Long Term Crises: Unsustainable Human Development, Disaster Risk Reduction and the Psychosocial Consequences of Flooding Disasters in India

Crabtree, Andrew (2014). 'Long Term Crises: Unsustainable Human Development, Disaster Risk Reduction and the Psychosocial Consequences of Flooding Disasters in India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Within the development field, the strength of the capability approach has been its attack on the income approach to measuring development. The capability approach has shifted attention away from resources to the evaluative space of substantial freedoms and functionings. In the capability approach's institutionalized form – the Human Development Reports – the message has been: Be of very high human development. However, this has been recommended irrespective of the consequences. The fundamental problem of the approach is that very high human development is carbon based, not least Norway which leads the Human Development Index, and therefore unsustainable.  In short, the capability approach's lack of attention to resources and the consequences of functionings have encouraged unsustainability (Crabtree, 2012; Crabtree, 2013a).

In their recent book on India, An Uncertain Glory, Drèze and Sen (2013) appear to have taken the environmental agenda on board. For example they state 'The acceleration of economic growth in recent decades has coincided with unprecedented environmental plunder' (Drèze and Sen 2013: 41) or again 'The fact that India's power use is already quite significant as a proportion of power consumption in the world, and that it will very likely continue to expand fast given the growth of the Indian economy, makes it ethically unacceptable for India to worry only about the damage to its own local environment – bad enough as it is.' (Drèze and Sen 2013: 91). Yet despite these claims, the major thrust of the book is an attack on India's growth trajectory which has not been converted in a comparable reduction in capability deprivations, not least education and health (central to the HDI). This results in the claim 'The need for rapid growth is far from over, since India, after two decades of rapid growth, is still one of the poorest countries in the world' (Drèze and Sen 2013:20). As the authors state, there are 600 million Indians without basic electricity and energy needs cannot be met, within the foreseeable future, by renewable energy. In other words, poverty reduction is given priority over the harms done as a result of climate change.

If one takes the view that carbon dioxide emissions and consequently climate change are necessary evils when reducing poverty, then one would expect Drèze and Sen to emphasize policies and actions (including bottom up approaches) that reduce the negative consequences of climate change, namely Disaster Risk Reduction. This they do not do. In other words, they advocate, at least in the short run, unsustainable human development without prioritizing the reduction of consequent harms.

This paper looks at disaster risk reduction in India. In particular, drawing on epidemiological studies and fieldwork carried out in Bihar, it examines Disaster Risk Reduction in relation to the psychosocial consequences of climate related flooding disasters in India (Crabtree, 2013b). It shows how psychosocial loss and damage can be diminished by actions ranging from national to individual levels (disaster preparedness, management, communications, social cohesion (participation in the community) and poverty reduction).

Given that loss and damage will occur – the negative consequences of disasters will be reduced not eradicated – it is germane to ask how loss and damage should be redressed from a capabilities perspective. This paper will examine the specific issue of psychosocial harms done due to climate related flooding in India. It argues that assessments of harms based on working days lost and economic compensation while going part of the way will not reflect capability loss and damage. Thus the paper will discuss the different types of psychosocial and mental health interventions necessary to ameliorate psychosocial harms done.

Furthermore, the paper will argue that in addition to mitigating climate change, Indian policy should give a higher priority to Disaster Risk Reduction than Drèze and Sen do. The paper has broader relevance as DRR is set to be central to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and because of its relation to the loss and damage debate that exits within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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