Call to make engineers, masons assist in northeast disaster recovery

New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) An international conference on disaster mitigation and management in India’s northeastern region has called for a special cadre of engineers trained to assess damage as well as an “army” of masons and artisans to deal with post-disaster scenarios.

The two-day conference, “When the Mountains Move and the Waters Rise”, urged governments, scientists, researchers and civil society groups to break out of their silos, disciplines and departments and develop fresh approaches to disaster scenarios.

Organised by the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia in collaboration with National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), the North Eastern Council, the central government , and National Centre for People’s Action in Disaster Management(NCPDP), Ahmedabad, the two-day conference that concluded on Wednesday focussed on health and shelter.

The conference underlined the lack of a network of specially trained engineers “who can be the first assessors of damage” based on sound engineering and science to provide a rational basis for a just compensation package, according to a statement issued by the organisers.

This gap was a crucial part of the situation despite many improvements in preparedness and having several institutions to handle disaster conditions.

Another priority was to create communities of trained caregivers who can counsel those suffering the effects of trauma. Institutes like National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) could take a lead in this sector.

“The suddenness of calamities often caught governments unawares. Thus, in terms of post-disaster capacity building, governments and partner groups need to have the curriculum and trainers to launch rapid training programs which will create an army of artisans (masons, carpenters etc.) for rebuilding programmes,” the statement said.

“Disasters are built into the concept of ‘development’ although the latter has the potential to increase or minimize risks. Development projects carry with them opportunities and risks,” the conference said in its recommendations.

Those who participated included technical experts from Nepal and India, especially from the northeast, representatives of the NIDM, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), state disaster management authorities (SDMAs) of Mizoram and Assam, Andhra Pradesh, as well social scientists and other Himalayan scholars, environmentalists, activists and officials from the UN.

There were detailed presentations on risks and risk assessment from Nepal, Meghalaya, the Sunderbans, Gujarat, Uttarkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

Assam’s SDMA representative Nandita Hazarika described what she called the state government’s innovative approach to floods and earthquakes while Young Mizo Association’s Lalswamliana and Hari Kumar of Geo-Hazards sketched the acute pressures on a vulnerable town like Aizawl, capital of Mizoram.

According to the recommendations of the conference, while it is not possible to make all infrastructure disaster-free, it is important that every vulnerable human settlement in the northeastern region be assessed with regard to multiple, current risks.

This information must be put in the public domain in simple local languages.

Governments need to have multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural approaches.

Governments, academic institutions, the private sector and civil society organisations need to develop innovative partnerships.

Local communities need to acquire the sustained competence to innovate and absorb other forms of knowledge, technologies and practices. The role of communities and independent groups in developing local innovative solutions to specific problems such as health care was emphasized – these include best practices such as the boat clinics on the river Brahmaputra.

Traditional ways of habitat planning need to be built into a repository while exploring ways of connecting the best of the vernacular to “modern” processes through participatory methods and recognition of local knowledge, the conference recommended

Protocols of government engineering institutions require to incorporate new approaches including those which emphasize vernacular architecture.

Psycho-social support at times of disasters should be part of an integrated and inter-sectoral approach, especially with promotion of community capacity building

In post-disaster conditions, it has been observed that due to lack of preparedness precious time is lost, resulting in avoidable hardships. For example, communication materials which deal with both pre- and post-disaster scenarios (videos, leaflets in the local languages etc) should be accessible to the public.

The progress of shelter and rehabilitation construction should be placed in the public domain, the recommendations said.

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