Disaster resilience and management in Indian urban areas

Disaster resilience and management in urban areas has been a challenge for town planners. The huge loss of lives, property, economy and society can be minimized by making our cities resilient to disaster. A resilient city bounces back to normal functioning once disaster passes away. Before planning to establish a resilient city framework, we must understand the basic paradigm of disasters such as earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, landslides etc. We face disasters because we are setting cities dangerously close to a natural phenomenon due to rapid urbanization, and we cannot handle its impact with available resources and arrangements. A focus on resilience and the resulting strengthening of the self-organization capacity of urban systems is also regarded as a means of improving the sustainability of cities.

The geological and environmental setting of India and ecological fragility vulnerability make it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. The book Disaster management  in India (ministry of home affairs , GOI, 2011) presents the facts that during the last 30 years of time span the country has faced more than 430 disasters resulting into enormous loss to life, environment and economy. Indian land is highly vulnerable to various disasters such as floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, avalanche, forest fires, pandemic, industrial/chemical disasters.

Disasters can be natural as well as manmade and there could be many reasons behind the conversion of a hazard into a disaster. The rapid urbanization, migration, coupled with the increased intensity and frequency of adverse weather events, is posing challenges to deal with the consequences of disasters. The Indian subcontinent is highly vulnerable to mainly 4 hazards droughts, floods, cyclones and earthquakes.

The United Nations global assessment report on disaster risks reduction (2015) estimates that India‘s average annual economic loss due to disasters is of the order of $9.8 billion. It is widely accepted that ―natural disasters‖ are the product of human processes, raising the question and debate of what society can itself do to reduce and withstand hazard risk, i.e. increase its resilience. About 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; about 8% of the total area is prone to cyclones and 68% of the area is susceptible to drought. In the decade 1990-2000, an average of about 4344 people lost their lives and about 30 million people were affected by disasters every year.

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The loss in terms of lives, community and public assets has been astronomical. It is an unfortunate and undesirable situation that in our country where more than 6 crore people are affected by disasters every year, we have no policy on systematic disaster Management in the process of planning and development. It is only after a disaster strikes , government, both at the centre and at the states, move to take action that too slowly. Despite the need to build up capabilities and working plans to meet the challenges of disasters, the thrust has unfortunately been on alleviation and relief. Even the relief and mitigation has not been quick and adequate, as few disasters such as Orissa super cyclone, Tsunami of 2004, Gujarat earthquake etc experiences has shown. India‘s response to and tackling and building resilience to the major disasters has been weak and insufficient .

Need for resilience in hill areas

The concept of Disaster resilience is a new concept in India, requiring specific technical know-how and data for cities to draw up their resilience plans. It also needs awareness generation to be built among civil society and people to foster interest and support. Unique development pattern with integrated risk assessment is evolved in response to various geo-environmental constraints which include difficult topography, complex geological structure, adverse climate and fragile ecology in Indian hill towns.

The hilly terrain and region is presently faced with the dilemma of maintaining a balance between development and environmental conservation. In the hill areas the land available for undertaking various developmental initiatives is severely limited and its utilisation is further restricted by stringent environmental regulations as also the terrain characteristics. Under these mutually conflicting forces of development and fragile environment the urban centres of the hills are witnessing unplanned, weird, haphazard and lopsided growth whereby proliferation of hastily built, illegal constructions with scant regard to safety measures is becoming common place and risk and vulnerability of major disasters is on the rise.

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This trend, if allowed to continue unabated, is sure to result in a situation that might threaten the very existence of many hill habitations. These hill towns have been experiencing a very high pressure for development due to rapid growth, increased employment opportunities as well as increased tourist influx from last few decades; as a result, tremendous development ( both residential and commercial) has taken place in these environmentally fragile hill towns, which has drastically changed the overall environment in and around hill towns and cities. Different building regulations and development codes are enforced to guide and regulate developmental activity in hill towns to make it less vulnerable and minimise the impacts of over development on fragile, ecologically sensitive and attractive environment of hill towns.


But, as it is evident from existing development these building regulations and development plans are ambiguities and fail to address challenges for development, planning and plan implementation in peculiar hill context and consequently have enormous impacts on the urban environment making it highly vulnerable to disaster risks .There is a strong need to facilitate action to disaster-proofing  cities must ensure capacity building, competence, and adaptability at various levels of urban governance and planning that would eventually be dealing with mitigation and/or adaptive practices on ground. Urban planning and development related to Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience should consider the following seven aspects particularly in hill cities with provision of modification as per new research and development in technology and construction material.

  1. Enable including disaster vulnerability and change considerations in the urban planning and development framework that would ensure addressing current and future risks and hazards for long-term sustainability
  2. Hazard resistant planning, including risk sensitive land use planning
  3. Selective strengthening & retrofitting of existing infrastructure to reduce vulnerability
  4. Awareness and preparedness
  5. Regulation and implementation
  6. Capacity building & Emergency response
  7. Mainstreaming the concept of disaster resilience planning into master plan and development controls of the hill cities.
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