India loses nearly $18 bn to disasters: Expert

November 6th, 2011 - 4:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Agartala, Nov 6 (IANS) India is paying a high price for its lack of disaster management practices — Rs.86,000 crore ($17.5 billion) every year to be precise, says a UN expert.

“India is vulnerable, in varying degrees, to a large number of natural as well as manmade disasters,” J. Radhakrishnan, head of UNDP India’s Disaster Management wing, told IANS here.

According to him, 58.6 percent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity and over 40 million hectares (12 percent of land) is prone to floods and river erosion.

“Of the 7,516 km-long coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis and 70 percent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches.”

“Though India has been losing property and crops worth Rs.86,000 crore annually for the past few years due to the various types of disasters, mitigation and disaster management are extremely inadequate in the country.

He also said an average of 4,334 people are killed in natural disasters every year, while road accidents claim 150,000 lives annually.

“The catastrophes disrupt progress and raze the hard-earned fruits of painstaking developmental efforts, often pushing nations in quest for progress back by several decades,” Radhakrishnan said.

“Vulnerability to disasters and emergencies of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) origin also exists. Disaster risks can be related to expanding population, urbanisation and industrialisation, development within high-risk zones, environmental degradation and climate change,” he said.

Experts, engineers, officials of the UNDP, home ministry, National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and others had gathered here for a two-day brainstorming session on disaster management.

NIDM professor Chandan Ghosh said: “In the context of human vulnerability to disasters, the economically and socially weaker segments of the population are the most seriously affected.”

“Within the vulnerable groups, elderly persons, women, children, especially women rendered destitute and children orphaned on account of disasters, and the differently abled people are exposed to higher risks,” Ghosh told IANS.

Addressing the conference, he said conventional construction methods must be avoided to make buildings safer.

He said over 10,000 buildings in New Delhi were given a protective shield by doing some maintenance work by spending only Rs.5 lakh. The national building code must be followed during construction to ensure safety from earthquakes,
he added.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who also spoke at the event, said: “A division of state and central security forces must be trained in disaster mitigation methods. The number of civil defence and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) must be increased.”

“All types of central schemes and projects, including houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY), must have provisions of earthquake resistance,” state Revenue and Finance Minister Badal Chowdhury said.

He said fund constraints were creating obstacles in initiating disaster management measures.

The summit has also discussed the lessons learnt from the 6.8 magnitude Sikkim earthquake Sep 18, which caused massive devastation in large parts of India and also jolted Nepal, Tibet and Bangladesh.

The Tripura government has already identified over 2,000 vulnerable buildings, including the 110-year-old Ujjayanta Palace, abode of former princely rulers of the state in the heart of capital city, the heritage Raj Bhavan and Neermahal Palace, built by Tripura’s last king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya inside the Rudrasagar Lake.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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