Disasters seem to be a norm today, all set to increase in the coming years. Nature’s fury, human mistakes, coupled with a growth in population and insufficient enforcement of building codes in high-risk zones, has not only enhanced people’s vulnerability towards these disasters but also created new challenges to risk management. It’s been over a decade since the Disaster Management Act of 2005 was passed, but the moot question still persists: Are we able to manage risks? How resilient are we at the village level today?

On the flip side, disasters also give us an opportunity to learn from our past. Phailin cyclone ravaged Odisha in 2013, but the proactive citizenry that came into action to manage it, is one of the most successful examples ever seen. One million people were evacuated to safer place within two days. Zero casualty goal was achieved. This happened due to a well established level of intra-departmental communication and coordination, and the valuable partnerships and community trust built prior to, and following the disaster. All this ensured a smooth, successful disaster mitigation and management plan.

It is the community that is the first line of defence in preparing or responding to a disaster. The formulation of village disaster management plan (VDMP) thus becomes an important ingredient in implementing community based disaster risk management process. VDMP refers to a list of activities a village agrees to follow to prevent loss of life, livelihood and property in case of a disaster. Since the enactment of DM Act, 2005 followed by the National Disaster Management Policy, formulated in 2009 by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a paradigm shift in planning has taken place. From a relief-driven response to more pro active approach, initiatives have taken place for reducing the risks of disaster at the community level. Still, there subsist huge gaps at the sub-national level regarding the understanding of vulnerabilities and capacities of common people, vertical and horizontal coordination among institutions, intra departmental communication and the most important- building the trust and skill of the community to make decisions in a compressed time frame of emergency and recovery phases.

The aim of a VDMP is to build the capacity and the resilience of the community and to equip them with skills so that management of various hazards becomes a way of life for them. It engages the community and provides an opportunity to the local people to evaluate their own situation based on their experiences. The iterative interaction of people during the formation process also improves the capacity of local people to understand the causal factors behind their vulnerabilities. This helps them take collective decision and confers a sense of ownership that helps withstand the impacts of any disaster.

But for a VDMP to be formulated, effective facilitation and attractive tools are required to attract people’s attention and interest. The Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (PVCA) is just such an innovative, bottom-up approach, to engage the community. It is an approach to include community perspective towards the existing issues and situations in local context. This not only helps get a local perception on the existing situation, but also empowers the community, and fits with the principles of community based disaster risk management process.

PVCA uses many tools. Transect walk involves observing its landscape, land uses, becoming familiar with the community and their daily practices for better understanding of the location of village. Others are focused group discussion, resources mapping, timelines and social mapping. All these provide a comprehensive methodology for data and information collection which further helps vulnerability and capacity analysis to adapt to disaster management at the community level.

Thus, in order to achieve the goal of disaster management planning; community participation and village level disaster management plan made in a participatory way is the need of the hour. This will help develop a synergy and coordination between the policy and practices of disaster management from village level to the national level.

The authors of the article KK Singh and Bijay singh are team members, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).

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