ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Disaster Scorecards

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In this era of ranking, when everything from educational institutions, clean cities, railway stations, and even happiness is being ranked, states’ “disaster resilience” is the latest addition. The Ministry of Home Affairs has recently released, for public opinion, a draft “Disaster Management Scorecard for the States and Union Territories of India.” The proposed scorecard quantifies disaster risk and resilience in a composite framework. It seeks to convey how disaster-resilient each state or union territory is, on the basis of their risk index, as well as various measures taken to mitigate and prepare for any eventualities.

As much as the draft report claims not to be a mechanism to reward or penalise states on the basis of their scores, it carries the potential of becoming a reference point for plans and programmes, most crucially, in central fund allocation. It is therefore imperative to scrutinise this initiative of government, both for its implication, as well as for its utility as a planning tool. Without bringing into dispute the ranking itself, the focus here is mainly on its scope and method.

The title of the draft report, “Disaster Scorecard,” itself, is a misnomer, considering it tries to express, not the performance of the state at the time of disaster, but a cumulative score of disaster risk and resilience. It draws from similar international initiatives, for example, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s “disaster resilience scorecard for cities.” This exercise in India, however, claims distinction for its operationalisation at the subnational level and its attempt to integrate risk with resilience. As a top-down assessment, the scorecard is presented as a net result of two indices, disaster risk, and that of resilience. The first is based on the interplay of four variables: hazard, vulnerability, exposure and capacity, captured together through secondary data. The second index, the disaster resilience scorecard is a combination of seven variables: risk assessment, prevention and mitigation, risk governance, preparedness, response, relief/rehabilitation, and reconstruction.

In an overall sense, this exercise does contribute to widening the scope and method of assessment of disaster management initiatives and measures in various states. However, many of the key concepts sought to be quantified are too fluid to be amenable to indexing techniques. For example, “vulnerability” is highly dynamic in nature, and cannot be reasonably measured from the perspective of a scorecard. While any indexing mechanism is essentially a snapshot at a given time, in the case of vulnerability, it can dramatically change with time. Take for instance, a tsunami or a fire occurring in the middle of the night, which can sharply increase the vulnerability quotient. It is this interrelationship between a hazard and vulnerability that renders such measurement a formidable task, and this has escaped the report’s attention altogether.

Second, the scorecard is based on a set of 14 hazards, which is a minimal expansion of the so-called list of natural hazards that formed the basis of central governments’ earlier scheme, known as the Calamity Relief Fund. It is perhaps time to reconsider the popular notion of “hazards” being limited to a select few such as floods, earthquakes, cyclones, or for that matter, new additions such as industrial disasters, coastal erosion, etc. While these hazards are important, so also are a number of others such as road accidents, air and water pollution, overuse of pesticide, social conflicts, etc. These are dispersed, less visible, and consequently, fail to find space in the general notion of “disasters,” particularly for states. It is hard to believe that these, cumulatively, have less of an impact on individuals and society, and do not need as much attention.

Third, while one of the stated aims of the scorecard is to integrate disaster risk and resilience scores, it clearly fails in this primary task. Two separate scorecards, for risk and resilience, have been generated. Once again, the question of capturing a dynamic relationship, this time, between “vulnerability”—and by extension “disaster risk”—and “resilience-building measures,” arises. That there is an inverse relationship between disaster risk and resilience was never in doubt. The issue here is: How well can this relationship be reflected in a scorecard?

Individuals or societies are continually adapting and taking measures to become resilient to the hazards to which they are exposed. At the same time, they are also creating new vulnerabilities, altering their risk profile. A low-lying coastal area, when embanked, its vulnerability to flooding is reduced. And yet, at the same, this encourages more people to settle there, attracts more investment and possibly induces a greater disaster risk. This relationship, like the one between hazard and vulnerability, is not static and not easy to factor in.

Finally, weighting of parameters and indicators are generally contentious as they are highly subjective. Two different expert panels can have vastly differing opinions on the relative importance of different indicators (depending upon the members, their orientation, experience, etc). Therefore, exercises such as this, ranking of Indian states and union territories in terms of their disaster risk and resilience, while a good initiative, require far greater refinement in approach, method and conception, in order to serve as a useful planning aid.

Biswanath Dash

TelAngana

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