from Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), Guwahati, shares a way to approach the landscape of risk: mock drills. Such drills address a wide range of risks and measure the capacity of a system to respond to their impact.
Through AIDMI's work in over 56 cities it has been found that any transformation of a city is multidisciplinary by its very nature. Cities are many Things, many places, spread across different times. All versions of the city co-exist in collaboration as well as in conflict. Dr. Parthasarthy of IIT, in his work on Climate Change, Uncertainty and Transformation in coastal areas around Mumbai often argues that livelihoods are central to making transformation benefit the economy, ecology, and cities.
Dr. Nasir Javed, shares what it takes to transform cities and their livability across Pakistan. Karachi is picking up heatwave planning from cities in India, but in the process Karachi is transforming both, the way city is planned and the way risk is perceived in such planning. Yolande Wright of DFID UK at a panel on Future of Urban Humanitarian Response at Royal Institute of British Architects said in June 2017.
Shri Kamal Kishore, Member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India, in his preface to South Asia Disaster Report 2016 of DuryogNivaran underlines Building Back Batter (BBB) as a transformative idea to be utilized for sustainable recovery and reconstruction. BhaveshSodagar from Mandvi shares with us the BBB in Kutch after 2001 earthquake in a candid manner: what changed, what did not, and what can still change to make Kutch resilient.
Shri Ramesh of Ministry of Earth Science has repeatedly indicated to look at transformative processes taking place in the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in terms of it reaching out to its data users more directly, either during droughts or floods or heat waves. Dr. M. Mohapatra, IMD details some of these achievements, and also the efforts that went into them. Peter Walton of Oxford University warns us that institutions do not transform if there is no widespread awareness of risk among all stakeholders. The higher the degree of awareness and articulation of risk among the stakeholders, the more likely is the institutional transformation.
So how do we know if transformation is taking place? Or at least we are in the direction of moving towards transformation? One, when we listen to local and bottom up voices with care and respect; two, in cities, when we focus on livelihoods and jobs for the majority of its people; three, when established institutions reach out to its primary stakeholders; and four, when we do not look at the entire landscape of risk instead of lone parts.
Where will the sustained and effective push for such transformation come from? It will come from the thousands of innovations spawned by an empowered citizenry which has achieved access to basic services and from a symbiotic growth of the economy and ecology.

- Mihir R. Bhatt

Saturday 5 August 2017

Floods Again: What Can Be Done Differently in South Asia?

Floods are age old but must South Asia's response to floods be age old as well? South Asia is now emerging to be a leader in reducing disaster risk. Such regional efforts were well received by Asian countries in the recent Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) held in Delhi in November 2016.
The ongoing floods in Assam in the North East of India and Gujarat in the West of India offer an opportunity to re-look the flood response in South Asia.
Therefore, this issue of enlists what can be done differently. Cyclones are one such area. Floods and cyclones go hand-in-hand and the recent cyclone Mora in Myanmar offered an opportunity to look at floods recovery in an urban setting. New ways must be found to deal with floods in cities and towns that propel South Asia's economic growth. What is needed is "new dimensions" that David Sanderson and others offer in the recent book titled, "Urban Disaster Resilience".
The second area is dams. A large number of dams are built in South Asia, and many more are being built to irrigate and mange floods. But are these dam safe from floods? Are they safe enough to protect the development and progress that they are supposed to spawn.
Third, obvious but not well recognized area is floods and forestry in South Asia. Forests slow down run-off and thus reduce floods. Floods wash away forests. Both impact each other and yet there is no clear direction on how to manage floods in forests and manage forests to reduce floods in South Asia. Women leaders in Nepal are thinking and reflecting on this overlap from a leadership point of view.
The Fourth area is ongoing activities around DRR road maps. DRR road maps do not adequately address issues of rampant and repeated floods and how to reduce flood impact as well as its causes. A road map for flood prone areas such as Assam or Gujarat in India is overdue. Hazard specific action plans are overdue at the sub-national level. The challenge of mainstreaming floods in South Asia's DRR road maps is widely shared in civil society members in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Fifth, is it smart for a city to be flooded: have water logged roads and partially submerged housing colonies? Smart City infrastructure investments in India offer an opportunity to reduce risks, if not all, at least flood risks faced by its economic hubs and low income communities.
Sixth, relief offered after floods is not new to South Asia. What is new is possible and now pioneering use of cash transfer in such relief. ECHO South Asia has done effective work in cash transfer after floods with its partners in Odisha in India in 2014. And the direction is promising.
The above six are not the only ways to deal with floods differently in South Asia. But the above are some of the key ways that need urgent and additional attention while dealing with floods in South Asia.
– Mihir R. Bhatt
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Friday 4 August 2017

Understanding Crowds

India is no stranger to large gatherings or crowds. Crowded railway stations, market squares and temple complexes are all commonplace. Given the ubiquity of crowded places, Indians tend to have a high tolerance for them. Thus, it is important to understand how crowds operate.
As soon as the word "crowd" is heard, the first instinct is to "manage" them, if not control them. Given the unusual number of stampedes taking place at religious congregations in the country it is important to manage these crowds both efficiently and creatively. Through the work of All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) in India across nine states, sixty nine districts and over thirty five cities it has been found that all crowds do not need to be managed or controlled; that all crowds are not unruly or out of control; that in fact crowds offer energy and numbers to move towards something creative and constructive in society from time-to-time.
In AIDMI's resilience building work in four most important temples of Gujarat - Somnath, Dwarka, Pavagadh, and Dakor - it was clear that crowds that gather around and in the temples on daily as well as occasional basis do pose a risk and can cause a major disaster like a stampede. But it was also evident that crowds have their own ways of working out cautious movements, harmonising pace, re-orienting direction, and avoiding injuries. But this informal, self-organising, local ways of crowds are hardly studied, which is why they've never been used to enable crowds to self-manage. In fact there are hardly any crowd studies available in India though crowds are everywhere. What AIDMI has found in its work with these temples is that crowds can act and commit to be and remain safe, can re-organise and re-orient, can balance between internal and external processes that lend to risk, and evolve a coherence to its members for a given time and place. This is not on effort to romanticise crowds, but to leverage the inherent creativity and capability of a crowd for the common good.
Rahul Mehrotra, India's leading architect, has re-introduced Kumbh Mela, world's largest gathering to us. Kumbh Mela is self organising, seamless, cost effective, safe, and a bliss to all who attend this world's largest crowd. In fact he argues that such traditional gatherings offer us a new and more rooted way of planning cities and settlements in India.
At a presentation of his book on Kumbh Mela at L.D. Institute of Indology in Ahmedabad what became clear to me was the need to change the design and delivery of the environment within which crowds gather and operate. That is, changes in the ability of decision makers to understand crowds; changes in coordination and collaboration as well as the mobilisation of crowd management; and change in institutions and institutional capacities to respond to the needs and energies of crowds.
So if we were to launch crowd studies in India what will be its top four research priorities? First, start with the history of crowds that gather at say the Jagannath temple in Bhubaneswar or the Jama Masjid on Eid in Delhi. Second, find out where can crowd studies be placed among academic disciplines – in city planning, emergency management, security, and more. Third, look at crowds as people, individuals with will and concern both. Fourth, design and develop programmes and events that help us better understand the inherent good of crowds.
These first steps can go a long way in ensuring that our country does not have to suffer tragedies like stampedes in the future. Crowds do not remain a problem but become a solution.
– Mihir R. Bhatt

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