Disaster Management: Common Alerting Protocol yet to be implemented for whole of India

Nivedita Khandekar

Indian Army and flood relief in Kashmir (representative image)

China and India together account for over 2.8 billion disaster-affected people between 2000-2019, approximately 70% of the global total, as per the latest UNDRR report. But are India’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and programme enough?


Between year 2000 and 2019, there were 7,348 major recorded disaster events across the world claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people
(many on more than one occasion) resulting in approximately US$2.97 trillion in global economic losses, a latest report by the United Nations office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) has stated.

This is a sharp increase over the previous twenty years. Between 1980 and 1999, 4,212 disasters were linked to natural hazards worldwide claiming approximately 1.19 million lives and affecting 3.25 billion people resulting in approximately US$1.63 trillion in economic losses, it said.

The report ‘Human Cost of Disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019)’ published on Monday to mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 confirms how extreme weather events have come to dominate the disaster landscape in the 21st century.

Much of the difference is explained by a rise in climate-related disasters including extreme weather events: from 3,656 climate-related events (1980-1999) to 6,681 climate-related disasters in the period 2000-2019, a period which also recorded floods and storms as the most prevalent events and has seen the number of major floods more than double: from 1,389 to 3,254, while the incidence of storms grew from 1,457 to 2,034.

Human Cost of Disasters: An overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019)

The report also records major increases in other categories including drought, wildfires, and extreme temperature events. A major finding was that the two Asian giants, China, and India, together account for over2.8 billion disaster-affected people between 2000-2019, approximately 70% of the global total.

Whither India’s Common Alerting Protocol?
UNDRR’s 2019 Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction has already underscored “failure to understand and manage systemic risk is a challenge for reducing disaster losses” assert out the global blueprint: the Sendai Framework forDisaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030).

Adopted by the UN member States on March 18, 2015 at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction at Sendai, Japan, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, clearly recognizes that disaster risk management needs to be about managing the risk inherent in social and economic activity, rather than simply mainstreaming disaster risk management to protect against external threats like natural hazards.

A signatory to the Sendai Framework for DRR, India has been considerably and consistently increasing its efforts at DRR as that is one of the best forms of mitigation. Enabled by technology, the weather forecast has improved considerably, especially in case of cyclones hitting the east coast. But, as pointed out by UNDRR, “the failure to understand and manage systemic risk” is indeed a challenge for the sprawling country with varied levels of literacy, poverty, and penetration of communication facilities, not to mention the plethora of languages.

As per National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), “the early warning system (EWS) is a very essential component of DRR as it is not only the production of technically accurate warnings but also a system that requires an understanding of risk and a link between producers and consumers of warning information, with the ultimate goal of triggering action to prevent or mitigate a disaster.”

NDMA further divides the EWS is sub-divided into four separate segments:Riskknowledge, Technical monitoring and warning service, Dissemination andcommunication of warnings and response capability and preparedness to act (by authorities and by those at risk).

The last mile connectivity – the dissemination and communication of warnings – is what determines the vulnerable community’s action/reaction towards forthcoming disaster. The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) allows a warning message to be consistently disseminated simultaneously over many warning systems to many Information and Communications Technology(ICT) applications. It increases warning effectiveness as even with well-coordinated structures and well-crafted messages, dissemination to remote areas is still difficult in many places and requires a combination of technological and non-technological solutions, NDMA officials said. The CAP is the brainchild of NDMA, and the solutions have been developed by Department of Telecommunication (DoT)and Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).

The terrestrial communication networks fail during disasters as was noticed duringJ&K floods in 2014, Uttarakhand tragedy in 2013 and Ladakh flashfloods in 2010.The CAP comprises providing reliable telecommunication infrastructure to the disaster managers during peace time as well as in the event of any disaster on the one hand and on the other, the ICT services assist the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the NDMA, the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF HQ) and local administration in taking appropriate decisions.

A pilot project titled as “National Disaster Management Services (NDMS)” was conceived for 120 locations as listed: one each at MHA, NDMA and NDRF HQ, 36 at all state and UTs HQs and 81 in selected districts. Several states said, the pilot projects were successful. The relevant disaster management message in the local language of the pilot area were sent via SMS to all mobile telephone subscribers within that geography. Same messages were sent via television, radio, display boards etc. through the CAP.

In 2018, the NDMA also red flagged how the do-not-disturb (DND) facility on mobile phones prevented it from disseminating early warning messages. The DoT, in turn, asked telecom operators to allow those who opted for DND to receive these SMS alerts.But since then, nothing much has moved.

The CAP is yet to be implemented nation-wide. “The pilots are not yet over; they are in the advanced stages. Most likely in another two months the pilots would be over and then we would go for upscaling pan-India,” said a government source.

CCDRR evolving practice in India?
As has been witnessed time and again, disaster after disaster, it is the children that are disproportionately affected.
In such crucial times, delivery of health, education, and other essentials for a child, such as nutrition, are adversely affected. And this is evident more in susceptible communities that are already bearing the brunt of poverty and inequality.

Disaster Management experts define Child-centred DRR (CCDRR) as an evolving concept that has seen a rapid growth during recent years. It is linked to community based DRR through participation and can broadly be defined as DRR for and with children.

Most disaster risk assessments do not necessarily include data about children. India has had a poor track record when it comes to data and this lack of disaggregated data poses a challenge in assessing the right vulnerability at different levels.

Perhaps recognising this, Dr Amarjeet K Sharma, Director of Higher Education, Himachal Pradesh wrote in his letter to all schools and college principles for a three-day training programme on CRDRR from October 12-14, 2020, “Children have special needs and may require different forms of physical, social, mental and emotional support than adults.”

Some of the multitude of NGOs working on equally multitude of issues have focused on CCDRR. Necessarily assessing risk through children’s lens, these programmes involve the local community in preparation of DRR plans; evolving their own early warning dissemination systems; enhancing search, rescue, and evacuation skills and also, relief shelter/camp management.

NGO ChildFund India that has implemented CCDRR program in 43 villages in Nagapattinam district and Chennai city of Tamil Nadu and Kendrapara district of Odisha, has proactively sought to involve school children as part of the school safety intervention especially keeping in mind the age group of 10 years and above. ChildFund’s School Safety programme under CCDRR is currently being implemented in 133 schools.

“The training under School safety intervention comprises ‘Building understanding on school safety and its importance’; ‘Risk assessments at school level’; “Preparation ofschool safety planning and its implementation” ; “Search, Rescue, Evacuation skills’ and last but never the least, ‘First Aid and Psychosocial support’.” said Rama Rao Dammala, Senior Manager (Disaster Risk Management) ChildFund India. As many as 5,964 children have been trained under ‘school safety intervention’ while a total of 1,361 children and adults have trained under the CCDRR at community level by ChildFund India, he added.

Obviously, much more needs to be done. By everybody.



The author, Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. She can be reached at nivedita_him@rediffmail.com or one could follow her on twitter at @nivedita_Hi

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