India: Disaster Profile and Management


Disaster Profile 

The Indian subcontinent is among the world’s most disaster prone areas. Almost 85% of India’s area is vulnerable to one or multiple hazard. Of the 28 states and 7 union territories, 22 are disaster-prone. It is vulnerable to wind storms spawned in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, earthquakes caused by active crustal movement in the Himalayan mountains, floods brought by monsoons, and droughts in the country’s arid and semi-arid areas. Almost 57% of the land is vulnerable to earthquake (high seismic zones III–V), 68% to drought, 8% to cyclones and 12% to floods. India has also become much more vulnerable to tsunamis since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Of the earthquake-prone areas, 12% is prone to very severe earthquakes,18% to severe earthquakes and 25% to damageable earthquakes. The biggest quakes occur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kutch, Himachal and the North-East. The Himalayan regions are particularly prone to earthquakes.. The last two major earthquakes shook Gujarat in January 2001 and Jammu and Kashmir in October 2005. Many smaller-scale quakes occurred in other parts of India in 2006. All 7 North East states of India – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Megalaya; Andaman & Nicobar Islands; and parts of 6 other states in the North/North-West (Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal, Bihar) and West (Gujarat), are in Seismic Zone V.

About 30 million people are affected annually. Floods in the Indo–Gangetic–Brahmaputra plains are an annual feature. On an average, a few hundred lives are lost, millions are rendered homeless and several hectares of crops are damaged every year. Nearly 75% of the total rainfall occurs over a short monsoon season (June – September). 40 million hectares, or 12% of Indian land, is considered prone to floods. Floods are a perennial phenomenon in at least 5 states – Assam, Bihar, Orissa , Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. On account ofclimate change, floods have also occurred in recent years in areas that are normally not flood prone. In 2006, drought prone parts of Rajasthan experienced floods.

About 50 million people are affected annually by drought. Of approximately 90 million hectares of rain-fed areas, about 40 million hectares are prone to scanty or no rain. Rainfall is poor in nine meteorological subdivisions out of 36 subdivision (each meteorological sub division covers a geographic area of more than ten revenue districts in India). In India annually 33% area receive rainfall less than 750 mm (low rainfall area) and 35 % area receive between 750 to 1125 mm rainfall Medium rainfall) and only 32percent falls in the high rainfall (>1126 mm) zone.
About 8% of the land is vulnerable to cyclones of which coastal areas experience two or three tropical cyclones of varying intensity each year. Cyclonic activities on the east coast are more severe than on the west coast. The Indian continent is considered to be the worst cyclone-affected part of the world, as a result of low-depth ocean bed topography and coastal configuration. The principal threat from a cyclone are in the form of gales and strong winds; torrential rain and high tidal waves/storm surges. Most casualties are caused due to coastal inundation by tidal waves and storm surges. Cyclones typically strike the East Coast of India, along the Bay of Bengal, ie. the states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, but also parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat at the Arabian Sea West Coast.
Landslides occur in the hilly regions such as the Himalayas, North-East India, the Nilgiris, and Eastern and Western Ghats. Landslides in India are another recurrent phenomenon. Landslide-prone areas largely correspond to earthquake-prone areas, i.e. North-west and North-East, where the incidence of landslides is the highest.
Drought is another recurrent phenomenon which results in widespread adverse impact on vulnerable people’s livelihoods and young children’s nutrition status. It typically strikes arid areas of Rajasthan (chronically) and Gujarat states. Drought is not uncommon in certain districts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, etc. Although a slow onset emergency, and to an extent predictable emergency, drought has caused severe suffering in the affected areas in recent years, including effects on poverty, hunger, and unemployment.
Cold waves:
Cold waves are recurrent phenomenon in North India. Hundreds if not thousands of people die of cold and related diseases every year, most of them from poor urban areas in northern parts of the country.
According to India’s Tenth Five Year Plan, natural disasters have affected nearly 6% of the population and 24% of deaths in Asia caused by disasters have occurred in India. Between 1996 and 2001, 2% of national GDP was lost because of natural disasters, and nearly 12% of Government revenue was spent on relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction during the same period. As per a World Bank study in 2003, natural disasters pose a major impediment on the path of economic development in India

Hazard Profile

 India, due to its, physio-graphic and climatic conditions is one of the most disaster prone areas of the world. It is vulnerable to windstorms from both the Arabian Seaand Bay of Bengal. There are active crustal movements in the Himalaya leading to earthquakes. About 58.7 % of the toatal land mass is prone to earthquake of moderate to very high intensity. The region was hit by Uttarkashi Earthquake (1991), Killari Earthquake (1993), Koyana Earthquake (1997), Chamoli Earthquake (1999), and Bhuj earthquake (2001), Jammu & Kashmir Earthquake (2005). The Himalayas being a fairly young mountain range is undergoing constant geological changes resulting in landslides. Floods brought about by heavy rain and drought in arid and semi arid areas. About 12 % of the o f the total land mass is flood prone and 68 % of the arable land is vulnerable to drought. The Western region of the country is represented by the Thar Desert and the central India by the Deccan Plateau face recurring droughts due to acute shortage of rainfall. India has increasingly become vulnerable to Tsunamis since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. India has a coastline running 7600 km long; as a result is repeatedly threatened by cyclones.
The table below shows major disasters in the known history of India:

SR. NO. Name of Event Year Fatalities
1. Maharashtra Earthquake 1618 2,000
2. Bengal Earthquake 1737 300,000
3. Bengal Cyclone 1864 60,000
4. The Great Famine of Southern India 1876-1878 5.5 million
5. Maharashtra Cyclone 1882 100,000
6. The Great Indian famine 1896-1897 1.25 million to 10 million
7. Kangra earthquake 1905 20,000
8. Bihar Earthquake 1934 6,000
9. Bengal Cyclone 1970 500,000 (include Pakistan and Bangladesh also)
10. Drought 1972 200 million people affected
11. Andhra Pradesh Cyclone 1977 10,000
12. Drought in Haryana & Punjab 1987 300 million people affected
13. Latur Earthquake 1993 7,928 death and 30,000 injured
14. Orissa Super Cyclone 1999 10,000
15. Gujarat Earthquake 2001 25,000
16. Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004 10,749 deaths 5,640 persons missing
17. Kashmir Earthquake 2005 86000 deaths (include Kashmir & Pakistan)
18. Kosi Floods 2008 527
19. Cyclone Nisha of Tamil Nadu 2008 204

Identifying the hazards:

Natural disasters
Earthquake: India is having a high risk towards Earthquakes. More than 58 per cent of India’s land area is under threat of moderate to severe seismic hazard. During the last 20 years, India has experienced 10 major earthquakes that have resulted in more than 35,000 deaths. The most vulnerable areas, according to the present seismic zone map of India include the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions, Kutch and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Depending on varying degrees of seismicity, the entire country can be divided into the following seismic regions: Of the earthquake-prone areas, 12% is prone to very severe earthquakes, 18% to severe earthquakes and 25% to damageable earthquakes.

Though the regions of the country away from the Himalayas and other inter-plate boundaries were considered to be relatively safe from damaging earthquakes, the presence of a large number of non- engineering structures and buildings with poor foundations in these areas make these regions also susceptible to earthquakes. In the recent past, even these areas also have experienced earthquake, of lower magnitude than the Himalayan earthquakes. The North-Eastern part of the country continues to experience moderate to strong earthquakes. On an average, this region experiences an earthquake with magnitude greater than 5.0 every year. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are situated on an inter-plate boundary and therefore are likely to experience damaging earthquakes frequently. The increase in earthquake risk in India in recent times is caused due to a spurt in developmental activities driven by urbanization, economic development and theglobalization of India’s economy. The increase in the use of high-technology equipment and tools in manufacturing and service industries have also made them susceptible to disruption due to relatively moderate ground shaking.

Flood and drought: The country receives an annual precipitation of 400 million – hectare meters. Of the annual rainfall, 75% is received during four months ofmonsoon (June- September) and, as a result, almost all the rivers carry heavy discharge during this period. The flood hazard is compounded by the problems of sediment deposition, drainage congestion and synchronization of river floods with sea tides in the coastal plains. The area vulnerable to floods is 40 million hectares and the average area affected by floods annually is about 8 million hectares. About 30 million people are affected by flood every year. Floods in the Indo–Gangetic–Brahmaputra plains are an annual feature. On an average, a few hundred lives are lost, millions are rendered homeless and several hectares of crops are damaged every year Around 68% arable land of the country is prone to drought in varying degrees. Drought prone areas comprise 108. 11 million hectares out of a total land area of 329 Million hectares. About 50 million people are affected annually by drought. Of approximately 90 million hectares of rain-fed areas, about 40 million hectares are prone to scanty or no rain.

Cyclone: India’s long coastline of 7,516 kilometer is exposed to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s tropical cyclones. Of these, the majority has their initial genesis over the Bay of Bengal and strike the east coast of India. On an average, five to six tropical cyclones form every year, of which two or three could be severe. Cyclones occur frequently on both the coasts (The west coast – Arabian Sea; and the east coast – Bay of Bengal). More cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal than in theArabian Sea and the ratio is approximately 4:1. An analysis of the frequency of cyclones on the east and west coasts of India  between 1891 and 1990 shows that nearly 262 cyclones occurred (92 severe) in a 50 km wide strip on the east coast. Less severe cyclonic activity has been noticed on the west coast, with 33 cyclones occurring in the same period, out of which 19  of these were severe. In India,Tropical cyclones occur in the months of May-June and October-November. The cyclones of severe intensity and frequency in the north Indian Ocean are bi-modal in character, with their primary peak in November and secondary peak in May.  The disaster potential is particularly high at the time of landfall in the north Indian Ocean (Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea) due to the accompanying destructive wind, storm surges and torrential rainfall.  Of these, storm surges are the greatest killers of a cyclone, by which sea water inundates low lying areas of coastal regions and causes heavy floods, erodes beaches and embankments, destroys vegetation and reduces soil fertility.

Landslide: In the hilly terrain of India including the Himalayas, landslides have been a major and widely spread natural disasters that often strike life and property and occupy a position of major concern. One of the worst tragedies took place atMalpa Uttarkhand (UP) on 11th and 17th August 1998 when nearly 380 people were killed when massive landslides washed away the entire village. This included 60 pilgrims going to Lake Mansarovar in Tibet. In 2010 Cloudburst led flash mudslides and flash floods killed 196 people, including six foreigners and injured more than 400 and swept away number of houses, sweeping away buildings, bus stand and military installations in trans Himalaya Leh town of Jammu and Kashmir. Giving due consideration to the severity of the problem various land reform measures have been initiated as mitigation measures. Landslides occur in the hilly regions such as the Himalayas, North-East India, the Nilgiris, and Eastern and Western Ghats.

Avalanche: Avalanches are river like speedy flow of snow or ice descending from the mountain tops. Avalanches are very damaging and cause huge loss to life and property. In Himalayas, avalanches are common in Drass, Pir Panijat, Lahaul-Spiti and Badrinath areas. As per Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE), ofDefence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), on an average around 30 people are killed every year due to this disaster in various zones of the Himalayas. Beside killing people, avalanches also damage the roads and others properties and settlements falling in its way.
Area Prone to Avalanches

  • Avalanches are common in Himalayan region above 3500m elevation.
  • Very frequent on slopes of 30-45°.
  • Convex slopes more prone to this disaster.
  • North facing slope have avalanches in winter and south facing slopes during spring.
  • Slopes covered with grass more prone to this hazard.

Forest Fire: Forest or bush fire, though not causing much loss to human life, is a major hazard for forest cover in the country. As per Forest Survey of India report, 50 per cent of the forest cover of the country is fire prone, out of which 6.17 per cent is prone to severe fire damage causing extensive loss to forest vegetation and environment. Average annual physical loss due to forest fire in the country is estimated to worth Rs. 440 crores. The major loss due to forest fire is caused to the environment which gets adversely affected by this calamity. The degradation of climate, soil and water quality, loss of wildlife and its habitat, deterioration of human health, depletion of ozone layer, etc. along with direct loss to timber are the major adverse impact of forest fires. The coniferous forests in the Himalayan region are very susceptible to fire and every year there are one or more major fire incidences in these areas. The other parts of the country dominated by deciduous forest are also damaged by fire up to an extent. It is worth mentioning that in India 90 per cent of the forest fires are man­-made (intentionally or unintentionally).

Disaster Management Framework  

The institutional and policy mechanisms for carrying out response, relief and rehabilitation after disasters in India had been well-established since Independence. The increasing frequency and ferocity, the rising extent and sweep as well as the mounting human and economic toll due to disasters necessitated a reappraisal of institutional and policy frameworks and development of new frameworks for holistic disaster management of disasters.Heralding this paradigm shift in public policy, the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2007-12) stated:

The traditional perception relating to the management and mitigation of natural disasters has been limited to the idea of “calamity relief,” which is seen essentially as a non-plan item of expenditure. However, the impact of major disasters cannot be mitigated by the provision of immediate relief alone, which is the primary focus of calamity relief efforts. Disasters can have devastating effects on the economy; they cause huge human and economic losses, and can significantly set back development efforts of a region or a State. With the kind of economic losses and developmental setbacks that the country has been suffering year after year, the development process needs to be sensitive towards disaster prevention and mitigation aspects. There is thus a need to look at disasters from a development perspective as well.

The Plan also laid down a blue-print for the future:
The future blue-print for disaster management in India rests on the premise that in today’s society while hazards, both natural or otherwise, are inevitable, the disasters that follow need not be so and the society can be prepared to cope with them effectively whenever they occur. The need of the hour is to chalk out a multi-pronged strategy for total risk management, comprising prevention, preparedness, response and recovery on the one hand, and initiate development efforts aimed towards risk reduction and mitigation, on the other. Only then can we look forward to “sustainable development. Based on this philosophy, a holistic National Disaster Management Framework was developed in 2004, which highlights the interdependence of economy, environment, and development. This framework also links the issues of poverty alleviation, capacity building, community empowerment and other structural and non-structural issues of prevention and preparedness, response and recovery for effective disaster risk mitigation and management.
A comprehensive legal and institutional framework for disaster management has been set up through the Disaster Management Act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2005 and the National Policy on Disaster Managementthat was approved in 2009.

The Disaster Management Act 2005 has provided the legal and institutional framework for disaster management in India at the national, state and district levels. In the federal polity of India the primary responsibility of disaster management vests with the State Governments. The Central Government lays down policies and guidelines and provides technical, financial and logistic support while the district administration carries out most of the operations in collaboration with central and state level agencies.
In the Central Government there are existing institutions and mechanisms for disaster management while new dedicated institutions have been created under the Disaster Management Act of 2005.
The Cabinet Committee on Management of Natural Calamities (CCMNC) oversees all aspects relating to the management of natural calamities including assessment of the situation and identification of measures and programmes considered necessary to reduce its impact, monitor and suggest long term measures for prevention of such calamities, formulate and recommend programmes for public awareness for building up society’s resilience to them. The Cabinet Committee on Security.(CCS) deals with the matters relating to nuclear, biological and chemical emergencies
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) under the Cabinet Secretary oversees the Command, Control and Coordination of the disaster response.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 has created new institutions at the national, state, district and local levels. The new institutional framework for disaster management in the country is as under:
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The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister is the apex body responsible for laying down policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management and for coordinating their enforcement and implementation throughout the country. The policies and guidelines will assist the Central Ministries, State Governments and district administration to formulate their respective plans and programmes. NDMA has the power to approve the National Plans and the Plans of the respective Ministries and Departments of Government of India. The general superintendence, direction and control of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are vested in and will be exercised by the NDMA.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) is mandated to assist the NDMA in the discharge of its functions and further ensure compliance of the directions issued by the Central Government. The NEC comprises of the Union Home Secretary as the Chairperson, and the Secretaries to the GOI in the Ministries/Departments of Agriculture, Atomic Energy, Defence, Drinking Water Supply, Environment and Forests, Finance (Expenditure), Health, Power, Rural Development, Science and Technology, Space, Telecommunications, Urban Development, Water Resources and the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff of the Chiefs of Staff Committee as members. Secretaries in the Ministry of External Affairs, Earth Sciences, Human Resource Development, Mines, Shipping, Road Transport & Highways and Secretary, NDMA are special invitees to the meetings of the NEC. The National Executive Committee is responsible to prepare the National Plan and coordinate and monitor the implementation of the National Policy and the guidelines issued by NDMA.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the Central Government has the overall responsibility for disaster management in the country. For a few specific types of disasters the concerned Ministries have the nodal responsibilities for management of the disasters, as under:

Drought Ministry of Agriculture
Epidemics & Biological Disasters Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
Chemical Disasters Ministry of Environment & Forests
Nuclear Disasters Ministry of Atomic Energy
Air Accidents Ministry of Civil Aviation
Railway Accidents Ministry of Railways

The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) has the mandate for human resource development and capacity building for disaster management within the broad policies and guidelines laid down by the NDMA. NIDM is required to design, develop and implement training programmes, undertake research, formulate and implement a comprehensive human resource development plan, provide assistance in national policy formulation, assist other research and training institutes, state governments and other organizations for successfully discharging their responsibilities, develop educational materials for dissemination and promote awareness among stakeholders in addition to undertake any other function as assigned to it by the Central Government

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is the specialized force for disaster response which works under the overall supervision and control of the NDMA.
At the State Level the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), headed by the Chief Minister, lays down policies and plans for disaster management in the State. It is also responsible to coordinate the implementation of the State Plan, recommend provision of funds for mitigation and preparedness measures and review the developmental plans of the different departments of the State to ensure integration of prevention, preparedness and mitigation measures.
The State Disaster Management Department (DMD) which is mostly positioned in the Revenue and relief Department is the nodal authoiry
In the district level the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) is headed by the District Magistrate, with the elected representative of the local authority as the Co-Chairperson. DDMA is the planning, coordinating and implementing body for disaster management at district level. It will, inter alia prepare the District Disaster Management Plan and monitor the implementation of the National and State Policies and the National, State and the District Plans. DDMA will also ensure that the guidelines for prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response measures laid down by the NDMA and the SDMA are followed by all departments of the State Government at the district level and the local authorities in the district.

The Local Authorities both the rural local self governing institutions (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and urban local bodies (Municipalities, Cantonment Boards and Town Planning Authorities) These bodies will ensure capacity building of their officers and employees for managing disasters, carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in the affected areas and will prepare DM Plans in consonance with guidelines of the NDMA, SDMAs and DDMAs

Disaster Management Act 2005 

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 came into the statute book on 26 December 2005 by a Gazette notification, exactly on the first anniversary of the devastating tsunami of 2004, which killed nearly 13,000 people in India alone and affected 18 million people. The Act provides a legal and institutional framework for “the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” It provides for establishment of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) and District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) at the National, State and District levels with adequate financial and administrative powers and creation of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) with the mandate of undertaking training and capacity building, Develop Training Modules on various aspects of Disaster management, Undertake Research and Documentation, Formulate and implement comprehensive HRD Plan covering all aspects of DM, Provide assistance in national level policy formulation and Provide assistance to state governments and State Training Institutions. The act also provides guidelines for creation of National Disaster Response Fund, National Mitigation Fund, Establishment of funds by State Government and Allocation of funds by Ministries and Departments for Emergency procurement. The act also provides for establishment of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

    • National Policy on Disaster Management 2009 
      The National Policy on Disaster Management was approved by the Government in November 2009. This comprehensive policy document lays down policies on every aspect of holistic management of disasters in the country. The policy has thirteen chapters as under:
  1. Preamble
  2. Approach and Objectives
  3. Institutional and Legal Arrangements
  4. Financial Arrangements
  5. Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Preparedness
  6. Techno-Legal Regime
  7. Response
  8. Relief and Rehabilitation
  9. Reconstruction and Recovery
  10. Capacity Development
  11. Knowledge Management
  12. Research and development
  13. Road Ahead

Salient Features of India’s National Policy on Disaster Management: India’s National Policy on Disaster Management was approved by the

Union Cabinet of India on 22nd October, 2009 with the aim to minimize the losses to lives, livelihoods and property, caused by natural or manmade disasters with a vision to build a safe & Disaster resilient India by developing a holistic, proactive, integrated, Multi-disaster oriented and technology driven strategy. With this national Policy in place in India, a holistic and integrated approach will be evolved towards disaster management with emphasis on building strategic partnerships at various levels. The themes underpinning the policy include Community based Disaster Management, Capacity development in all spheres, Consolidation of past initiatives and best practices and Cooperation with agencies at National and International levels with multi-sectoral synergy.

The Policy is also intended to promote a culture of prevention, preparedness and resilience at all levels through knowledge, innovation and education. It encourages mitigation measures based on environmental sustainability. It seeks to mainstream disaster management into the developmental planning process and provides for Institutional and Financial arrangements at national, State, and District-levels for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness and Response as it ensures adequate budgeting for disaster mitigation activities in all Ministries and Departments.

  • State Policies on Disaster Management : The States of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala have formulated State Disaster Management Policies. policies. Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Uttranchal, Meghalaya, Bihar, Rajasthan, Delhi, Orissa and West Bengal have prepared draft policies.
  • State Relief Codes/ DM Codes : Many States have manuals and codes for management of drought, floods etc. Now many states are in the process of changing their State Relief codes into Disaster Management Manuals. 

SOURCE: India Disaster Knowledge Network (IDKN)


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