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Firming up disaster risks

The Corporate sector’s role in disaster management, until now, has been associated with providing resources during a disaster and contributing rehabilitation measures after the calamity.

Firming up disaster risks
Fact File


However, the industry is keen on partnering with the government and civil society to participate in disaster risk reduction, in a better way.

There has been a nation-wide effort to re-look at the industry’s role in disaster risk reduction and capacity building towards resilience. Earlier this month, various stakeholders – state government officials, disaster management experts, civil society members, public sector and private sector industry representatives – got together to foster relationships and work towards building climate resistance of businesses, cities and communities. 

The private industry’s role in disaster management has been restricted to disaster relief, said Shefali Chaturvedi, Chief Executive Officer, CII Foundation. “Industry has played a strong role in the area, which has been recognised by the government. After that, the Corporate sector supported rehabilitation efforts, by reviving community’s livelihoods and participating in rebuilding activities. But lately, in view of increasing disasters, there were other aspects. For example, during the December 2015 floods, Chennai, an industrial hub, was affected. Many small and medium enterprises were not prepared for the disaster. We then realised that there is a lot to be done for the industry to gear up to ensure business continuity,” she said. 

Apart from ensuring business continuity during disaster, the industry is also considering the humanitarian aspect. “We are looking at collaborative efforts – what the industry can do to assist and expedite the collaboration, through technological innovations or training voluntary employees to not only help out their organisations during a crisis, but also the community as well. There is a need for standard operating procedures in all organisations, as a pre-preparedness  measure,” said the CEO. 

As a prelude to the national meeting on disaster risk reduction on April 24-25, CII, along with National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and UNICEF, organised a National Summit on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction in Chennai, to further explore ways to encourage multi-stakeholder partnerships to make our cities disaster resilient. 

Job Zacharaiah, Chief of Field office, UNICEF (Kerala and Tamil Nadu), said apart from taking measures to make their own organisations resilient, the industry can contribute through CSR funds. “The CSR fund in India is Rs 20,000 crore. If you consider 6%, there is Rs 1,000 crore of CSR fund available in Tamil Nadu, which can be used for disaster risk mitigation,” he added. 

Corporate sector can play an important role in strengthening disaster preparedness, through technological innovations, communication systems, mobile apps and various other means, said Vinod Menon, Former Member, National Disaster Management Authority. “The corporate sector can work with civil society organisations in all 32 districts of Tamil Nadu, in liaison with a lead NGO, identified by the State Disaster Management Authority, to strengthen preparedness by developing village level disaster management task forces,’’ said the expert. 

The State Government too has been steadily concentrating on disaster risk reduction. P Amudha, Secretary to Government, Labour and Employment Department, said that after being caught unawares during the 2015 floods, the state was in a better position to deal with Cyclone Vardah. “In the last week of November, we had a meeting with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) representatives affected during the flood. They communicated on what they want us to provide during an emergency. We had an action plan and we were well prepared. However, the cyclone destroyed electric posts when heavy trees fell on them. As a result, the industry suffered power outages. Since Chennai is cyclone-prone, we are opting for underground cable to reduce these outages,” explained the bureaucrat. 

During a disaster, there should be a synergy between the government, NGOs and other stakeholders. Citing an example of a gap in coordination, Amudha said, “During Chennai floods, everyone was giving out food in relief camps. There was food waste, which became a problem for us. There were no NGOs working with us to remove the food waste. Similarly, during the 2004 Tsunami, we had more than 1 lakh people in Nagapattinam in relief camps. We were providing them with food but where would they go for defecation. People relieved themselves around the shelters," she explained.  Disaster has been linked with development and certain industries have been known to pollute the environment, which could lead to further disaster. How does the partnership work, in such a scenario? The answer, said Menon, lies in redefining Corporate Social Responsibility. “It should mean that industries should not pollute the environment and use resources in a sustainable manner, without compromising the future generation. With the civil society taking initiatives, I think this will happen soon,” he concluded.

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