Natural Disaster Management in Northeast India

Natural Disaster Management in Northeast India

Disaster is an unexpected natural or man-made catastrophe of substantial extent that causes a significant physical damage or destruction, loss of life or sometimes permanent change to the natural environment. Natural disasters could wipe out years of development in a matter of hours.


Today, our beautiful world is facing many intimidating problems like overpopulation, mass poverty, illiteracy and unemployment on one side and the effects of a variety of devastating natural hazards on the other side. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, landslides, droughts, and epidemics are complex natural phenomena that cause small and large disasters while environmental degradation, global warming, ozone depletion and terrorist fatalities are associated with man.


At the international level, it has been recognized by the International Community that it may be possible, through programs of systematic study, to devise means to reduce and mitigate the occurrence of variety of devastating natural hazards. Perhaps, the fear that within 50 years more than a third of the world’s population will live in great vulnerability to natural disasters, has led to the declaration of the International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) in 1990 by the International Council of Scientific Unions, together with UNESCO and the World Bank. A variety of programs to address problems related to the predictability and mitigation of these disasters, particularly in third world countries have been planned and initiated since then.


According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) ranking in 2015, India ranked third among the top five most disaster hit nations. Although India has earned UN’s praise for becoming the first country to create National Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction, natural disasters related to climate cause massive losses of life and property. Droughts, floods and flash floods and landslides brought by torrential rains, cyclones, avalanches, snowstorms, dust storms, cold waves and earthquakes and epidemics continue to pose the greatest threats in India. In the post-disaster period various national and international non-governmental organisations take initiative to provide relief and support the people affected by natural calamities. Many agencies of the United Nations (UNICEF, UNDMT, UNESCO, ILO, FAO and WHO) also work actively to provide relief and help in the process of rehabilitation of disaster-affected people.


In Northeast India, earthquakes, floods, landslides and high wind velocities are common and continue to remain the greatest threats. Every year, a disastrous overflow of water from a river, lake or other body of water due to excessive rainfall has caused havoc in all the valley parts of the region while in the hills the break up and downhill flow of rock, mud, water and anything caught in the path has taken a huge toll on the people. Another one is the fear of massive earthquakes which ravaged the region in the past causing much destruction: Cachar Earthquake (1869), Shillong Earthquake (1897), Assam Earthquake (1950), Sikkim Earthquake (2011) and Manipur Earthquake (2016). Since the region is experiencing mild earthquakes every year this fear persists.


Strong winds with speed of over 100 km per hour or more poses threat as well.. Every year storm wreaks havoc in various parts of Northeast India. This year’s storm has already arrived and caused severe damage to life and property in Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam in particular. According to weather experts, cyclonic storm ‘Roanu’ is gaining momentum and strength and there will be huge rains in the coming days in the region carrying a major threat of flooding in Northeast India and Bangladesh. The World Meteorological Department, meteorological watch dog (WMD) has advised the people to prepare for the worst.


Every year whenever floods occur, landslides happen or cyclonic storm ravages, we are always in a sorry state of affairs. Repeated experiences have shown that the community, the society and the government can reduce the risk by preparedness. But it is not enough as preparedness is only a part of the broader risk reduction agenda. A variety of programs to address problems related to the predictability and mitigation of these natural disasters need to begin even in this part of the country. There is an urgent need to devise means by the National and State Disaster Management Authorities to reduce and mitigate the occurrence of a variety of devastating natural hazards.


In our country, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for the effective management of disasters in India and all State Governments are mandated under Section 14 of the Act to establish a State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA). The SDMA consists of the Chief Minister of the State, who is the Chairperson, and no more than eight members appointed by the Chief Minister. State Executive Committee is responsible (Section 22) for drawing up the state disaster management plan, and implementing the National Plan. The SDMA is mandated under section 28 to ensure that all the departments of the State prepare disaster management plans as prescribed by the National and State Authorities. At the district level, the Chairperson of District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) will be the Collector or District Magistrate or Deputy Commissioner of the district. The elected representative of the area is member of the DDMA as an ex officio co-Chairperson.


The Act is good but its implementation has been slow and slack. Some states are not inclined to implement it, endangering the lives of many citizens. On the other side, the Act has been criticized by many for marginalizing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), elected local representatives, local communities and civic groups; and for fostering a hierarchical, bureaucratic, command and control, ‘top down’ approach that gives the central, state, and district authorities sweeping powers. It is also alleged that the Act became a law almost at the will of the bureaucrats who framed it.

Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Tatongkala Pongen, Aniruddha, Meren and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: dot@tetsocollege.org.