India has made encouraging progress in recent years to put in place mechanisms for disaster prevention and mitigation, but there is still a long way to go and local communities must be involved in the effort, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday.
Addressing the first session of the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (NPDRR) here, the prime minister called for greater attention to arrangements for providing funds to people to cope with losses suffered in the wake of natural disasters.
"Disaster management is an area of vital national importance to our country, and I believe that the integration of disaster risk reduction strategies into our development initiatives must necessarily involve local communities. We must make full use of our Panchayat Raj institutions to achieve this objective," the prime minister said.
He said managing disasters is necessarily a collaborative and complex exercise involving central, state and local governments and civil society organisations and people at large.
"I believe that while we have made encouraging progress in recent years in putting in place institutions and mechanisms for disaster prevention and mitigation, we have still a large distance to travel," the prime minister said.
Referring to the need for effective arrangements for providing funds to people who have suffered losses due to natural disasters, he said: "The current systems, particularly at the national level, lack institutional incentives and do not promote mechanisms such as risk insurance and contingent credit facilities."
"The development of such ex-ante arrangements is particularly important because they typically serve as a primary source of immediate funding that would reduce human suffering, economic losses and fiscal pressures in the aftermath of natural disasters," he said.
Noting that the 10th Five Year Plan for the first time emphasised the need to consider disaster risk as a developmental issue, he said the development processes could not be really sustainable without risk mitigation efforts being built into them.
He said the 12th Plan focuses on the new developments that have taken place in the area of disaster risk reduction, like early warning systems and communications, and mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction in some of our major development programmes.
"For example, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme now includes drought mitigation efforts as an eligible activity allowed to be taken up under the scheme," the prime minister said.
He said the national platform for disaster risk management meets India's commitment to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
He said India was among 80 countries which have a national platform.
Noting that India was vulnerable to a large range of natural and man-made disasters, including earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, landslides and industrial accidents, he said climate change has posed fresh new challenges in recent years.
"These are in the form of the increased intensity and frequency of disasters like floods, cyclones and droughts. We must, therefore, ensure that disaster preparedness and development of adequate disaster response mechanisms receive priority attention," he said.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said there was need for strict enforcement of hazard reduction design, and making the community informed about safety measures.
He called for an effective techno-legal regime so that unsafe buildings in seismically vulnerable areas are scrutinised properly.
"We have to take measures so that disaster risk reduction becomes an integral part of the planning process," he said.
The two-day conference is being held on the theme "Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction in Development: From Risk to Resilience".
NPDRR was created by the government in February this year. It aims to bring together stakeholders including the government, parliamentarians, mayors, media, international organisations, NGOs, local community representatives, scientific and academic institutions and corporate businesses.
It would guide central, state and other concerned agencies on the implementation of the disaster management policy.
The Disaster Management Act was legislated in 2005.