By Dr. Ashok Kumar Panigrahi

Definition of Disaster

The India National Disaster Management Act 2005 defines, “Disaster is a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence affecting an area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area”.

It remains to be seen as how are we going to interpret an event when terms like catastrophe, mishap, calamity and grave occurrence co-exist and will naturally be seen as interchangeable. As if to complicate the matters further, the definition hangs on the knife edge of local coping capacity. Suppose there are two identical events at two different locations A and B, and the local coping capacity at A is higher than that required to manage the event whereas at B the local coping capacity is much lower. Clearly it would mean that the same event would be recognized as a disaster at location B but not at location A.?

The United Nations UNDRO Disaster Management Training Manual defines, “Disaster as a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using only its own resources.

The UNDRO 1987, cited in Hanisch 1996, define disasters in the following way, “A disaster is an event that is concentrated in space and time and that subject a society to severe danger and such serious losses of human life or such major material damage that the local social structure breaks down and the society is unable to perform any or some of its key functions.”

The High Powered Committee of the Government of India, in its October 2001 Report defines “Disaster is an occurrence of a severity and magnitude that normally results in deaths, injuries and property damage that cannot be managed through the routine procedures and resources of government. It usually develops suddenly and unexpectedly and requires immediate, coordinated and effective response by multiple government and private sector organizations to meet human needs and speedy recovery”

The definition of disaster provided by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) is relatively simpler. CRED defines, “A disaster is a situation or event which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to national or international level for external assistance; an unforeseen and often sudden event that causes great damage, destruction and human suffering.” Then it goes on to add that for a disaster to be entered into the database, at least one of the following criteria must be fulfilled: (1) ten or more people recorded killed (2)100 people reported affected (3) declaration of State of Emergency and (4) call for international assistance . Clearly the difficulty of the kind faced in the definition given in the Act does not arise if such a definition is used.

Distinguishing Disasters and Crises


* Droughts
* Floods
* Earthquakes
* Land slides
* Cloud bursts
* Cyclones

Man Made

* Air, rail and road accidents

* Industrial accidents

* Civil commotions and unrests

* Terrorism and terrorist strikes

The High Powered Committee set up by the Govt. of India, in 2001, has identified 31 disasters and classified them into the following 5 groups

I. Water and Climate-related Disasters-

1. Floods and drainage 2. Cyclones 3. Tornadoes and hurricanes 4. Hail storms 5. Cloud bursts 6. Heat wave and cold wave 7. Snow avalanches 8. Droughts 9. Sea Erosion 10. Thunder and lightening

II. Geological Disasters

1. Land slides and mud flows 2. Earthquakes 3. Dam failures / Dam Bursts 4. Mine fires

III. Chemical/Industrial/Nuclear

1. Chemical and industrial disasters 2. Nuclear disasters

IV. Accident-related Disasters

1. Forest fires 2. Urban fires 3. Mine flooding and fires 4. Oil spills 5. Major building collapses 6. Serial bomb blasts 7. Festival related disasters 8. Electrical disasters and fires 9. Air, road and rail accidents 10. Boat capsizing 11. Village fires

V. Biological Disasters

1. Biological disasters and epidemics 2. Pest attacks 3. Cattle epidemics 4. Food poisoning

India supports one-sixth of the world’s population on just 2% of its landmass. It suffers heavily from natural disasters of every shade and description that hits the poorest of the poor and which is why the considerations of disaster safety deserve prime attention.
According to one estimate, nearly 59 % of India’s land area is prone to earthquakes of moderate to high intensity, nearly 12 % is flood prone, about 8% is cyclone prone, 2% is landslide prone and a long coastline, exceeding 5500 kms is exposed to tsunamis and other sea borne disasters such as storm surges. Drought, regarded as disaster in slow motion, affect as much as 68% of India’s land area. Of the 35 states and union territories, as many as 27 are disaster prone. And if the perceived threats due to other disasters such as chemical and terrorist attacks are added, every square inch of India is vulnerable, calling for immediate attention and sustained effort.

Major Indian Disasters,

1. Droughts

Approximately 68% of land covering sub-Himalayan and peninsular India is vulnerable. It affects primarily arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions, states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, MP, AP, Bihar, UP, Haryana, Orissa, WB, J&K, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Low rainfall during the last two years has caused severe drought conditions in 11 Indian states. An estimated 130 million people – about 15 % of the population – in more than 70,000 villages and 230 urban centers are at risk. Apart from economic loss due to low agricultural production, loss of animal wealth, inadequate nutrition and primary health care, the impact of the drought is likely to retard the development process. The most severely affected states are Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. In droughts, water bodies including lakes, tanks and wells dry up, causing acute scarcity of water. Consequently, the problem of drinking water gets accentuated. For example, as a result of drought of the year 2000 in Gujarat, 25 million people in 9500 villages, four metros, and 79 towns were hit by drinking water scarcity (IRMA – UNICEF, 2000). The animals were the worst affected. In the drought conditions, it is almost impossible to get fodder and water for them. In the recent droughts, for example, thousands of cattle perished in many states because of the deficiency of fodder and drinking water

All such episodes of severe drought correlate with El Niño-La Nina Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. El Niño-related droughts have also been implicated in periodic declines in Indian agricultural output. Nevertheless, ENSO(LaNina) events that have coincided with abnormally high sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean—in one instance during 1997 and 1998 by up to 3 °C (5 °F)—have resulted in increased oceanic evaporation, resulting in unusually wet weather across India. Such anomalies have occurred during a sustained warm spell that began in the 1990s. A contrasting phenomenon is that, instead of the usual  high pressure air mass over the southern Indian Ocean, an ENSO-related oceanic low pressure convergence center forms; it then continually pulls dry air from Central Asia, desiccating India during what should have been the humid summer monsoon season. This reversed air flow causes India’s droughts. The extent that an ENSO event raises sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean influences the degree of drought in India.

2. Floods

India is highly flood prone. Of the total of 62 major rivers, 18 are flood prone and affect an area of 150 Mha. Floods are mainly due to heavy rainfall as a consequence of depressions in the sea and tropical cyclones. On an average 60% of the total damages due to floods in a year are in the states of Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Kharif crops in these states covering about 40% of the total area is affected. In terms of the monetary value of crop loss, it is 90% of the total damage in these states.. The maximum damage recorded due to floods in India was about Rs. 654 crore in 1980, while that in 1965, was only of Rs. 11 crore. The floodwaters do bring about some positive effect. The alluvial soil brought by the floodwaters is a great boon to agriculture. Besides, in areas like the Sabarmati basin, when moderate floods occur, they are beneficial as they provide the necessary moisture required for raising the crops and help in suppressing the salt present in the soil.

3. Coastal hazards and sea borne disasters

Coastal India frequently suffers from damaging meteorological events such as tropical cyclones, storm surges, high winds, flooding and coastal erosion. India has a very long coastal line of 5700 km. This is made of 2700 km of the east coast bordering Bay of Bengal and 3000 km of the west coast bordering the Arabian Sea. The Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea together generate about 15-16 tropical cyclones annually of which 2-3 could be very severe. More cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal than in the Arabian Sea. Cyclone seasons are May and October-November. Months of May and October are known for severe storms. The cyclone surveillance is done by INSAT satellite and powerful cyclone detection RADAR installed at Kolkatta, Paradeep, Vishkapatnam, Machhilipatnam, Chennai, Karaikal, Mumbai, Goa, Cochin and Bhuj. These vigils are so satisfactory that no cyclone can escape detection and it has been possible to issue timely warnings through cyclone warning centres located at Kolkatta, Bhubaneshwar, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

Losses due to Disasters

Losses due to disasters, both direct and indirect, elude reliable estimates. According to one World Bank estimate, reported direct losses are on the order of $ 30 billion over the past 35 years. In 2005 alone, disasters in India caused direct losses approaching Rs 87,500 Crore.

During the period 1994-98, approximately 120 million people were affected by natural disasters in one-way or the other and according to one estimate economic losses piled to about Rs.28,000 crore. The losses mounted to Rs 47,000 crore during the period 1998-2003. Authentic count of loss of human and cattle life as a whole is not available. International Approach towards Disasters and disaster reductions: International approach towards disasters and disaster reductions are of recent in nature.

1. International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-2000)

A big departure from band-aid approach in Natural Disaster Management came from UN General Assembly Resolution 44/236 of 1989 that proclaimed the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The Special High Level Council of IDNDR adopted a 12-point Action Plan.

2. The Earth Summit (3-14 June 1992)

The next landmark event is The Earth Summit (3-14 June 1992) that called upon all countries, in particular those that are disaster prone to mitigate the negative impact of natural and man-made disasters on human settlements, national economies and environment. It is here that the Culture of Safety prominently emerged as one of the most cherished targets.

3. Cartagena Declaration (March 1994)

The declaration of March 1994 directed disaster studies, which combine social with technical and scientific matters and civil society with government body in order to translate technocratic work in to effective policies of disaster prevention and relief.

4. Yokohama Mid-term Review of IDNDR (23-27 May 1994)

Upon review of progress of IDNDR, emerged the Yokohama Strategy for Safer World. The main recommendations that emerged were

(1)   Broaden the dialogue related to disaster relief, environment and development,

(2)   Institutionalize the growing culture of meaningful partnerships between national authorities, regional outfits, NGOs, private firms, etc., to ensure that prevention, preparedness and mitigation measures become an acceptable part of the development process.

5. Millennium Declaration, September 2000.

The declaration resolved to intensify cooperation to protect the vulnerable, save our common environment and reduce the number and effect of both natural and manmade disasters.

6. Inter-agency Framework for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
UN General Assembly and the Economic and social Council launched International strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). An interagency secretariat was created to serve as focal point within the UN system in 2000.

7. .World summit on Sustainable Development, 2002

The Johannesburg Plan on sustainable development, paragraph 37, advocates for an integrated multi-hazard all-inclusive approach to address vulnerability, risk assessment and disaster management including prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery for a safer world in the 21st Century.

8. Bonn Conference on Early Warning, 2003

The conference sought effective early warning systems through strengthening of coordination and cooperation among all relevant sectors and actors in the early warning chain

9. Mauritius Strategy for Small Island States, January 2005

Response capacity. It gave a call for enhanced commitments to reduce the vulnerability of small island states, as they usually have inadequate

10. Hyogo Framework for Action  (2005-2015)

World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan during 18-22 January 2005 threw up a framework for action for the decade 2005-15. The priorities set for the decade include enhancement of international and regional cooperation, emphasis on an integrated multi-hazard approach to risk reduction, recognition of cultural diversity, empowerment of communities and local authorities, promotion of the culture of prevention, and recognition that every disaster is also an opportunity and disaster risk reduction is a cross-cutting issue.

11. United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (2005-15)

The declaration aims at disaster risk reduction through revision of teaching curricula at all levels and the use of other formal and informal channels in order to reach youth and children with information so necessary as to effectively prevent and mitigate disasters.

Definition of Disaster Management

According to the Indian National Disaster Management Act 2005, disaster management means a continuous and integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures which are necessary or expedient for  – (1) prevention of danger or threat of any disaster (2) mitigation or reduction of risk of any disaster or its severity or consequences (3) capacity building (4) preparedness to deal with any disaster (5) prompt response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster (6) assessing severity or magnitude of effects of any disaster  (7) evacuation rescue and relief and (8) rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The High Powered Committee of Govt. of India, defined for India Disaster Management as “a collective term encompassing all aspects of planning for and responding to disasters, including both pre and post disaster activities. It may refer to the management of both the risks and consequences of disasters”. Clearly the term management has emerged as an umbrella term that encompasses the entire disaster cycle, including mitigation. This needs careful noting and wide spread awareness because traditionally the term management was restrictively used to address only post disaster

DNDR Report on Technology for Disaster Reduction undertaken under IDNDR Programme Forum 1999.

Unless the old mindsets get changed, the cause of disaster mitigation will continue to suffer at the hands of traditional disaster managers.


Orissa is endowed with some drought tolerant native rice varieties, a few of which are of high therapeutic impotence also. Drought stress crops exhibit inhibition of lateral root development as an adaptive response to the stress. The drought response is mediated by the phyto – hormone “abscisic acid,” produced in such plants, which prevent lateral root developments.

Drought tolerant rice varieties do not exhibit much tillering and exhibit vertical root development rather than lateral ones.


Pandursuan-120 days

Baula-150 days

Basumati-140 days

Bedaswarna-145 days

Dasarageti-130 days

Bhuta-150 days

Jhalakseni-140 days

Lakshyahira-150 days

Mahanadi-150 days

Babaganesh-150 days


The rice as a crop was brought from the arid uplands to the coastal flood plains centuries ago.

The tall indica rice varieties, thus evolved, have, more or less, the ability to survive

submergence. Some varieties are able to withstand complete submergence for days together.

The gene named “sub IA” has been identified in these rice varieties. Such genes have been

there for long in nature. These native rice varieties are being cultivated in predominantly sub

merged coastal flood plains of Orissa where they remain wholly under water for days together

yet survive to hand over a good yield. These are generally longer days duration varieties with

ability to remain submerged for longer periods than others.


Jamainadu -150 days

Panirohi -150 days

Kalameghi -150 days

Panidubi -150 days

Rabana -150 days

Seulapuni -150 days


Under present estimate 10-35% of the world’s agricultural land is salt affected. The mechanism of salt tolerance has been evolved in the nature slowly over a long period of rice cultivation in mostly the saline affected coastal belt of Orissa (and else where also).Some of them can tolerate extreme soil salinity conditions, even can be grown in salt pan land

Orissa salt tolerant land races have caused agronomic miracle both in Nagapattinam and Indonesia (post tsunami) where some of them such as Lunabakada, Bhundi, Kalambank and Dhalasola, provided as disaster response in the area have on an average produced 34 to 54 tillers in the system of rice intensification (SRI) method of rice cultivation.

Predominant salt- tolerance mechanisms operating plants

1. Restricting the entry of toxic ions at root  level – exclusion

2. Transporting the toxic ions to stem, leaf sheath or older leaves – plant level compartmentation

3. Excretion of salt through salt glands, salt hairs or bladders – secretion

4. Sequestration of the toxic ions to vacuole or cell wall –cell  level compartmentation

Antioxidative enzymes such as catalase (CAT) with 2 isomeric forms like CAT-1 & 2 and peroxidase (POX) with 4 isomeric forms like POX-1,2,3 &4 besides guaiacol peroxidase (GPX) and ascorbate peroxidase (APX) mediate in salt exclusion, secretion and cell and tissue level compartmentation activity in all salt tolerant plants enabling them to survive in harsh inter tidal zones. It is supposed that salt tolerant paddy diversity must have some of these.

It is argued that GM salt tolerant crop varieties can not successfully replace natural diversity; because the lower portion of such plants turn red showing salt stress even after addition of 25% gypsum, where as the native varieties show minimum red ness even without any gypsum application


Bhundi -135 days

Sankarchin -(Aromatic) 150 days

Lunabakada -150 days

Kalambank -135 days

Dudheswar -130 days

Bhaliki -145 days

Disaster Mitigation

According to the Indian Act 2005, “mitigation means measures aimed at reducing the risk, impact or effects of a disaster or a threatening disaster situation”. There is the urgent need to ensure that disaster mitigation strategies get enmeshed and integrated with the very development process.

State of Balasore Coast at Sartha Estuary after the Orissa Super Cyclone, 1999

During and after the cyclone, the area became devastated. Consequently, all commercial activities in the local market place which had one ice factory with fish packing facility, few merchant shops, doctors’ chambers, hotels and restaurants were abandoned by 2006. A fishing jetty which was under construction was abandoned half way and the built concrete structure damaged beyond recovery. The coast was damaged to such an extent that it became incommunicable and navigable.

Navdanya decided to restore the local ecology through mangrove rejuvenation. A portion of the available mud flat was put under protection using local nets, bamboos and manpower. In 2 years time about 1,60,000 seeds and seedlings of 16 species of mangroves were established in  an area of 35 hectares of mud flat at the site devastated by tidal actions following the cyclone. Some of these newly established plants bore fruits after 2 years and the local community members planted these seeds to gain thick ness.

Expectedly, there was successful eco-restoration in the area within 2 years of mangrove rejuvenation. Those who had abandoned the area started returning and reclaiming their abandoned property. Today the abandoned fishing jetty reminds the eco-destruction of the area following the Orissa super cyclone of 1999.

Some of species of mangroves established in the estuary

Sl No.

Species Name


Gen. Characters

Native Name

No of seeds/ propagules/



Kandelia candel

40 cm long hypocotyles




Rhizophora stylosa

Hypocotyls smooth not exceeding 30 cm




Rhizophora apiculata

Hypocotyls slender

50 cm long




Rhizophora mucronata

Hypocotyles slender

75 cm long




Bruguiera gymnorhiza

18-25 cm long ridged




Bruguiera sexangula

Hypocotyles stocky

10 cm long




Bruguiera cylindrica

16 cm long hypocotyles




Ceriops decandra

Sharply ridged 12 cm long hypocotyles




Aegiceras corniculatum

5-8 cm long hypocotyles




Xylocarpus granatum

4 lobed fruits with dia. 25 cm




Sonneratia alba

Calyx six lobed, ribbed, petals white,tinged red, leaves are ovate.




Sonneratia apetala

Calyx 4 lobed, stigma mushroom shaped




Aegialitis rotundifolia

Hypocotyles 7 cm long, saline tolerance high




Avicennia alba

Seeds conical at top




Avicennia officinalis

Seeds almond shaped




Avicennia marina

Seeds squarish to rounded




Excoecaria agallocha

Exudes white latex on injury fruit 3 lobed schizocarp




Thespesia populnea

Leaves deeply chordate flower of 2 colors, fruits multi seeded




Pongamia pinnata

Leaves evergreen, ovate, fruits flattened




Phoenix paludosa

Leaves like date palm but not thorny, fruits small, stem annular


20* (did not survive)


Cynometra iripa

Fruits bear a  lateral beak


30*(did not germinate)


Acanthus ilicifolius

Gregarious shrub up to

2 m. tall, bluish white flower, leaves spiny margined


4,000 (one thousand survived)


Porteresia coractata

Grass like, leaves acicular, margin spinulose serrate


Millions have regenerated in the entire area.

Effective Response to Disaster
Effective and swift response requires  capacity to anticipate problems and take judicious decisions ensuring people’s participation in time. The best way is a scientific analysis of the affected site together with the geo-climatic conditions existing at that site. Crop selection has to be made accordingly.

1.Nagapattinam (TN), post Tsunami, 2004. Total loss of principal crop, paddy. Navdanya, from its seed bank in Balasore transported 100 quintals of 3 select native salt tolerant varieties and distributed in 3 villages. Crop performance was exceedingly well although they were of longer day duration varieties in the place of their collection. Thus new paddy diversity was established in Nagapattinam

2.Ersama, post Orissa super cyclone, 1999. Total loss of paddy crop with seeds; Navdanya decided to reestablish both paddy and vegetable crops. 100 quintals of 14 native salt and flood resistant paddy seeds were procured from the Navdanya seed banks existing in the coastal district of Balasore having similar geo-climatic conditions and distributed in 3 villages of Gadabishunpur GP through 3 seed banks established with these seeds. In 3 years further, these seeds were spread out to 6 other villages, almost covering Ersama block. Yields of the new seeds were excellent because of the distance between the place of their collection and the place of their new cultivation, the basis of traditional seed exchange system, now obsolete. Vegetable seeds mostly family packs each having 10 to 50 gms of 10 vegetable varieties, enough to support a family, were also distributed to the affected populace.

Innovate Disaster Education

There should be an open national debate on the dimensions of disaster education and the way it should be imparted. Disaster education ought to be for all people, men or women, young or old, literate or illiterate and it must address their specific needs as individuals and groups. Whereas India needs a breed of experts and specialists on all the diverse aspects of disaster mitigation and management for which enough space is to be found in our universities and higher institutes of learning, a much broader framework alone can meet the demand for disaster education for all. The greatest challenge before us is to change over from the conventional chalk and talk or power-point-disaster-education in piecemeal to the education that breeds holistic perception and the culture of disaster safety by selling excitement and joy of learning in the live laboratories of Nature and not in the confines of the class rooms.

Even with adequate concern to quality and scope of coverage in any given case, the universities and institutions must not become factories to deliver graduates and post graduates without assessing the job market. Who is going to employ these graduates and post graduates and in what numbers? Thus, the importance of the need of the hour gains paramount importance. National Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Management Authorities are in the best position to make projections of numbers likely to be needed initially and in the long run, as far as disaster management and mitigation is concerned.. This would bring to fore the wisdom of imparting disaster education in the current curricula to ensure mobility of these students in the global market having learnt the expertise of disaster handling and management.

Disaster Education should become a bridge between research and development (especially on the issues leading to sustainable protection of natural and built environment) at one end and solving of real life problems (consultancy or practice) on the other end.

Author is an avid natrure analyst,has worked on & written books,research papers and short & large articles on several aspects of the nature such as farming,forest,food and water etc.

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