Working on disasters

Disaster managementFloods

Woman pumping water in India
A raised tube well on a platform allows communities to access safe drinking water during flooding. Photo: EFICOR

A journey from relief to risk reduction and advocacy 
by Kennedy Dhanabalan, Executive Director, EFICOR

In over 40 years of experience of disaster response, Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR) has evolved from being an organisation that just provides emergency relief to one that is actively involved in building the capacity of communities to advocate for people affected by disaster. EFICOR is involved in all aspects of disaster management: relief, rehabilitation, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), advocacy and networking.

From relief to Disaster Risk Reduction

In July 2004, Bihar State in India faced its worst floods in 50 years. The flooding affected 21 million people in 9,360 villages, spread over 20 districts. Recurring floods have made the population in these areas extremely vulnerable. Year after year, the Indian Government and humanitarian organisations carry out relief and rehabilitation activities after each emergency.

Through its experience in responding to relief situations, EFICOR realised that providing relief assistance would not encourage sustainability in a community which is faced with flooding almost every two years. They first introduced DRR in January 2003 in an area of Andhra Pradesh, Southern India, which experiences many different hazards. Flooding and drought had affected the local community, devastating crops and destroying the local economy. EFICOR went beyond providing relief, by building the capacity of the local community and taking physical measures to reduce the effects of future hazards. EFICOR staff members were trained to do social and resource mapping, and risk assessments, using the Participatory Assessment of Disaster Risk (PADR) tool (ROOTS 9 gives guidance on PADR. For more information on how to access this resource see Resources page). If crops were at risk, then analysis showed that factors such as land tenancy, cropping seasons, forming embankments along the river and the unpredictable course of the rivers made these crops vulnerable to destruction.

Changed thinking

This participatory process revealed which factors could be addressed by the community itself and helped to identify what resources were needed from the government or other agencies. It also suggested where advocacy could be most effective. The process was key in changing attitudes in the community towards managing disasters. Instead of each person thinking about their own needs, they could now think about how the community as a whole might benefit. For example, instead of seeking to get the hand-pumps installed near their houses, villagers saw that locating the hand-pumps strategically could help more people during the floods. They could also identify their own resources which gave them a feeling of empowerment through the awareness that they need not be helplessly vulnerable to floods.

Disaster Management Committees in Bihar

Madhubani district in Bihar is a prime example of community engagement. The initial response to flooding led to work on reducing risk of future disasters, as well as advocacy at a national level. In order to make a high and sustainable impact, the project focused on building the capacity of the community to respond in a disaster. Disaster Management Committees (DMCs) were formed in each village with about 7–10 members (with at least a third of members being women). Training was given on DRR and members were linked up with the Gram Panchayat (local government) to advocate for their villages on various needs and to access government schemes.

The DMC serves as a decision-making and advisory body on disaster management issues in the community. It includes government representatives, Gram Sabha (Village Assembly) representatives and members from women’s Self-Help Groups. Each village also has a Task Force of about 20–25 youths with sub-groups focusing on five different elements: Warning, Rescue, First Aid, Relief and Shelter. Training by experts and exposure trips are organised so that the groups can be encouraged by success stories from other villages. Task Force members conduct demonstrations at village functions in order to raise awareness in the community and to display their skills.

Practical mitigation

Risk management plans were put in place to help the community prepare for and recover from natural hazards. Physical structures such as flood shelters and high raised tube wells for accessing safe drinking water during flooding were built to reduce the impacts of the floods. Evacuation routes, boats and culverts (devices used to channel water) were also provided. A Disaster Mitigation Fund was set up to pay for the maintenance of these physical structures. This money could also be used for relief operations. Farmers were encouraged to insure their crops and animals against disaster. Workshops on DRR were conducted in all the schools in the project area to raise awareness amongst children.

Advocating for change 

The DRR intervention has also given EFICOR a voice at a higher political level. It has helped them to access policy-making bodies like the National Disaster Management Authority of India. They were able to take part in an NGO task force which prepared flood guidelines to be implemented by the state government. The District Disaster Mitigation Plan for Madhubani has been developed by EFICOR in coordination with Sphere India, Bihar-Inter Agency Group, alongside the District Administration and the State Disaster Management Authority in Bihar. 

Advocacy and networking at all levels (local, state, regional, national and international) helps to save lives and livelihoods threatened by hazards, bringing change in both policy and practice. In order to break the cycle of vulnerability, organisations need to be involved at all levels – from relief to advocacy. EFICOR’s experience has shown that this is possible and can have long-lasting impact. 

Founded in 1967, the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR) is a national Christian relief and development organisation based in New Delhi. It addresses issues of food security, local governance, disaster management, HIV and AIDS, health, nutrition and education. For more information visit www.eficor.org or write to:

EFICOR, 308,
Mahatta Tower, B Block
Community Centre, 
Janakpuri,
New Delhi, 110058,
India.

Task Force members practising rescue techniques. Task Force members practising rescue techniques.     Task Force members practising rescue techniques.

Task Force members practise rescue techniques. Photo: EFICOR