Disaster Risk Management And The Role Of Corporate Sector - The India Perspective

31 Dec 2004


At the global level, nearly 700 major catastrophes take place every year affecting billions in different countries. The disasters periodically visit the same geographical regions and set the development clock back by decades. It is similar to taking two steps forward and one step backwards. In some countries, this equation even gets reversed. The repeated occurrence of natural catastrophes undermines the economic viability of the communities as well as the corporate sector – further impoverishing the impoverished and sapping the very soul.

Unlike the bounty of nature, its fury is a great leveler. Natural disasters affect everyone alike although the nature of impact varies from region to region and sector to sector with the coping capacity of an individual sector being the differentiating factor. The catastrophic fallout of natural disasters on the community and the people is very well documented by now. At the same time, it is their impact on the existence, survival and viability of the economic muscle of a nation, community and region, i.e. the corporate sector, which also merits equally focused attention. The critical and catalytic role the corporate sector can play in mainstreaming disaster management into not only its own functioning but also in other sectors and among the community is now being appreciated and duly recognized as an inalienable part of corporate social responsibility.

India has been traditionally vulnerable to natural disasters on account of its unique geo-climatic conditions. In view of India’s high vulnerability profile, the recurrent phenomena of a range of geophysical as well as hydro-meteorological hazards impact millions across the country leaving behind a trail of heavy loss of lives, property and livelihoods. In many areas of the country, disaster losses tend to outweigh the development gains. The economic and social costs on account of losses caused by natural disasters continue to mount year after year as disasters occur with unfailing regularity encompassing every segment of national life including the industrial and corporate sector.

Traditionally, India had been ‘reactive’ in its approach towards disasters – with precious resources being spent on relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Today, after considerable and meticulous planning and a concerted effort, a paradigm shift in the approach of the Government departments and agencies as well as of other stakeholders including the community, the corporate sector and others has been brought about for building holistic capabilities for disaster management. The focus has shifted to a balanced approach including pre-disaster aspects such as disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness since it is felt that appropriate mitigation measures can substantially, if not wholly, reduce the heavy toll of lives and property, the dissipation of developmental, industrial and infrastructural gains and the hard-earned socio-economic infrastructure.

For long, the corporate sector had been viewed as a separate entity perennially ranged at the other end of the spectrum vis-à-vis the society. Over the past few decades, this perception has undergone a complete metamorphosis and the existence of corporate sector is today intimately intertwined with the safety and well-being of the society. Rather the community today is the very raison d’etre of its being. It is the crux lending credence and substance to the world view of the corporates. The corporate sector and the society are being seen as complementary to each other – heavily dependent upon each other for mutual existence and prosperity.

The high vulnerability profile of India also enhances the susceptibility of the corporate sector to multiple disasters and impacts it similarly. The rising ferocity and magnitude of natural disasters and the expanding human and economic infrastructure over the last few decades has led to a greater exposure of the same to hazards of nature. The only way of safeguarding the precious physical infrastructure is to integrate disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness measures into them. While hazards belong to nature and cannot be wished away, the risks can definitely be reduced and the vulnerabilities can definitely be tackled — and this belongs to us.

The involvement and association of the corporate sector with national risk reduction and risk management initiatives and with dissemination of appropriate and practical structural and non-structural disaster prevention and mitigation measures necessary for their safe and disaster-free functioning has been accorded priority as part of a strategy to systematically mainstream holistic disaster management into the functioning of the corporate sector.

The ever-expanding extent, sweep and scale of natural disasters has made it imperative for the corporate sector to initiate and integrate disaster risk prevention and mitigation measures in all facets of their functioning and operations with the objective of safeguarding the painstakingly built industrial assets from the impact of natural disasters. During the last decade, the frequency and fury of disaster occurrences in different parts of the country has imposed a colossal economic cost in terms of financial losses, disruption in industrial activities, retardation of expansion and growth plans and dissipation of investment and precious resources on rebuilding the same assets and infrastructure to make the operations sustainable. It is an ‘encounter’ of the worst kind with the dice firmly loaded against the human and physical infrastructure.

Today, the corporate sector has become an inalienable part of our socio-economic and national life and a vibrant industry is not only better placed to make itself sustainable but can also act as a composite foil to the governmental efforts at holistic disaster management.

Recognizing the importance of integrating the corporate sector and their nodal organizations in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness agenda, the National Disaster Management Framework drawn up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India envisages “involvement of corporate sector in awareness generation and disaster preparedness and mitigation planning” through sensitization, training and co-opting of the corporate sector and their nodal bodies in planning process and response mechanisms. Similarly, the GoI- UNDP Disaster Risk Management Programme also entails promotion of partnerships with the private sector in awareness generation and sensitization leading to development of disaster risk management plans.

The recent major disasters have clearly indicated the need for interweaving of disaster risk reduction and management concerns in order to minimize the losses— both human and economic. This underscores the necessity of involvement of all stakeholders, from the Government, at all levels, to Community Based Organizations, international and national organizations, the community and, of course, the corporate sector.

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