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West Bengal Disaster Management Perspective

The traditional perception of disaster management has been limited to the idea of “calamity relief”, which is seen essentially as a non-plan item of expenditure. However, the impact of major disasters cannot be mitigated by the provision of immediate relief alone, which is the primary focus of calamity relief efforts. Disasters can have devastating effects on the economy; they cause huge human and economic losses, and can significantly set back development efforts of the State. With the kind of economic losses and developmental setbacks that the state has been suffering year after year after any disaster, the development process needs to be sensitive towards disaster prevention and mitigation aspects. There is thus need to look at disasters from a development perspective as well. Natural disasters cause major setbacks to development and it is the poorest and the weakest that are the most vulnerable to disasters. Given the high frequency with which one or the other part of the country suffers due to disasters, mitigating the impact of disasters must be an integral component of our development planning and be part of our poverty reduction strategy.

Further, although disaster management is not generally associated with plan financing, there are in fact a number of plan schemes in operation, such as for drought proofing, afforestation, drinking water, etc., which deal with the prevention and mitigation of the impact of natural disasters. External assistance for post-disaster reconstruction and streamlining of management structures also is a part of the Plan. A specific, centrally sponsored scheme on disaster management also exists. The Plan thus already has a defined role in dealing with disaster management.

Physical vulnerability relates to the physical location of people, their proximity to the hazard zone and standards of safety maintained to counter the effects. For instance, some people are vulnerable to flood only because they live in a flood prone area. Physical vulnerability also relates to the technical capacity of buildings and structures to resist the forces acting upon them during a hazard event.
The extent to which a population is affected by a calamity does not purely lie in the physical components of vulnerability, but is contextual also to the prevailing social and economic conditions and its consequential effect on human activities within a given society. Single women headed families, pregnant women; handicapped people, children and the aged are particularly vulnerable social groups. The geophysical setting with unplanned and inadequate developmental activity is a cause for increased losses during disasters. The contribution of over-population to high population density, which in turn results in escalating losses, sometimes tends to be as important as physical vulnerability attributed to geography and infrastructure alone.

Disasters lead to enormous economic losses that are both immediate as well as long term in nature and demand additional revenues. Also, as an immediate fall-out, disasters reduce revenues from the affected region due to lower levels of economic activity leading to loss of direct and indirect taxes. In addition, unplanned budgetary allocation to disaster recovery can hamper development interventions and lead to failure in achieving developmental targets.

Disasters may also reduce availability of new investment, further constricting the growth of the region. Besides, additional pressures may be imposed on finances of the government through investments in relief and rehabilitation work.

Building Stronger Disaster Response system by amalgamating three Departments under one umbrella:
To fulfill the aim towards disaster resilient West Bengal the new Government emphasized in the first Cabinet meeting to prioritize the system of disaster management and for this purpose brought three Departments of Disaster Management, Fire and Emergency Services and Civil Defence under one Minister so that it becomes easy for him to effectively coordinate in crisis and ensure holistic diaster management. The Government of West Bengal took up various disaster risk reduction activities, programmes and projects across the State which are furnished in the subsequent section.
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