Disaster Management

“If a disaster like the Japan Tsunami is round the corner how can the Mumbaites come to know? What are the types of natural and man-made disasters that we are most prone to? What can individuals, civil society organizations, CBOs, NGOs and governments do in the event of such mega disasters?” were some of the questions raised during a 2-day workshop on “Disaster Management” jointly organized by Xavier Institute of Social Research (XISR) and Centre for Social Action (CSA), Mumbai from July 2-3 at XISR, Mumbai.

Dr Fr Anthony J. D’Souza S. J., the Provincial of Mumbai Province of the Society of Jesus, highlighted the need for evolving strategies for disaster-preparedness in the inaugural session on the first day of the workshop. Drawing inspiration from a mythical Siva-Sakti dialogue Dr D’Souza drove home the profound philosophical insight that the game of life is made possible only because of the constant inter-play of never-changing Siva and ever-changing Sakti. Harmony, integration and cessation of suffering can happen only if humans learn how to deal with ever-changing chaotic situations with never-changing universal values of compassion and love.

The Key-note Speaker, His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai and the President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, encouraged the participants to be focused on the expected outcome of the workshop, namely, to set up efficient crisis management teams all over Mumbai with clear-cut operational policies in liaison with all existing Governmental, Non-governmental agencies and community-based organizations. The cardinal insightfully pointed out two disaster management models implicit in the Old Testament Bible. As a model for dealing with natural disasters, the Cardinal drew attention to the great floods during Noah’s times and his response by constructing an Ark for all living beings and protecting the environment in an inclusive manner. For a model depicting the strategies to deal with a man-made disaster, the Cardinal focused on the Biblical episode of the Egyptian slavery of Israelites and Moses’ legendary intervention among them. Concluding his inspiring key-note address, the Cardinal cautioned the participants that whatever strategic plans they chalk out should be periodically reviewed and updated to make them suited for changing times and needs. Implying the need for constant vigilance, he made a strong case for having a strategic disaster management plan for Mumbai with specific allocation of human and material resources with special focus on professionally trained and competent people with pre-assigned tasks and roles.

Inaugural session ended with the frank and open sharing of Mr Johny Joseph, Upa-lokayukta and the Former Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai and Chief Secretary to the State of Maharashtra. Humorously calling ‘experience’ as ‘a tale of past mistakes’, he exposed how vulnerable and unprepared Mumbai city establishment and people were in facing various man-made and natural disasters in the past. Being assured of the absence of print and electronic media, he spoke from his heart on some of the crucial and painful experiences he had as an executive and the learning gains that made the city of Mumbai a safer place to live in because of the cooperation of various stakeholders including local level citizens’ groups and NGOs over and above the governmental and political establishments. Recategorization of geographical zones in the city, based on its updated vulnerability analysis, setting up of disaster management signal systems in the most vulnerable areas, preparing and maintaining on the alert decentralized community emergency response teams on an ongoing basis are some of the concrete action plans that evolved from his learning gains that still need to be fully implemented. Sustainability of decentralized community emergency response teams can be ensured only if young and enthusiastic volunteers are recruited on a war footing and attached to the Municipal wards.

(Dr Fr Anthony Dias, Director, XISR)

 Photographs from the Disaster Management Workshop