Soon, 350 districts in country to have disaster management volunteers: Amit Shah

The Home Minister also said the country had made significant progress in reduction of disaster risk in the past 17 years and is now working on mitigating annual Assam floods.

The government is working on a programme to have disaster management volunteers in 350 districts of the country as first responders and map the Brahmaputra flood plains to create artificial lakes to mitigate annual Assam floods, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said Tuesday.

Shah was speaking at an event to commemorate the 17th Formation Day of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The event was organised on the theme of cascading effects of disaster events in the Himalayan region. The event also saw release of scheme documents for programmes such as Aapada Mitr (Disaster Management Volunteers) and Common Alerting Protocol.

“No matter how much hard work we put into formulating responses and preparing plans, there will never be a time that NDRF and SDRF respond immediately to a disaster. If we need a response within seconds, it can only be done by the people of the country. Only trained Aapada Mitr (volunteers) in every village can achieve this,” Shah said.

Aapada Mitr is a programme to identify suitable individuals in disaster-prone regions who can be trained to be first responders in times of disasters. It is being implemented in 30 flood-prone districts of 25 states. As many as 5,500 individuals in these areas have been appointed as Aapada Mitrs.

“This experiment is on a very small scale at the moment. So, we are going to implement the programme in 350 disaster-prone districts only. But this is a very important beginning. In the past 17 years, several protocols and SOPs have been made. But to implement them on the ground, we will need this programme. The Centre will also fund insurance of all these volunteers. I want Aapada Mitr for the heat wave also,” Shah said.

The Home Minister also said the country had made significant progress in reduction of disaster risk in the past 17 years and is now working on mitigating annual Assam floods.

“In the Northeast, we have embarked upon a new experiment. With the help of NASEC (North Eastern Space Application Centre), we are mapping Brahmaputra floods using satellite imagery. We have found that the topography is such that when the floods come, we can store excess water in artificial lakes of 1,000 hectare at different places. This reduces the floods by 40%. NASEC is working on finding such locations and 19 locations have already been identified. No energy will be required to divert water as topography will help the water flow there,” Shah said.

The home minister said the government is also using satellite imagery and data to build roads and rail networks in a way that natural waterways are not obstructed. He said the government had also started disaster management education in middle and high schools.

“If we can create a culture and value system in our society that responds to disasters, we will probably not even need such comprehensive training,” Shah said.

He added that in the last two years, the way incidents of natural disasters have been reported in the Himalayan region and the way it is expected to increase in the days to come, NDMA had chosen a good topic to discuss.

He also praised the work done in the past few years. “NDRF and SDRF have in the past 17 years changed the history of disaster management in the country and the nation’s sensitivity is with you. This is a big achievement in a country of 130 crore people with diverse weather and terrain. The kind credibility that NDRF has generated through its work couldn’t have been possible without sacrifice, hard work and continuous training,” Shah said.

Shah said the Common Alert Protocol needs to be popularised. “NDMA has found that we can alert people six minutes in advance about a lightning strike. For a large area, it can even be a few hours in advance. But still, we lose lives due to lightning strikes. We have a plan in place for cold and heat waves but their implementation is not happening. Timely alerts can save lives,” Shah said.

The Home Minister also underlined that in India, the journey of disaster mitigation began late. He said that in 1995, the National Disaster Management Centre was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture but earlier disasters were dealt with only from the point of view of relief and not prevention.

“In 1999 there was a super cyclone in Odisha that killed 10,000 people, and Bhuj (Gujarat) suffered an earthquake in 2001 where 14,000 people were killed. In response, a task force was created by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and finally under UPA, NDMA and NDRF were established. Actually, this should have been done post the Bhopal tragedy,” Shah said.

“A lot has been achieved over the years. This year itself, there were three cyclones and the death toll has not crossed 50 because we are giving advance warnings and evacuating people. Even states have done a great job,” he added.

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