Disasters, Diversity, Disparity, Discrimination and Vulnerability

SHARMA, VINAY (1); MISHRA, HIMANSHU SHEKHAR (2); JOSHI, KAPIL KUMAR (3); AGRAWAL, RAJAT (1) (2016). 'Disasters, Diversity, Disparity, Discrimination and Vulnerability' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract Disasters bring devastation. Diversity of issues, criterion and priorities bring disparity, discrimination and enhanced vulnerability to the deprived classes of the society, which has a depleting effect on our idea of justice. This paper based on the experiences of the authors; (one a journalist and the editor of an international news network, other an Indian Forest  Services officer and two others academicians associated with a large river project) in post disaster scenario of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand on 16th June, 2013 and Kashmir floods in September, 2014 presents an account of diversity, disparity, discrimination and vulnerability in the post disaster scenario. The paper points out at the diversity of issues and diversity of impact on diverse kinds of people. The disparity of concerns, implementation levels and apparoaches of policy brings in discrimination towards relief and rehabilitation and enhances vulnerability amongst the most vulnerable, which causes irreversible mobility of masses. While highlighting the central aspect of diversity, disparity and discrimination during and post-disasters of Uttarakhand and Kashmir through a narrative based on observations and interviews of the affected people the paper proposes for: a)      A right to compensation; b)      A policy for identification of the processes and methodology to compensate during and post-disasters and c)      Accounting of workers and vulnerable people in disaster prone areas. The paper resorts to ‘Capability’Approach to address the right to comensation and the related policy structure especially with reference to the disasters in post disaster scenario. Foreground and Introduction: The devastating floods in Jammu and Kashmir in September, 2014 exposed the fault lines in this strategically important border State’s disaster relief and response mechanism and also highlighted the weaknesses inherent in India’s disaster management strategy at the larger level. Considered the worst in more than a hundred years in the State, impact of this deluge was felt in 5642 villages. It destroyed 2.54-lakh houses, made millions homeless and severely affected paddy, fruit, maize and other vegetable crops in around 6.51-lakh hectares of cropped area [1]. Though the scale at which the relief and rescue operations were launched marked a paradigm shift in Indian State’s response mechanism to a natural disaster, but, the weaknesses in the reconstruction and rehabilitation measures initiated in the aftermath of these floods have not received the requisite attention it deserved. Tens of Thousands of flood victims in Jammu and Kashmir continue to struggle to reconstruct their lives as they are yet to receive any viable compensation package to rebuild their houses and create new sources of livelihood. The struggle of these flood victims to seek compensation from the State leads us to an important question: Should there be a rights-based paradigm to address the issue of relief and compensation to disaster victims?  It is ironic that despite a high degree of vulnerability to disasters, for almost six decades after independence, India's disaster response strategy was 'reactive' and 'relief-centric' in approach. The enactment of the Disaster Management (DM) Act in 2005 was the first serious effort to restructure India's disaster response strategy from a 'relief-centric' approach to a more proactive “prevention, mitigation and preparedness-driven” approach. Worst Floods Since 1902: In terms of scale of devastation, the floods in Jammu and Kashmir is considered the worst in more than a hundred years. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in its Report tabled in Parliament in December, 2014 argued that such a flood situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in Srinagar, had not been witnessed since 1902. A Home Ministry note reveals that the volume of rainfall was recorded highest in Shopian district which received an unprecedented 2953% above normal rainfall while Srinagar district received 1410% above normal rainfall [2]. Costliest Natural Disaster in 2014: The Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2014 conducted by CRED, IRSS and the Université catholique de Louvain in Brussels argued after assessing the economic damage caused by disasters in different parts of the world that: “The costliest natural disaster in 2014 was the flood in the Jammu and Kashmir region, in India, which cost US$ 16 billion” [3].  Uttarakhand Disaster of 2013: Uttarakhand is primarily a mountainous state with a total of about 65% area covered as forest. Kedarnath is situated at a height of about 3,583 meters near chorabari glacier, the head of river Mandakini, in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand state. It is located near the confluence of river Mandakini and river Saraswati on a plateau surrounded by snow clad mountains and glaciers and at a distance of about 2 Kms down stream from Gandhi sarovar lake which is a snow melt and rain fed lake 400m long, 200m wide and 15-20m deep at a height of 3960m [4]. Starting with an unsual behaviour of monsoon, on 16th June, 2013 at 5:15 p.m the torrential rains flooded the Saraswati river catchment area, resulting in excessive flow across all the channels. As a result, large volumes of water struck the town which simultaneously picked huge amount of sediments enroute. The voluminous water studded with debris from the surroundings alongwith glacial moraines moved towards Kedarnath town, washing off upper part of the city and lead to the biggest devastation ever seen in the region.  As per the figures provided by Uttarakhand Government over 5700 people were presumed dead though the figures by various other organisations indicate around 20000 to 30000 casualities in this disaster.  Fault Lines in Disaster Management Strategy: In many ways, the unprecedented floods in Jammu and Kashmir and Kedarnath (Uttarakhand) showed that nine years since the DM Act was enacted by parliament, the mandatory legal provisions enshrined in this law had not been effectively implemented. Right to Compensation to Disaster Victims: The struggle of the flood-affected people in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir seeking relief and rehabilitation leads us to two important questions: a) Should the existing Disaster Management Act be amended to incorporate a legal right to relief and compensation to disaster victims?; b) Should there be a fixed timeline in the DM Act for fixing the quantum of compensation to the worst affected disaster victims? 

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