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State Needs Disaster Budget

Bhubaneswar: Whenever there is a natural disaster, the entire Odisha stands on its toes to protect human lives and the state government ensures its “Zero Casualty” policy is enforced. This fool-proof approach has won for the Naveen administration recognition from the United Nations and other international organisations. Odisha’s response to disasters is second to none, but unfortunately the calamity-prone coastal state has yet to develop a sure-fire disaster resilience and mitigation mechanism. The award winning state for saving human lives, has utterly failed to protect its assets and livelihoods.

Odisha has a long way to go to prepare a robust policy for disaster resilience and mitigation. This is not that the state does not have funds or experience to deal with the issue, but what it lacks is will power and attitude. It appears that nobody has ever put a thought for developing robust disaster resilience and mitigation methods.

It is true that other states follow Odisha’s disaster response approach. Now, time has come for the state to establish it as a model for disaster resilience and mitigation too. We cannot pat our own back for years for saving lives during disasters. The state must now graduate to excel in managing the aftermath of a disaster with minimal loss.

The Odisha government has achieved many firsts like agriculture budget, gender budget and nutrition budget and others. However, there is no thought to manage disaster. A disaster budget could show the way to the administration where all the departments would focus on disaster resilience and mitigation while making capital expenditure on different projects.

For instance, the government undertakes different construction of roads, buildings, bridges, power lines, and other critical infrastructure. If one adds the concept of disaster resilience and mitigation in the project, the final product could be different. The construction of roads, bridges, buildings and others should have the ingredient of disaster resilience so that they can withstand the calamities like flood and cyclone.

One can get a cue from the railways. When most of the infrastructures like platforms, buildings, rail line and even electrification of the railways mostly remain intact during the disasters, similar construction by the state agencies get damaged due to lack of disaster resilience concepts. For instance, the Urban and Housing Development Department should also adopt the disaster resilience initiative so that no flood water will enter into apartments and major housing complexes like one that recently happened at Sundarpada area in Bhubaneswar. All the development projects need to have a disaster resilience concept. This idea needs to be implanted in the minds of the planners and policy makers in the administration.

Making a hue and cry during the calamity and forgetting it afterwards is no solution to the problem. It is a fact that none can stop the disasters and calamities. Floods, cyclones, earthquakes will continue to happen and their frequency will also increase in wake of the climate change.

But, one can certainly evolve a mechanism to protect the livelihood as it is done for saving human lives by putting in place the proper policy. The state already has OSDMA, ODRAF and some other agencies to respond to the disaster, but one beautiful experience like setting up Odisha Distribution System Strengthening Project (ODSSP) created after Cyclone Phailin in 2013 has added resilience to the power structure. Similarly, State Capital Region Improvement of Power System (SCRIPS), under the project, the electric connections in Bhubaneswar have been done in cabling mode so that the people can get power within hours of the end of cyclone or flood. 

It may not be possible to ensure underground cabling for power supply in the entire state. But, what the state can develop is that it can erect disaster resilience electric poles so that they can withstand high speed wind like one the Railways and ports have.

It is, however, a fact that making disaster resilience infrastructure is a costly affair. On the other hand, one must consider that the state loses an average of around Rs 5,000 crore due to disasters every year. Instead of spending money on repair of roads, bridges and other infrastructures every time after the calamity, the state can make a policy where more investment could be made during the construction stage.

Even the disaster resilience embankments are possible with use of technology to check breaches during floods and tidal surge. The Odisha government can procure modern technology used by Japan, China and some other countries for making the disaster resilience infrastructures. India too has expertise in making such infrastructures.

Be it a flood or cyclone, the agriculture sector is the biggest victim and farmers are the worst sufferers. Take for instance hundreds of vegetable cultivation of Athagarh, Banki and other places were completely damaged in the Mahanadi floods. The SDRF has specific norms under which the farmers can be compensated. But, the assistance is too small in comparison to the loss.

Therefore, the state must take initiative and ensure that the disaster insurance is incorporated with the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Even the banks and other finance agencies should have the provisions of compensating the loans taken by the calamity-hit farmers and MSMEs. Unless this insurance is included, no amount of government assistance can compensate the farmers and small businessmen.

It is high time for a state like Odisha to come up with a Disaster Budget and make Odisha a developed state in disaster resilience and mitigation. Odisha has all the qualities to develop, but it only requires a proper attitude, will power, planning and policy to emerge as a strong state in this area.

The contractors, engineers and other small-timers have made their lives out of disasters in the state for decades. Now time has come for a change.  By becoming a leader in disaster response, Odisha has won a third of the battle against calamities, another two thirds is left and we have to achieve it. It will be good if the central government accords Odisha as a Special Focus State for being the “Zone of Disasters.”  If not, we too can do it in an effective manner. It may take some time, but Odisha can do it with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at the helm.