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"I am very happy to be with you today. I compliment the Home Minister and his team for their initiative in setting up the National Platform for Disaster Risk Management for providing multi-stakeholder coordinated leadership in the very important area of Disaster Risk reduction. This is in fulfilment of our commitments to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. We are now one of the eighty countries which have a national platform. I am confident that the Platform will emerge as a very useful forum for exchange of ideas and experiences and will be a great help to our country in building systems for preventing disasters and dealing with their fall-out.
Disaster management is an area of vital national importance to our country. As we all know, India is vulnerable to a large range of natural and man-made disasters. Events like earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides and industrial accidents have been a cause of great misery and suffering in our country. In recent years, climate change has posed fresh new challenges that our disaster management strategies should be able to cope with. These are in the form of the increased intensity and frequency of disasters like floods, cyclones and droughts. It is estimated that the chances of future extreme events would be much higher than what they are today because of the changes that continue to occur in our climate patterns. We must therefore ensure that disaster preparedness and development of adequate disaster response mechanisms receive priority attention.
I am very happy that our country has made good progress in these areas in the last few years. We have endeavoured towards a paradigm shift in disaster management, from the relief-centric classical approach of the past to a more holistic approach. We have taken measures to deal with disaster situations in a more institutionalized manner, right from the local level up to the central level.
The Disaster Management Act was legislated in 2005. Subsequently, the National Disaster Management Authority at the national level and State Disaster Management Authorities and District Management Authorities in a majority of States and UTs have been set up, facilitating a more professional and effective approach towards the whole range of activities that are a part of disaster management. This has been accompanied by the establishment of the National Institute of Disaster Management and the National Disaster Response Force at the National level and State Disaster Forces in some States and Union Territories. The funding mechanisms for disaster management have also been institutionalized in the form of the National Disaster Response Fund, State Disaster Response Funds and Capacity Building Grants.
The theme of today’s conference is about making risk reduction an intrinsic part of our development processes by including prevention and mitigation strategies in them. This is indeed a very prudent course of action and would avoid possible losses that could be devastating in nature and could cause significant setbacks to the development of a State or a region. This is also an internationally accepted norm since it is much more cost-effective than simply responding to disasters after they have occurred. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals reflect a global commitment towards reducing risk for overall sustainable development.
The need to consider disaster risk as a developmental issue was emphasised for the first time in our Tenth Five Year Plan which covered the period 2002 to 2007. Both the Tenth and the Eleventh Plans emphasise that our development processes could not be really sustainable without risk mitigation efforts being inbuilt into them. This need has led to a number of Plan schemes in areas such as drought proofing, afforestation and sanitation and provision of drinking water.
The Twelfth Plan carries this process further. It specifically focuses on the new developments that have taken place in the area of disaster risk reduction, including those related to setting up of early warning systems and communications. It also mainstreams Disaster Risk Reduction in some of our major development programmes. For example, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme now includes drought mitigation efforts as an eligible activity allowed to be taken up under the scheme.
I believe that the integration of Disaster Risk Reduction strategies into our development initiatives must necessarily involve actively the local communities. We must, therefore, make full use of our Panchayat Raj institutions to achieve this objective. I would urge you to pay special attention to this very important aspect.
Another area that perhaps needs greater attention relates to arrangements for providing funds to people so that they are able to cope with the losses they suffer due to natural disasters. The current systems, particularly at the National level, lack institutional incentives and do not promote mechanisms such as risk insurance and contingent credit facilities. The development of such ex-ante arrangements is particularly important because they typically serve as a primary source of immediate funding that would reduce human suffering, economic losses and fiscal pressures in the aftermath of natural disasters. I hope to see some good suggestions in this regard emerging from this important conference.
Managing disasters is necessarily a collaborative and complex exercise, involving not only several Departments of the Government at the Centre but also State and local Governments, Civil Society Organizations, local communities and the people at large. I believe that while we have made encouraging progress in recent years in putting in place institutions and mechanisms for disaster prevention and mitigation, we have still a large distance to travel. As you embark on this exercise to find ways and means of strengthening our capacities and capabilities for managing disasters, I wish you all the best in your efforts."