Disaster risk reduction: a success story in Bihar

Published: 9 October 2006 0:00 CET

Amit Kumar, International Federation, New Delhi

The year 2001 saw the Indian Red Cross disaster management approach move from being purely response-centred to one that incorporates disaster preparedness and mitigation.

Over the years, Indian Red Cross disaster operations have been significantly improved through a range of initiatives. These include the building of cyclone shelters in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Orissa, and six regional warehouses in strategic locations around the country. A central training institute has also been established.

Following the Assam flood in 2000, the Indian Red Cross began a pilot study on risk reduction in the area with financial and technical support from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Federation. This highlighted the importance of, and need for, community-based disaster preparedness and branch capacity development.

Further flood operations in 2002 and 2004 underlined the need for longer-term disaster preparedness plans and the need to adopt a multi-sectoral approach. Recent years have therefore seen the Indian Red Cross undertake a number of successful initiatives to build the capacity of national headquarters and the state branches. Prominent among these is the work undertaken by the Bihar Red Cross state branch.

“I am empowered”

Bihar suffers from floods almost every year during the monsoon season, predominantly due to The Ganges and its tributaries. Twenty-one of Bihar’s 38 districts are flood-prone and 13 are chronic drought-prone. Such complexities compound the impact of disaster on vulnerable people.

Under the dynamic leadership of Mr SP Singh, Honorary Secretary of Bihar state branch, the branch has successfully scaled up disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts. “We have realized that this is the most cost-effective and sustainable approach in the long run,” he explains.

Under the DFID-II disaster risk reduction programme (2005-08), the branch this year is planning to build a warehouse, one raised platform and 20 further raised tube wells in addition to the 100 tube wells already installed as part of the 2004 flood mitigation programme.

The branch also plans to create a pool of trained master trainers on vulnerability capacity assessment (VCA) and other aspects of disaster management. The focus is primarily on community-based preparedness and risk reduction activities.

This programme is being implemented in eight districts: Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Khagaria, Vaishali, Bhagalpur, Nalanda, Aurangabad and Nawada. Within these, all 15 of the most vulnerable communities have been identified both from the flood and drought-prone areas.

The aim is to reduce their vulnerability through training and raising awareness of risks, preparedness and mitigation measures by the end of 2008.

According to Asif Shahab, Disaster Management Coordinator in Bihar, 100 volunteers have already been trained in VCA and disaster preparedness. Sixty more volunteers have been trained in first aid and mental health. State disaster response team members were included in the first VCA training so that they in turn can become local resource persons in future VCA trainings.

“I am empowered,” says Vimala Devi from Samastipur, one of the participants in the VCA training. “Now I know about the hazards and risks that I and my community face. I have to respond well when disaster strikes but also need to be prepared before it.”

Other activities completed this year include a baseline survey in 10 communities adopted for 2006 and the preparation of awareness-raising street plays and folk songs on disasters. The emphasis of the disaster risk reduction programme is on lesson learning through documentation, videos, written case studies and participatory evaluation.

Bihar state branch has come a long way since 2001 and is marching on the path of success with the help of its committed and trained volunteer force.

Major current activities include the construction of a raised platform in the village of Barari Kothi in Muzaffarpur district and the construction of warehouse in Samastipur district. Once completed, these structures will surely ensure safer communities in the future.

The Bihar experience clearly highlights the need for community-based disaster preparedness and underlines that local interventions with community participation are much more effective than any efforts planned in isolation.