What is a ‘national disaster’?

The devastation caused by the floods in Kerala has led to calls from political leaders in Kerala — of the ruling Left as well as the Congress — that the floods be declared a national calamity. Congress president Rahul Gandhi made the same demand Friday, when he tweeted: “Dear PM, Please declare #Kerala floods a National Disaster without any delay. The lives, livelihood, and future of millions of our people are at stake.” While the government has examined proposals in the past to define a national disaster, there is no fixed criterion to define any calamity as such. A look at how calamities are actually classified, and what that means on the ground:

As per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, “disaster” means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area. A natural disaster includes earthquake, flood, landslide, cyclone, tsunami, urban flood, heatwave; a man-made disaster can be nuclear, biological and chemical.

How can any of these be classified as a national disaster?

There is no provision, executive or legal, to declare a natural calamity as a national calamity. In reply to a question in Parliament during the recent monsoon session, MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju said, “The existing guidelines of State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF)/ National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF), do not contemplate declaring a disaster as a ‘National Calamity’.” In March 2001, then MoS (Agriculture) Shripad Naik had told Parliament that the government had treated the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 1999 super cyclone in Odisha as “a calamity of unprecedented severity”.

Has there ever been an attempt to define a national calamity?

In 2001, the National Committee on Disaster Management under the chairmanship of the then Prime Minister was mandated to look into the parameters that should define a national calamity. However, the committee did not suggest any fixed criterion. In the recent past, there have been demands from states to declare certain events as natural disasters, such as the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and the Assam floods of 2015.

How, then, does the government classify disasters/calamities?

The 10th Finance Commission (1995-2000) examined a proposal that a disaster is termed “a national calamity of rarest severity” if it affects one-third of the population of a state. The panel did not define a “calamity of rare severity” but stated that a calamity of rare severity would necessarily have to be adjudged on a case-to-case basis taking into account, inter-alia, the intensity and magnitude of the calamity, level of assistance needed, the capacity of the state to tackle the problem, the alternatives and flexibility available within the plans to provide succour and relief, etc. The flash floods in Uttarakhand and Cyclone Hudhud were later classified as calamities of “severe nature”.

What happens if a calamity is so declared?

When a calamity is declared to be of “rare severity”/”severe nature”, support to the state government is provided at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the NDRF. A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and state. When resources in the CRF are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), funded 100% by the Centre. Relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected on concessional terms, too, are considered once a calamity is declared “severe”.

How is the funding decided?

As per the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009, the National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary deals with major crises that have serious or national ramifications. For calamities of severe nature, inter-ministerial central teams are deputed to the affected states for assessment of damage and relief assistance required. An inter-ministerial group, headed by the Union Home Secretary, studies the assessment and recommends the quantum of assistance from the NDRF/National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). Based on this, a high-level committee comprising the Finance Minister as chairman and the Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman as members approves the central assistance.

How much funds has the Centre been disbursing under the NDRF?

According to a reply in Parliament by Rijiju last January, the Centre released Rs 3,460.88 crore in 2014-15, Rs 12,451.9 crore in 2015-16, and Rs 11,441.30 crore in 2016-17 under the NDRF to various states. In 2017-18 until December 27, it had disbursed Rs 2,082.45 crore. State-wise figures presented by Rijiju showed that the highest amounts for 2016-17 were released to Karnataka (Rs 2,292.50 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 2,224.78 crore) and Rajasthan (Rs 1,378.13 crore).

How do other countries classify disasters?

In the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the government’s role in disaster management. When an incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments, the Governor or Chief Executive of a tribe can request federal assistance under the Stafford Act. In special cases, the US President may declare an emergency without a request from a Governor. The Stafford Act authorizes the President to provide financial and other assistance to local and state governments, certain private nonprofit organizations, and individuals following declaration as a Stafford Act Emergency (limited) or Major Disaster (more severe).

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Telangana govt launches Disaster Response Force in Hyderabad

The government of Telangana launched for the first time Disaster Response Force (DRF) vehicles in the Hyderabad city.

The vehicles will be parked at 24 locations with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) DRF staff and they will reach the emergency spots in no time

DRF has been first brought on to the ground with 120 personal with 8 specialized vehicles and other equipment’s which are required. Soon we are going to increase the number of vehicles, equipment, and all the other special apparatuses that are required. They can continuously work in flooding.

The Force also after starting has carried out rescue operations and saved a couple of lives. The Disaster personal will be available on the field for 24/7.”

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India to give flash flood warning to Asian nations

India has been designated as a nodal center for preparing flash-flood forecasts by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

That means India will have to develop a customized model that can issue an advance warning of floods in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand,

On the sidelines of the Earth Sciences Foundation Day, Dr. Rajeevan said the IMD would be working to customize a weather model, developed by the United States and donated to the WMO, to warn of flash floods at least six hours in advance.

A test version was being tried out by the IMD, and that was able to give a flood warning about an hour in advance. Using a combination of satellite mapping and ground-based observation, this system — called the Flash Flood Guidance System — aims to provide forecasts six hours in advance.

Like India, several Southeast Asian countries depend on the monsoon and are prone to its vagaries. The proposed model would provide forecasts by computing the likelihood of rainfall and the soil moisture levels to warn of possible floods. Though Pakistan was among the list of countries that would benefit from the forecast, it had refused to participate in the scheme,

While the science to warn of floods could be developed, India was yet to work out how exactly it would warn countries of potential inundation. India currently has a warning system for tsunamis that also doubles up a warning system for several Asian countries.

The Central Water Commission, which monitors India’s dams, warns of rising water levels in the reservoirs, which are usually taken to be signs of imminent floods. The organization has recently tied up with Google to develop a software application to visualize rising water levels during heavy rains.

The WMO says flash floods account for 85% of flooding incidents across the world, causing some 5,000 deaths each year.

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Odisha, RIMES sign MoU for effective disaster management

The Odisha government on Friday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) for effective management of disasters, officials said.

The government also signed three more MoUs that would benefit the farmers and enhance their production.

The Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) signed a MoU with RIMES for enhancing early warning system for effective management of all kinds of disasters in the state.

This agreement enables for development and pilot implementation of decision support systems for automating risk assessment, advisory generation, and dissemination, said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Initially, the agreement will remain in force for five years with a cost involvement of about Rs 8 crore.

RIMES and OSDMA collaboration will contribute to global efforts targeted to substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems as articulated in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

RIMES-Thailand is a UN-registered international and inter-governmental institution, owned and managed by its 48 members and collaborating states for building capacities in the generation and application of user-relevant early warning information.

RIMES came into existence as a multi-lateral technical cooperation platform formally on 30th April 2009 with the first batch of 5 countries signing the Cooperation Agreement on the RIMES for Africa and Asia in consonance with Articles 5 and 25 of the United Nations. RIMES Secretariat is established by the Republic of the Maldives at Maldives Meteorological Services, Ministry of Environment and Transport, Male.  The RIMES Programme Unit and the RIMES Regional Facility are located at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Campus in Pathumthani, Near Bangkok, Thailand.

RIMES had dedicated its efforts to build institutional structures for holistically dealing all aspects of multi-hazard and climate risk management for bringing a major shift to make all RIMES country partners fully disaster resilient by upgrading the early warning systems as per their national circumstances.

The RIMES council in its first meeting held on 30th April 2009 constituted an Executive Board to translate designated mandates into actionable initiatives.  Appreciating the prominence gained by India in the Indian Ocean region after the setting up of the state-of-the-art Tsunami Warning Centre (NTWC) at the ESSO-INCOIS, Hyderabad, and the associated professional accomplishments, India has been elected to the Chair of the RIMES Executive Board.

Union Cabinet has approved the Cooperation Agreement with the RIMES on 7th December 2010 and India formally joined the RIMES family on 24th Feb. 2011 by signing the Agreement.  RIMES Executive Council has elected India as its Chairman with all other member states/countries as members.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, UK, has signed an MOU with RIMES to support for building country-specific Early Warning Systems under its umbrella.

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The Government of Mongolia today opened the three-day Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction which is being attended by 2,500 participants, including representatives from over 50 countries and 1,500 organizations in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.

Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, urged participants to use the three days to review challenges in the region on reducing disaster losses through increasing action at the local level in the world’s most disaster-prone region which saw over eleven million people displaced by disasters last year, notably in the east and south Asia and the Pacific islands.

The conference will represent a key milestone for reflection on three years into the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Specifically, the conference will enable governments and stakeholders to review progress made against the commitments at the AMCDRR 2016, i.e. the New Delhi Declaration, the Asia Regional Plan, and ten stakeholder voluntary action statements.

The theme of the AMCDRR 2018: ‘Preventing Disaster Risk: Protecting Sustainable Development’.

Established in 2005, AMCDRR is a biennial conference jointly organized by different Asian countries and the UNISDR.

India hosted the second AMCDRR in New Delhi in 2007.

About Sendai Framework:

The “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030” was adopted during the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan in March 2015.

It is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action.

It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly following the 2015 Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR).

The Framework is for 15-year. It is a voluntary and non-binding agreement which recognizes that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government, the private sector, and other stakeholders.

The new Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters.

The implementation of the Sendai Framework involves adopting integrated and inclusive institutional measures so as to work towards preventing vulnerability to disaster, increase preparedness for response and recovery and strengthen resilience.

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Odisha signs MoU for early warning system

The Odisha government on Friday entered into a collaboration with the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES), a body of 48 members and collaborating countries, aimed at automating risk management, advisory generation, and dissemination.

Bishnupada Sethi, Odisha State Disaster Management Authority managing director and A.R. Subbiah (for RIMES) signed a MoU in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik here.

RIMES was established on 30 April 2009 to provide user-relevant early warning services to its Member States and others.

It is a UN-registered international and inter-governmental institution.

It is owned and managed by its 48 members and collaborating states for building capacities in the generation and application of user-relevant early warning information.

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Government to team up with Google for flood forecasting

Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Shri Nitin Gadkari has expressed hope that collaboration with Google will help in effective flood management in India. Central Water Commission (CWC), India’s apex technical organization in the field of Water Resources, has entered into a Collaboration Agreement with Google. CWC would use state-of-the-art advances made by Google in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and geospatial mapping for effective management of water resources particularly in the field of flood forecasting and dissemination of flood-related information to the masses widely using the dissemination platforms developed by Google. This initiative is likely to help crisis management agencies to deal with extreme hydrological events in a better manner.

The Ministry had earlier launched an ambitious programme ‘National Hydrology Project’ (NHP) during the year 2016-17. NHP is a World Bank assisted central sector scheme with pan India coverage. The objective of National Hydrology Project is to improve the extent, quality, and accessibility of water resources information, decision support system for floods and basin level resource assessment/planning and to strengthen the capacity of targeted water resources professionals and management institutions in India.

Under this Agreement:

CWC and Google will share technical expertise in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, geospatial mapping and analysis of hydrological observation data to collaborate on:

Improving flood prediction systems, which will help provide location-targeted, actionable flood warnings.

High priority research project utilizing Google Earth Engine to help visualize and improve flood management.

A cultural project to build online exhibitions on the Rivers of India.

The collaborative arrangement is likely to result in saving of crore of rupees which otherwise would have to be spent by the government on acquiring high-resolution DEM, high-end computational resources and developing dissemination platforms widely used by the masses.

This would enable the Government as well as disaster management organisations to identify well in advance the locations and population, which are at risk from floods and require warnings and information.

This collaborative initiative is expected to be a milestone in flood management and in mitigating the flood losses.

 About Central Water Commission:

Central Water Commission is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.

The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development. It also undertakes the investigations, construction and execution of any such schemes as required.

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Cyclone Mekunu: Indian Navy evacuates 38 stranded Indians from Yemen

The Indian Navy evacuated 38 stranded Indians from Socotra island in Yemen where they got stuck after a cyclone hit the area 10 days ago, forcing India to launch an operation to rescue them. All are reported to be safe.

The Navy evacuated the Indians as part of operation ‘NISTAR’ carried out off the coast of Socotra early on Sunday and embarked them at Indian Naval ship INS Sunayna to bring them back to India, a Navy spokesperson said.

Severe cyclonic storm Mekenu crossed the Yemeni Island of Socotra on May 24, leaving 38 Indians stranded on the island with limited food and water.

The Navy deployed INS Sunayna in Western Arabian Sea for the humanitarian and disaster relief operation just after it received a distress call from the Directorate General of Shipping and the Indian Sailing Vessels Association.

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Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu lays foundation for NIDM’s southern campus

Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation-stone for the southern campus of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) at Kondapavuluru village of Gannavaram Mandal on Tuesday and said the Centre will help the southern states build infrastructure to tackle disasters. NIDM is a premier institute of the Government of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs. In pursuance of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, the ministry established a southern campus in the State.

About NIDM:

NIDM is a premier institute of the Government of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

It was constituted under an Act of Parliament with a vision to play the role of a premier institute for capacity development in India and the region.

Under the Disaster Management Act 2005, NIDM has been assigned nodal responsibilities for human resource development, capacity building, training, research, documentation, and policy advocacy in the field of disaster management.

NIDM also serves as international SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC) and works as a focus for its operation and planning.

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Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES)

The Odisha government is set to collaborate with the Thailand-based Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) for strengthening its early warning services and enhancing preparedness for management of hazards in the State.

At present, India is chairing RIMES. Under the drought monitoring system, both institutions would work on a system to archive, analyze and visualize data, besides evaluating station performance and validating forecast data. Similarly, RIMES is expected to provide a one-stop risk management system for all OSDMA needs. Odisha is particularly concerned about tsunami originating from the Andamans.

A team led by RIMES director A.R.Subbiah held discussions with Chief Secretary A.P. Padhi and Development Commissioner R. Balakrishnan on Friday. Subsequently, it was decided that a memorandum of understanding would be signed for the collaboration. RIMES is already working with the Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority.

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