Govt develops scientific tool to measure loss due to disasters

The government has developed a scientific tool based on a UN model which will use satellite imagery and on-ground assessments to measure direct and indirect damages besides the ‘opportunity cost’ lost due to disasters. This will help the Centre make a more accurate and scientific assessment of relief and reconstruction packages for disaster-hit regions, and not be dependent on the arbitrary claims made by states.

India’s estimated economic losses are pegged at around $10 billion annually on account of disasters — almost equal to what the country spends on education and twice the amount it spends on healthcare every year. Globally, climate change resulted in economic losses of around $300 billion annually, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (UNISDR) global assessment report-2015.

The scientific tool, called the Post-Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA), has been developed by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), a part of the home ministry. It is ready for trials and a pilot will run in a calamity-hit region. The tool has been designed to meet Indian conditions, though modelled on the lines of a similar tool used by the UNISDR for Latin American countries. The UNISDR tool was developed by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and is known as ECLAC tool for disaster risk reduction and loss assessments.

The government is also likely to engage the ministry of statistics and programme implementation to collect and publish pre-disaster assessment data as part of the national sample survey and project predictable economic losses in disaster prone areas. This is intended to nudge states to invest more in disaster resilient infrastructure and implement disaster risk reduction policies.

“The PDNA tool will estimate cost of reconstruction, rehabilitation and measures required for disaster risk reduction (DRR) in addition to the opportunity cost,” said Santosh Kumar, executive director of NIDM. A first-of-its-kind tool, it will count opportunity cost, or the economic loss caused by interruption of services due to disasters as part of the total loss due to disasters. So far, compensation packages are estimated based on property damaged and lives lost.

The NIDM has prepared a manual for implementation of the PDNA tool and has put in place a module for training of people engaged in DRR activities. A home ministry funded project, the initiative is designed for India’s long-term disaster recovery measures that would help it prioritise investment in social and infrastructure sector.

In India, the first scientific calculation of economic losses and reconstruction work, based on the ECLAC tool, was undertaken in Gujarat after the Bhuj earthquake of 2001 which killed around 20,000 people and destroyed at least 4 lakh houses. The then Gujarat government, headed by then chief minister Narendra Modi, had used the tool to assess economic losses and designed a new model of development based on resilient buildings and public infrastructure.

The National Disaster Management Authority, headed by the PM, is working with its state- and district-level affiliate units and partner agencies to capture disaster-related data regularly. This will be streamlined into a unified databank that will help the government initiate pre-disaster programmes and post-disaster interventions.

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