India needs better natural disaster planning: WB

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New Delhi, Jul 20: A World Bank Report assigns India the 36th position out of 170 countries in terms of risk relating to natural disasters and says an alarmingly high 49.6 per cent of its GDP is in areas where risk of such activity is high. The Report says the Indian subcontinent is prone to natural disasters. As many as 199 out of 633 Indian districts are hazard prone; the Bay of Bengal's warm shallow seas and still air provide ideal condition for cyclones; the northern region bordering the Himalayas is vulnerable to earthquakes and floods during the monsoon season are commonplace.

It notes that floods used to occur only in the Indo-Gangetic belt, but over the last 50 years they have spread to States such as Rajastahan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu because of soil degradation and impact of poor infrastructure. The Report released recently here says floods during the monsoon are often followed by droughts, due to deforestation and soil degradation, water does not penetrate the soil. Between 1984 and 2003, the Centre for Research into the Epidemology of Disasters (CRED) recorded 85 floods, 51 cyclones, ten earthquakes registering above five on the Richter scale and eight droughts in India.

The Report says damage from Indian Ocean tsunami was 0.18 per cent of GDP, more than 10,000 people died and 5,000 are missing in India alone.

The Report says monsoon floods in India and the neighbouring countries were a seasonal event in 2007; where 3,339 people were killed and nearly 57 million people affected.

Briefing newspersons on the Report, Dr Vinod Thomas, Director General, Evaluation, World Kank, said India has a high capacity to deal with disasters, but does not do well enough on preparing for disasters. The financial system and the planning process in the country does not integrate disaster management and prevention plans into the main plans in an effective way.

The Report ranks India among the top ten borrowers of World Bank funds and projects for natural disasters.

It says Asian countries are in the high-risk category and the impact on the continet is especially large.

The following are the Asian countries with their ranks and percentage of GDP in areas at risk (in that order) (1) Vietnam--5--89.4 per cent;(2) Bangladesh--9-- 86.5 per cent;(3) Philippines --10--85.2 per cent;(4) Thailand--13--81.2 per cent; (5) Uzbekistan--22--65.5 per cent; (6) Indonesia--- 28--62.3 per cent; (7) China -- 29--56.6 per cent;(8) Kyrgyz Republic 34--53.4 per cent and (9) India 36--49.6 per cent.

Mr Thomas said India was well-prepared in terms of early warning systems or the technical side of disaster management. It needs to do much more on preventing natural and man-made disasters. He listed three stages based on worldwide experience relating to natural disaster management. The first is pre-disaster risk reduction, the second immediate post-disaster actions and third is planning for long-term recovery.

''While India does well with regard to the second, there is much to be desired as far as the first and third stages are concerned,'' he said.

The Bank funded 43 projects in India relating to natural disasters between 1984 and 2005, making it the tenth largest borrower in the world in this regard.

The other nine countries that India is ahead of with regard to funding by the World Bank of disater management projects are as follows: China--32; Bangladesh--28; Brazil--27; Honduras--15; Turkey 13; Yemen --13; Madagascar--13; Mexico--12; and Vietnam--12.

Mr Thomas said the destructive impact of disasters are linked closely with the development, but disasters are typically treated as an interruption in development rather than as a risk to development.

He said the poor are the hardest hit in a situation of disaster. They lack savings, do not have diversified income, have vulnerable dwellings and are missed in the reconstruction.

Mr Thomas also spoke about the worldwide impact of natural disasters.

He said worldwide losses from natural disasters in the past decade were 15 times more compared to the 1950s. Man-made causes of disasters include deforestation, land degradation, and carbon emissions contributing to global warming.

''Environmental destruction, not environmental safeguards, is the threat to growth prospects. In a few countries are the gains to environmental care or the risks of environmental neglect, larger than in China or India,'' Mr Thomas said.

Mr Thomas said the Bank has responded with flexibilty relating to a variety of activities. Infrastructure reconstruction has been relatively successful. However, a quick reaction may not lead to the most relevant response.

He said maintenance follow-up and preventive investments need greater attention. For instance, infrastructre designs should be prepared with recurrent disasters in mind.

Mr Thomas said of the 59 completed Emergency projects relating to the Bank in disaster-prone settings, only ten have had follow-on projects, indicating the neglect of prevention.

UNI

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