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Feb 7, 2017

Mainstreaming DRR in Local Development Plans to Reduce Aid Dependency

Animesh Prakash

Village disaster management committee at Chadnamkhana persistently engaged with the minor irrigation department for stone-patching of Subarnarekha river bank

Village disaster management committee at Chadnamkhana persistently engaged with the minor irrigation department for stone-patching of Subarnarekha river bank

Phailin, a ‘very severe’ cyclone, hit Odisha on September 12, 2013. It made landfall in Gopalpur in Ganjam district. An accurate early warning triggered prompt Government and community action which helped to contain human casualty to 21. This was significantly low when compared to the 10,000 people who lost their lives in a similar cyclone 14 years ago in the same region. The Phailin-affected regions in the southern districts of Odisha received sufficient support through relief, recovery, and rehabilitation programmes through different aid agencies. 

The aid and attention that poured in was overwhelming. These were comprehensive enough to not only help the affected communities to recover from the shocks of disasters but also to prevent and mitigate the impact from future disasters. Due to the attention it received, the community got land rights, pucca houses, roads, school, and water and sanitation facilities.

“Our village has changed for the better. The cyclone actually turned out to be a boon for us,” recalls Babaji of New Podempeta.

Disasters, however, do not always bring opportunities for development. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, unmet needs often provoke negative coping strategies and further escalate vulnerabilities.  

Balasore was affected by flooding around the same time as Phailin struck Ganjam but they went largely unnoticed. Phailin had gradually weakened into a deep depression and led to heavy rains in the upper catchments of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. This caused flooding in Balasore, Bhadrak, Keonjhar and Ganjam. Flood casualties were more than Phailin’s; 23 people lost their lives. The impact was significant but the needs of the affected communities was overshadowed, and neglected by Phailin. A bigger disaster usually generates stronger stimulus for Humanitarian response as compared to the disasters smaller in scale and magnitude. Media also plays a catalyst in generating this stimulus. Concentration of aid distribution is centred mostly on the nuclei of media reported worst affected geographies whereas sporadic clusters of worst affected regions with scant reporting gets overshadowed.   

One such village was Chadnamkhana, a small hamlet on the bank of Subarnarekha, in Paschimabad Gram Panchayat in Balasore’s Jaleswar block. With no roads, the hamlet could only be reached through boats. During 2013 post-Phailin floods, eight families lost their houses, assets, and land due to river erosion. All 30 houses were either completely or partially destroyed; a few families lost agriculture land to river erosion. They received initial relief assistance but where excluded from recovery and rehabilitation support. This was grossly insufficient to restore normalcy. Around five families were forced to migrate and start their lives afresh. Alienation and neglect by relief agencies slowed their pace of recovery. 

This was an important lesson. Insufficient and untimely aid restricts community’s capacities to recover from the shocks of disasters. The increased frequency of disasters, although has stressed the humanitarian agencies, it is imperative to reach the worst affected communities and humanitarian actors should challenge themselves to reach the unreached by constantly innovating and improving their operations. While this is necessary, it is equally important to reduce community’s dependency on the ‘probable’ aid trickling in, and emphasise on building transformative capacities to reduce the underlying risk factors. 

Oxfam defines ‘resilience’ as the ability of women and men to realise their rights and improve their well-being, despite shocks, stresses and uncertainties. In that scenario, investments on mainstreaming components of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in local development plans is crucial to not only prevent and mitigate disaster impacts but can also enhance the absorptive capacities of the vulnerable communities. 

When Oxfam India started working in Balasore, through partner Unnayan, the objective was to reduce risks by mainstreaming DRR components in local development plans. Villagers, in Chadnamkhana, were trained and organised in groups; a Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC) was set up. The committee was assisted by a team of trained professionals and engineers to assess hazards and its potential impacts, particularly on marginalised and socially excluded groups including those who are forced to live in unsafe locations. Existing local knowledge helped in computing the time for evacuation in different scenarios. This was critical for developing village disaster management plans, establishing community-based early warning systems, and other risk management and mitigation activities.

With the risks and exposure to hazards understood and analysed, the next step for the community was to effectively plan and strengthen local solutions towards mitigating disasters. The community identified risk factors at the village level and prepared strategies to reduce some of the pertinent risks. These were documented in the village micro plans. The plans were approved in the palli sabha meeting and resources were mobilised from ongoing government programmes. 

The community mobilised resources locally and from government schemes and projects for long term risk reduction initiatives. In the village flood protection embankment was strengthened, approach roads constructed, high raised shelter mounds and homesteads built, drainage channels dug, river banks stone-patched, pucca houses earmarked through different government schemes, and asset storages created. 

An assessment showed that the communities were now better prepared and had better capacities to minimise disaster-related risk and losses. Through stone patching, river bank embankment and raised homesteads the community managed to reduce the level of inundation in houses as well as the time the families had to spend in shelter homes. These interventions minimised loss of households and livelihood assets. Moreover, the costs incurred in constructing these assets were much less compared to the money that would be required to spend on relief programme. 

The 2013 floods had brought them on their knees, but the development through DRR mainstreaming brought the spring in their step. Clearly, the need of the hour is resource optimisation in programmatic interventions and communities’ inter-linkages with the local governance structures; these are mutually beneficial and lead to sustainable outcomes as is evident from Chadnamkhana’s experience.    

This article has been written by Animesh Prakash, Programme Officer, Disaster Risk Reduction in Odisha.

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