The World Disasters Report Criminology Essay

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The World Disasters Report divides disasters into two types: natural disasters and non-natural disasters. Natural disasters are broadly divided into two categories: hydro meteorological disasters, which include droughts/famines, avalanches/landslides, forest/scrub fires, insect infestation, waves/surges, extreme temperature events, floods and windstorms) and geophysical disasters which include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions). Non-natural disasters are grouped under three heads: industrial (includes chemical spill, collapse of industrial structures, explosion, fire, gas leak, poisoning and radiation), transport (includes air, road, rail and water-borne accidents) and miscellaneous disasters (includes collapse of domestic/non-industrial structures, explosion and fire) [1] .

In simple terms mitigation of the effect of disasters can be called the science of disaster management. A very intriguing facet of disaster management is the fact that major fractions of the people hit by disasters are socio-economically backward groups. As an instance, after the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, the event was popularly described as "class-quake", for it were the low-income indigenous people of the region who were hit the hardest by the disaster [2] . With increase in population, the demand for human dwellings increases and the middle class is attracted to the rapidly growing edge of the sprawling cities. Developers and contractors, to meet this surging demand, often ignore building rules and codes, thus rendering the structures more vulnerable to disasters. Another like phenomenon is also observed. Many regions have been mapped out to be naturally prone to seismological disturbances (like being located above epicenters, on fault lines of continental plates, etc.). Still, unable to find safer abodes, many poor people are compelled to live in such regions, rendering themselves susceptible to disasters. As they have informal settlements and do not own the land on which they reside, they have no incentive to invest in their dwellings to make them safer. [3] .

From this example, many important propositions emerge. Firstly, though hazards cannot be prevented from occurring, yet their impact can be mitigated by-(a) Prior planning and a balanced developmental process with an eye on conservation, or sustainable development, defined as the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and (b) pre-disaster planning and preparedness, popularly known as Disaster Mitigation and Prevention plan (DMP). The growth of these two ideas about disaster management has been accentuated by a number of international conferences and conventions. The last decade had been designated by the UN as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The 'Earth Summit' was held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, near the start of the IDNDR. Since then, disaster risk reduction has been included as an element of many of the national and local efforts to implement Agenda 21, the Rio Summit's plan of action. The 1994 Yokohama Conference provided an opportunity to countries to focus on disaster risk reduction, and this was the first international conference where the social aspects of vulnerability were given serious consideration. The UN International Decade ended with the IDNDR Programme Forum in Geneva in July 1999. In 2002, the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development reaffirmed the place of disaster risk reduction within the notion of 'sustainable development' [4] .

There is no legal framework in India to deal comprehensively with disaster management. So a High Powered Committee (HPC) was constituted for suggestion of institutional reforms and preparation of Disaster Management Plans at the National, State and District levels, under the chairmanship of Shri J.C. Pant, former Secretary to the Government of India, vide an order dated August 20, 1999. It was the first attempt in India towards drawing up a systematic, comprehensive and holistic approach towards disasters.

Chapter 1: The Concept of Disaster Management

Definitions of Certain Operative Terms

Before explaining and elucidating upon the concept of disaster management, it would be prudent to define certain operative terms particularly hazard, risk and vulnerability that gained widespread acceptance in the realm of disaster management.

Hazard means the occurrence of the calamity itself, like the hurricane, the earthquake, etc., irrespective of its impact on the human population. It is actually hazard that assumes the status of 'disaster' in a discourse.

Risk implies the socio-economic conditions in which a community lives, that determine the susceptibility of that community to be affected by any phenomenon beyond its capacity to endure such phenomena. [5] 

Vulnerability has been defined by Omar D. Cardona as: "An internal risk factor of the subject or the system that is exposed to a hazard and corresponds to its intrinsic predisposition to be affected, or to be susceptible to damage." [6] 

On reading these operative words together, risk can be termed as an equivalent to the multiplication of hazard and vulnerability in mathematical terms [7] 

Thus clearly, disasters are an outcome of the living conditions of the victims as well. To detach 'natural' disasters from the social frameworks that influence the effect of hazards people, would be risking excessive emphasis on the natural hazards themselves, at the cost of the surrounding social environment. Many aspects of the social environment are easily recognized: people live in adverse economic situations that oblige them to inhabit regions and places that are affected by natural hazards, be they the flood plains of rivers, the slopes of volcanoes or earthquake zones.

There are many other less obvious political and economic factors that underlie the impact of hazards. These involve the manner in which assets, income and access to other resources, such as knowledge and information, are distributed between different social groups, and various forms of discrimination that occur in the allocation of welfare and social protection. Thus it can be understood that the two aspects of disasters- natural and social- are indistinguishable from each other. The term disaster therefore signifies a humanitarian disaster triggered by natural or man-made agents. [8] 

The two models of disaster management have been evolved by various studies. In The Neo-Marxist model of pressure and release, risk is presented as the result of the concurrence of some conditions of vulnerability and of some possible threats. Risk reduction here signifies intervention at each level: conditions of insecurity, the dynamic pressures and the root causes [9] . The Access Model suggests that risk is generated as a result of the difficulties that some social groups or families have in accessing certain resources over time. [10] .


In recent times disaster mitigation and preparedness (DMP) has emerged as a new concept in the field of disaster management. This view postulates that though hazards cannot be prevented from occurring, yet their impact can be mitigated to a bare minimum level by adopting certain pre-emptive measures and policies. So the concept of pre-disaster management has gained ground besides the usual post-disaster management activities of rescue, relief and rehabilitation, erstwhile which had been known as Disaster Management. [11] 

Therefore, DMP emphasizes on a people-centric approach to disaster management, as it is obvious from the basic premise of DMP that it attributes the living conditions of the victims to the impact any hazard produces, and so aims human development as a means to the goal-disaster mitigation.

There are a number of actors that play roles of multiple variances in DMP: [12] 

NGO s: NGO funding, although large, is fragmented into small and often short term service provision projects that in many cases have limited impact on the wide ranging structural changes of risk reduction. The growing contractor relationship of NGOs with donors has led them to compromise their own core values as watchdogs of public authority. It is easier for the NGOs to collect donations for traditional relief, than for mitigation or preparedness.

Multilateral and bilateral developmental institutions: The World Bank is one such multilateral organization. With the establishment of The Disaster Management Facility (DMF) in 1998, the World Bank has aimed at mainstreaming disaster prevention and mitigation practices into all developmental activities. UNDP is yet another organization of such nature, that has launched initiatives to encourage a 'culture of prevention' based on recognition of vulnerability reduction as a part of the developmental process.

The scientific community: The IDNDR was envisaged as an event wherein scientific knowledge would be simply 'put into practice' to prevent disasters.

The private sector: The chief player in this area is the insurance industry that provides an incentive for risk reduction through market mechanisms. There have been some expectations that the private sector may play a significant altruistic role in disaster management as part of hopes that large companies may adopt DMP as a potentially high profile demonstration of their corporate social responsibility.

Local institutions: While community mechanisms may help in dealing with individual tragedies, they are proving increasingly weak in dealing with covariant risks affecting broad sections of the population.

Government: The government still remains the most important of all these actors. The human rights law still clearly declares that governments bear the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their citizens. Aid is far from the bare necessity; States must include DMP in their own fiscal priorities if they are to live up to their commitments to respect human rights.

Chapter 2: Environmentally Displaced Persons

Natural Disasters and 'Environmentally displaced persons'

The term "natural disasters" refers to events such as volcanic eruptions, droughts, earthquakes and all other types of disaster generated by an unstable natural environment.

The United Nations (UN) defines "disaster" as "a serious disruption of the functioning of a society, causing widespread human, material, or environmental losses which exceed the ability of affected society to [cope] using only its own resources."

Various political, economic, or social factors can cause environmental disasters, which are far-reaching and inextricably linked to growth and development. However, history has repeatedly shown that the environment itself can also be a source of disaster [13] . Natural disasters have been a major cause of migration throughout history [14] . In 1998, for the first time since records have been kept, natural disasters accounted for the displacement of more persons worldwide than wars or other conflicts [15] . It is estimated that 144 million people per year are affected by natural disasters [16] . To give some recent examples of the effect of natural disasters on the lives of people and the consequential environmental displacement: although statistics vary, some estimate that the 2004 tsunami in Asia displaced over 1.8 million persons, including more than 645,000 in India and 600,000 in Indonesia. Hurricane Katrina displaced over one million people on the Gulf Coast of the United States, and the 2005 earthquake in South Asia left over three million people homeless. [17] 

The report of world Disasters Report 1998 by Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) shows that on an annual average 122787 people were killed, 138737520 were affected, 62259 injured and 4818006 became homeless during the years 1972 to 1996, by earthquake, drought & famine, flood, high wind, landslide and volcano [18] .

Natural disasters tend to displace persons temporarily rather than permanently. The 1990s were declared the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction by the United Nations. [19] .

International Law and 'Environmental Refugees'

There are four principal elements to the definition of a refugee contained in the Refugee Convention. [20] They must be outside their country of origin; they must be unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of their country or return there; such inability or unwillingness must be attributable to a well-founded fear of being persecuted; and the persecution feared must be based on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The definition does not include "those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life," [21] . Since 1975, although, displaced persons have been included in the mandate of UNHCR, which considers "internally-displaced persons" as any person or group of persons who, if they had breached an international border, would be refugees yet the definition appears to exclude most of the persons internally-displaced for environmental reasons since environmentally-displaced persons are often escaping environmental pressures rather than the enumerated persecutions. [22] Many of the refuge-seekers excluded by the 1951 refugee definition are people who are forced to migrate because of environmental deterioration. The popular name for these people is "environmental refugees." [23] The term "environmental refugees" is a misnomer, as environmentally displaced persons are not recognized as refugees. The Convention was not drafted with such persons in mind, nor can it be reasonably interpreted in modern times to include these persons.

The number of people seeking refuge from environmental degradation is growing more rapidly than other refuge-seeking groups. The present estimate of environmental refugees is 25 million, or one out of every 225 people worldwide [24] .It is interesting to note at this point that it is anticipated that eighty percent of the world's population will live in developing countries by the year 2025. [25] 

Since reinterpreting or revising the refugee definition to include all environmentally-displaced persons who lack the protection of their States, would open the door to a flood of refugees far beyond what the international community is able to manage. Thus such an interpretation, therefore, would have to be limited by specific requirements, such as the occurrence of certain threshold levels of environmental destruction in the country of origin, and the existence of specific circumstances rendering the applicants unable to avail themselves of their government's protection within a designated period of time. Moreover there should be specific guidelines laid for tackling the problem of environmental induced migration, which would require countries to implement separate legislation, dealing with such kinds of population displacement, whether they be cross-boundary or internal in nature.

Chapter 3: Existing Institutionalized Frameworks and the Indian perspective

While disaster legislation as a standalone document is important, there are many other acts and regulations that prescribe requirements and provide for public safety. Strict enforcement of these provisions contributes to enhanced disaster resilience.

The Yokohama Conference, 1994: This was the first international conference where the social aspects of vulnerability were given serious consideration. Previously, a strong emphasis of the IDNDR had been on science and technology. Clear evidence of a change in attitude came in the first affirmation of the Yokohama message:

'Those usually most affected by natural and other disasters are the poor and socially disadvantaged groups in developing countries as they are least equipped to cope with them'.

The IDNDR Programme Forum, 1999: The UN International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) ended with the IDNDR Programme Forum in Geneva in July 1999. The objective of the forum was to establish internationally and professionally agreed standards for the analysis and expression of the socio-economic impacts of disaster on societies.

The Millennium Declaration, 2000: Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG s) were agreed by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration of September 2000. The seventh goal of the Millennium Declaration is to 'Ensure environmental sustainability'.

In Section IV of the Millennium Declaration, titled 'Protecting our common future', there is a further commitment to intensify collective efforts to reduce the number and effects of natural and man-made disasters. In the so called 'Road Map' towards implementation of the millennium goals, the watchword is the protection of the vulnerable and promotion of human security. [26] 

Legal Framework in India

In India, natural disaster management is primarily the responsibility of the State Government. The responsibility of the State Government can be said to be threefold: rescue, relief and rehabilitation. Non-natural disasters, that is, those caused by acts of men are to be managed under the direct supervision of the concerned nodal Ministries or Departments. The role of the Central Government in both cases is supportive in terms of supplementation of physical and financial resources.

However, the disaster management system in the face of several natural in the late 1990's was found to be grossly inadequate and measurable from international standards. Besides, a number of problems had also cropped up. Firstly, India lacks any comprehensive disaster management legislation. In fact, there is no legislation dealing with the subject of disaster management. Secondly, India does not have any separate specific ministry for disaster management.

In these circumstances, the Government decided to formulate a law on disaster management, based on the recommendations of a High Powered Committee on Disaster Management [27] . The HPC was constituted in August 1999 under the chairmanship of Shri J.C. Pant. HPC members were drawn from ministries, states, NGOs and experts drawn from relevant fields. It was the first attempt in India towards drawing up a systematic, comprehensive and holistic approach towards disasters. Though the original mandate of the HPC was confined to preparation of management plans for natural disasters only, later it was expanded to include man-made disasters and towards developing a plan of action that would encompass disasters of all origins. [28] 

The declaration of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-2000) by the United Nations provided an unprecedented opportunity to governments from all over the world to direct their attention towards taking concerted, shared and concrete steps in the field of natural disaster reduction. As part of the Indian national initiative, the HPC had incorporated the principles that emerged from IDNDR in its recommendations. [29] In this exercise, the HPC has also borrowed heavily from the disaster management strategies, policies and laws of other countries.

The HPC had felt that an all-permeating attitudinal change was required in the field of disaster management. To enable this, the Committee identified and propagated four cultures:

Preparedness: This culture proceeds on the age-old saying-prevention is better than cure. To adopt proactive measures, HPC identifies the role of a number of agencies which would have to be integrated with awareness propagation, training programmes, planning and coordination of resources at every level of societal organization-nation, state, district, village, family and individual.

Quick Response: The HPC has realized the importance of the need to respond at the earliest in the most appropriate manner. One of the steps that may be taken in this regard would be the deployment of a special branch of the armed forces for disaster management.

Strategic Thinking: Between disaster management and disastrous management lies the shadow of a degree of preparedness. Strategic thinking and swift decision-making are two factors of such preparedness.

Prevention: While it is true that natural disasters cannot be prevented, yet, in view of the disastrous aftermath of such hazards, preventive measures can be taken to mitigate their impact. Actual involvement in the prevention of disasters requires commitment from all groups of society. Two very important components of this culture are early warning system and developmental planning.

Currently, disaster management does not form any specific field of legislation under Lists I, II or III of the Schedule VII of the Indian Constitution. So the Parliament can enact a law on disaster management only under Entry 97 of List I. [30] The only two entries in the State List that are remotely related to the subject of disaster management are entry 14, which deals with agriculture, including protection against pests and plant diseases, and entry 17, which deals with water, including water supply, drainage and embankments. The HPC strongly felt that this is grossly inadequate, and that Disaster Management needs to be included in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution under whichever list is felt most appropriate.

But as a party to a number of international conventions, India is under an obligation to conform to certain parameters and incorporate some principles in its disaster management activities. It is true that there can be no such right as the "right to disaster-free environment". But there can be other types of rights too. The same has been laid down by the Gujarat High Court in the case of B.J. Diwan v. State of Gujarat [31] , where the Court has held that the "Right to receive relief and rehabilitation" after disaster is a fundamental right of the victims, a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and hence, is a justifiable right.

In the absence of any enactment, the HPC had prepared a "National Calamity Management Act"; the draft of which had been circulated to all the States and the concerned ministries of Government of India for their comments. The Act aims at ensuring efficiency and effective management of natural and other calamities, for achieving greater coordination and responsiveness with respect to prevention and mitigation of disasters so as to provide better relief and rehabilitation of victims of disasters. The HPC has also formulated a Model State Disaster Management, and interestingly, the Model Act has been adapted by the State of Gujarat in the wake of the devastating Gujarat earthquake.


Disaster management in India has gained renewed impetus in the face of severe natural disasters in the late 1990's and in the new millennia, including the Gujarat earthquake and the recent tsunami. To bring about a holistic change in this regard, the Indian Government had appointed the High Powered Committee on Disaster Management [32] which submitted its report in 2001. Many of the recommendations of the Committee have not been implemented. Such a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the Government bodes ill for the citizens of the country.

It is imperative that critical areas crucial to disaster management like information sharing, research and development on risk reduction techniques between countries should receive the full-fledged support of the Government. There is a need to work towards finding a balance between expert knowledge and local knowledge of the community. Populations and communities in the coastal areas and other disaster prone areas need to be trained to act immediately at the face of an oncoming disaster. It has been observed by experts that community-based risk reduction is most effective if it takes place within the context of broader community building initiatives. This builds upon a community's collective strength and skills. The government while responding to a disaster needs to keep in mind that the response should be on humanitarian grounds rather than political or economic criteria.

Disaster experts such as seismologists and the scientific community need to develop deeper dialogues not only with the people, but also with other agents of disaster reduction like relief workers among others so that they are best equipped to handle the disaster management strategies.

After the carnage by the tsunami on the Indian coast, most of the infirmities of the Indian disaster management system have been exposed to the world. A very important reason why the hazard had so much of impact on the victims is due to the lack of a proper disaster warning system in India, which, in turn, is on accord of a lack of proper risk assessment measures being carried on in India. Warning and response in the context of disasters need to be treated as a two parts of a single system.