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Vol. 4 No. 3 - July 1998

Disaster Management: An Emerging Discipline

By Anil K. Gupta1  and M. Yunus2

The concept of sustainable development has gained significant importance due to (i) inadequacy of existing developmental processes to wipe out socio-economic inequality and (ii) well-evidenced nexus among environmental hazards, resources depletion, economical disparity and poverty. It is also well understood that no development is sustainable if the life and property are vulnerable to any disastrous event. History witnesses the death of civilizations due to natural calamities and epidemics causing mass damage and losses. In recent years, a number of disasters (natural, technological or ecological) have made the global community aware of the immense losses of human lives and productive resources that are caused regularly by such calamities. The developing countries are worst-affected due to rapid population growth, poverty, ill-planned developmental activities and their inability to cope with them. Recently, human induced technological and chemical disasters are becoming all the more alarming.


Disasters are the natural calamities, environmental extremes and technological mishaps while hazards refer to the potential risk for damage. risk of a disaster occurring as result of a particular hazard depends on the probability of occurrence and vulnerability of human environment. Vulnerability is the exposure of land-uses, population and property to an event or such agent having potential to harm. Ultimate result of exposure to risk is known as consequences.

Natural and Man-made Disasters

Disasters are simply classified as natural and man-made based on origin of hazards. Natural hazards are-floods, droughts, earthquake, cyclone, landslides, erosion etc. whereas technological mishaps, chemical accidents (fire, explosion, toxicity) and environmental extremes are the man-made hazards of concern. The distinction between natural hazards and their man-made counterparts is often difficult to sustain. Many researchers have called the "naturalness" of natural disasters into question, though the circumstances of purely anthropogenic hazards, such as oil spills and chemical accidents, are usually very different from those of, for example, earthquake and floods. Nevertheless, in terms of the consequences there is a sizeable overlap as any changes in physical configuration of any region directly affects its environmental sustainability.

Disaster Reduction: National & International Initiatives

After Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984 a rapid awareness on issues of disaster management in industrial and technological sectors throughout the world has grown at community as well as government level. On the other hand the increasing frequency and intensity of so called natural disasters have awakened the international agencies as well as national governments on issues of disaster reduction through preventive measures, mitigation, preparedness and organisation of rescue and relief. United Nations Development Programme Office has compiled a document called 'International register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC)' and the decade has been declared as UNIDNDR (International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction). Bangkok based Asian Institute of Technology has established a Disaster Management Centre as an International Training and Research Centre. Many other universities and institutions have initiated research and curricula on subject of disaster prevention and management. In India, several enactments after 1984 have prescribed the provisions of disaster management issues. Some of the important regulations are: hazardous Waste (management and handling) Rules, 1989; Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 (both under EPA, 1986); Factories Act (amendment 1987), 1948; Public Liability Insurence Act 1991; EIA notification 1994 and Rules on Emergency Planning, Preparedness & Response for Chemical Accidents, 1996 under EEPA 1996. Union Ministry of Environment & Forests has established a division on Hazardous Substance Management and Emergency Management. On issues pertaining to natural disasters and IDNDR, a Disaster Management Division is established as Union Ministry of Agriculture.

Steps & Issues in Disaster Management

Prior to IDNDR declaration by UN the subject of disaster management has been understood as only organisation of rescue and relief and entire exercise in most of the governments were dealt by revenue officers. Not the perception is shifting from curative to preventive approach and the application of science and management issues in disaster reduction are being brainstormed at various platforms. A hazard becomes disaster affecting vulnerable land-uses. Thus control of hazard and vulnerability are the basic keys in the subject.

When it is realised that the reasons behind increasing frequency and intensity of many disasters are ecological or technological and added with the impact of ill planned developmental activities and settlements, then the entire story of disaster reduction is covered under the umbrella of prudent environmental planning and management. Next steps in disaster management are disaster mitigation and impact minimisation applying technological, ecological and organicational measures. In order to prevent a hazard from becoming disaster, a well explained emergency plan and efficient organisation of forecasting, warning, rescue, relief and rehabilitation are the components of emergent management. Basic tools in disaster management are thus; hazard analysis, risk characterisation and quantification, vulnerability analysis, prevention measures, mitigation and emergency operations. this subject has lot of potential for contributing to the sustainable development of society and preservation of quality of site improvements.

1DMI, Bhopal, 2DDAU, Lucknow

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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