NEW DELHI: India’s new plan to tackle disasters fails to address the needs of vulnerable groups, which could lead to millions of women, children, disabled and elderly people as well as lower caste and tribal communities being put at further risk, aid workers said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled India’s first National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) last week. The plan aims to boost resilience to earthquakes, cyclones and floods and reduce deaths by focusing on early warning, response and recovery.
While the United Nations and relief agencies have generally welcomed the plan, some aid groups say there are serious gaps.
“The NDMP document should have included guidelines and systems to ensure that the government’s disaster response, mitigation and recovery especially target most vulnerable sections among the disaster-impacted population,” said Sandeep Chachra, ActionAid India’s executive director.
Disasters affect people to varying degrees, and the government should identify the specific needs of different groups to respond effectively, aid workers say.
For example, adolescent girls and women face many problems – from a lack of sanitary towels during menstruation to sexual violence in camps and poor healthcare for expectant mothers.
As a result, maternal and infant mortality rates, infectious diseases fuelled by poor sanitation, sexual abuse and unsafe abortions tend to rise in the chaos following a disaster.
Disabled people are also disproportionately affected by disasters, say aid workers. Many cannot physically access buildings or transport, relief camps or aid distribution points.
Another vulnerable group are people from lower-caste communities, the Dalits, who often live on the outskirts of settlements, in poor quality housing with little protection against natural hazards.
A 2013 report found many Dalits do not get the same access to emergency aid such as clean water, dry food rations or shelter as their higher-caste neighbours.
It said lower-caste communities were refused food at a relief camp in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, while during the same disaster in India, Dalits were exploited for their labour to remove corpses and debris.
“We are disappointed with the National Disaster Management Plan, as it fails to consider the specific needs of Dalits and other vulnerable groups,” said Rikke Nöhrlind, Executive Director of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. “The Indian government is undoubtedly aware of this, and it seems incomprehensible to us that it fails to address the issue. The fact that more attention is paid to animals than vulnerable humans in this important plan is very telling indeed.”
© Thomson Reuters 2016