By Shwetha Sivaraman
Having experienced 321 natural disasters between 2000 and 2019, India lies within the top four most disaster-prone countries in the world. Approximately 12 per cent of India’s land area is vulnerable to landslides and floods. Between 1980 and 2017, 278 floods in India led to losses totalling $58.7 billion, affecting more than one billion people. In fact, in 2018, India made up 20 per cent of global deaths from floods.
What makes India so susceptible to natural disasters? First and most straightforwardly, the country’s geographical location plays a significant part in its vulnerability. Being surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea makes the country’s coastal areas – Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Bengal – most likely to experience cyclones paired with heavy precipitation, leading to flooding. This is especially so since India lies in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Lying near the Equator, the ITCZ is where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet. Their convergence leads to cyclones, heavy rainfall and storms. Another factor that exacerbates the likelihood of natural disasters like floods is deforestation. Absent tree roots binding soil together creates loose soil, enhancing the risk of floods and landslides.
Natural disasters have an array of impacts. Most obviously and devastatingly are the resulting fatalities. In 2019, disasters like heavy rainfall, floods, landslides and cyclones caused over 2000 deaths. Natural disasters involving water, like cyclone storms and floods, also spread waterborne diseases, vectorborne illnesses (diseases from pathogenic ticks, mosquitos and flies) and respiratory difficulties, resulting in further deaths.
Affected areas also experience severe damage to crops and property. Property damage or the complete destruction of infrastructure leads to the displacement of individuals. Further, these immediate effects, in turn, indirectly and detrimentally impact the economy. Such consequences include food shortages, unsanitary water, and power outages. These lead to a disruption to services and businesses and, thus, economic damage. In 2020, India incurred an $87 billion loss due to natural disasters.
Mandated by the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Indian Government established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to innovate schemes to alleviate the blows from natural disasters. The Disaster Management Division of Home Affairs has developed programmes and projects lke the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project to improve cyclone forecasting and risk management and the National Emergency Communication Plan to strengthen communication lines. NGOs have also played a fundamental role in disaster management. For example, Rapid Response was the first NGO to tackle disasters. Providing emergency aid like food, water, clothing, and long-term help in rehabilitating affected families has saved more than 700,000 individuals from over 26 disasters.
Unfortunately, given the scale of natural disasters, it is unrealistic to aim to prevent them and their impacts completely. Yet, it is vital that preventative steps and ex-post measures are taken to mitigate the harm caused. The government and NGOs must continue to provide relief and cooperate with each other to help guard a country frequently prone to natural calamities.