May 16, 2017

Speaking at Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development, New Delhi

Shri Sanjeev Kumar Jindal, Prof Santosh Kumar, officers from all the states from across India, experts in the field of disaster management, disaster operations. I believe several NGOs are also represented in this important two-day Conference, former and current members of the NDMA, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s really remarkable that we are focusing on a subject, which usually comes to attention only after the disaster takes place. In fact, as Benjamin Franklin had said, ‘by failing to prepare, you are actually preparing to fail.’ The fact that the NDMA is continuously looking and the Home Ministry is continuously looking at what needs to be done to prepare ourselves for any of these problems or any of these, I would call them, many times planned or many times most unexpected, sometimes even targeted attacks on India. I think it’s a very ominous kind of time that you are discussing this whilst that Ransomware is going on all over the world. But I was just hearing the comments about the wide array of areas that were discussed during the course of this two-day conference, including financial institutions, which really gives one a lot of satisfaction that the government and all of you in the states and different bodies within the country, are so much conscious about this very serious subject of preparing ourselves in a sustainable manner so that our development also can be sustainable going forward.

In fact, if one looks back into history and, I am sure many of you must have seen the movie Titanic. Titanic had planned for such a wide array of possible risks to their sailing, and it was a huge vessel. It had all the crème de la crème of then society, travelling on the Titanic. But, despite all that they had planned for, at that point of time, there was a warning also given to the captain of the ship. But that little bit of arrogance, if one may venture to use that adjective, that nothing can go wrong in my ship, cost the ship so dear, cost so many lives of people. And I think that’s one of the first and most preliminary mindset that is required when you are looking at disaster management. And one has to be open to new ideas, one has to be open to potential problems, and never get arrogant or over-confident in what we are doing or what we are planning to do.

Of course, if you don’t prepare yourself for the worst, if you don’t prepare yourself to face untoward situations, then it’s going to be even worse. So, I am sure while the engineers of the Titanic must have done a lot of preparation, probably, the iceberg was missed out in the preparations that were being done. That there could be icebergs and that icebergs have so much sharp edges that it can actually cut through the huge steel plates of the big ship.

Therefore, very often it’s always the lack of preparedness or the lack of deep understanding of potential disasters that land us into this serious risk of, which often causes life, which causes loss of property. In fact, when we talk of sustainable development, I think even disasters like soil quality for that matter, soil management, or I think serious issue in the days to come of water management. Today, of course, the nation is finally come to terms that we have to solve the cleanliness problem of the nation. Otherwise, garbage and its attendant impact on health, on pollution, was itself a huge disaster waiting to, I would say, attack the country much worse than probably many of our conventional disasters could.

And in the same breath, if I may venture to suggest, every form of disaster always gives you some kind of warning signals. Very rarely are disasters so absolutely unimaginable and unheard of that nothing could be done about it. I am sure if we trace the history of disasters that have occurred in the world you will always find some warning signal, it could be well in advance, it could be very close to the event. But there is always a warning signal and it is our preparedness to have an open mind and to understand those signals, to search for those signals that will determine our success in handling disasters, mitigating disasters.

In fact, climate change is one issue which the world is grappling with today. It’s literally a disaster waiting at our doorsteps, waiting to affect all of humanity. And, it is a matter of great happiness that 193 countries could come together on one platform, could agree without a single disagreement. Very rarely are such international agreements finalised with a 193 countries agreeing on every aspect of the Climate Change Paris Agreement. And it’s a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Modi’s role in the Paris negotiations, in finalising the Paris Agreement, has been hailed by one and all.

Across the world, there is unanimity that it was India’s leadership role that finally settled the Paris Agreement in December, 2015. And I think it’s a great credit to India and the leadership of India that despite being a developing country, despite being so much away from the ability to finance large amounts of risk mitigation costs associated with fighting climate change, despite the fact that India in the first place was never responsible for this problem, supporting 17% of world population. After all, we have only contributed 2-2.5% of the greenhouse gases up there. Despite that, Prime Minister Modi’s approach was one of collective wisdom, one of collective action, one of shared responsibility that this is a challenge that the world, that planet is facing, and we will all be a part of this challenge. We will all work, collectively, as responsible global citizens to make sure that we don’t let the temperature go beyond 2 degrees by 2100.

While, of course, we are still a long way away from achieving that goal, while there are signals coming from some very important countries that they may not participate in this global effort. But India remains steadfast in working to mitigate this disaster waiting to happen, and which is what the strength of today’s leadership is, which is what the strength of the people of India is that they are willing to understand what is good for humanity, what is not good for humanity, and we are willing to proactively act to ensure that we can mitigate such disasters in the making.

In fact, there was talk about the UN Sendai framework, which is also a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement. But if all the countries, collectively, recognize that it’s our responsibility, that it’s the state’s primary role, even though it may not be a responsibility, but it’s the responsibility of all of us collectively. One need not argue whether it is central government, state government, local body. When all of us conspire to work together that is the only way we will be able to truly mitigate the risks of disaster going forward. And private sector, public sector, as they say, Jan Bhagidaari, the involvement of the people will be the defining feature of any success towards disaster mitigation.

And I can assure you that, as I was reading in the outcome of your 2-day deliberation, the honorable Home Minister at the very beginning mentioned, that Rs 1 well spent to address the possible disaster towards preventive measures is better than Rs 10 spent after the disaster when we may have already lost precious lives, precious property. And then that cost would really not only be 10 times or sometimes even more, but not give you the desired results. There are different estimates of how disasters derail economies, or derail plans and progress that many countries have been achieving – different estimates range from 260 billion US dollars annually to 414 billion dollars annually. Now, that’s a huge amount of money.

And one can assess that if all of us were to invest wisely a little more money than what we are spending today, but do it well, do it smart, we could actually be potentially saving billions of dollars of losses, not to speak about the lives that we may save. Natural disasters like storms, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, all of these also in some form relate to climate change. There are many studies which tend to bring in a co-relation to global warming and the increasing incidence of these disasters, natural disasters.

In fact, if you ask me, disasters and poverty also are very closely linked. After all, should a hurricane affect a coastal area, it may take along with it the livelihood of so many people, it may destroy homes, it may destroy businesses. And, therefore, when we are talking of a society which is free of poverty, a society where every man lives a life of self-respect, self-reliance, independence. I think our own effort towards disaster mitigation also has a role to play when we talk of poverty alleviation; there is a close linkage between disasters, development and poverty. And, I am sure if you want to make serious progress in eliminating malnutrition, extreme poverty, reversing disasters or addressing these challenges will actually help to do it much………….

I will give you a small example. We have now built up very robust tracking mechanism of these hurricanes or typhoons, which often come through the sea for the electricity sector. Other day, I was visiting POSOCO where we manage the entire national transmission grid, and they actually showed me how they were tracking a hurricane that came about a year and a half ago, which one was it in Andhra Pradesh? Hudhud! They actually showed me on their computer screens how for several hours they were tracking the Hudhud coming in and progressing towards the shores of Andhra Pradesh, how they decided, at what point of time they decided to switch off the electricity connection on the grid, let the hurricane come in, pass.

And, because of that sensible handling of the potential disaster and its impact on the electricity grid hundreds of lives were saved, because you know electrocution and fires and all of that automatically come in if the transmission were to be on while the hurricane attacked. And, save and except, some poles or some wires who had got damaged, which could quickly be rectified. By and large, the electrical infrastructure remained intact. And I think in less than one week, the central government and state government together could actually put up the whole electrical infrastructure back in normal shape.

So addressing these risks, these problems, in advance, can really have a huge impact to reduce the losses. I am delighted that ISRO has been doing a lot of good work in this about disaster warnings. The South Asia satellite which has just been launched will also help us in assessing or having advance warning systems for any potential disasters going forward. I am sure the satellite launched in 2016, the INSAT-3DR, satellite for Disaster Management Applications must also be playing a role in helping the authorities assess what is happening, what could potentially happen.

But all in all, I must compliment each one of you for the role that you are doing, for the work that you are doing. We have challenges in the nation. Urbanisation is going to be one challenge where disasters will have a cause and effect story, rapid urbanisation, unplanned urbanisation often is the cause of a disaster. But, planned urbanisation, smart cities, can also have the advantage of mitigating disasters.

So, the choice is before all of us. I come from Mumbai. We saw what happened in the infamous floods of 26th July, I think it was 2007 or 2008, when the entire city was paralysed for a very long time due to unimaginable rains. We saw a similar thing in Chennai where floods caused havoc about a year and a half ago.

All of these things have a man-made element. After all, the Mumbai Mithi river, which at one point of time would have been a natural outlet for the huge amount of water or rain that we witnessed for 48 hours, is otherwise clogged with silt and all sorts of impurities and could not handle the heavy rains and the heavy flooding. So, I think the National Disaster Management plan that was launched by the honorable PM in 2016, which covers all phases of disaster management – prevention, mitigation, response, and then finally recovery – is a holistic vision in this sector.

I am sure all of you in your areas of work, in your cities and states, will work actively for the best results out of this National Disaster Management plan. And, as they say, gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom, sharing it is the first step to humanity. We all have knowledge in our different spheres about what disasters can strike, what can happen, what we need to do to mitigate it, what should be our response, how will we recover quickly from it? But, as we share that knowledge with each other, it not only multiplies, not only comes to aid and assist each other, but also gets fine-tuned with newer ideas, more imagination coming on the table.

And, I think the programme that has been organised this last two days – The National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction – is truly a great platform for sharing ideas, for exchanging notes, learning from each other’s experiences. And, I am sure such programmes help you go back and do your job better, do your job more safely, safely for all of us, for all of our people, for our country. And, I am sure that all these efforts will lead to a more resilient nation, a more disaster-proof nation by 2030.

And if I may quote from Prime Minister Modi again, ‘disasters cannot be totally prevented but their impact can be reduced.’ And, I think if, collectively, all of us take this as a mission that we will ensure that disasters, wherever avoidable, we will work to avoid them, like we are doing in climate change and promoting renewable energy, bringing down pollution, cleaning the rivers, cleaning up the country through Swachh Bharat. While on the one hand we are working towards that, I think this global effort of which all of you are a very important part, to create institutional structures to address the problems of disasters will really help India meet such tragedies in a far more efficient and effective manner.

I wish all of you well in the work that you are doing. And, as they say, great things cannot be done by one person, but, collectively, when it’s done by a team of people, really great things can happen. And, I am sure this team sitting in front of me, has the capability, has the desire, has the conviction and the sense of purpose to make sure that our country sleeps in peace, that our country is able to either avoid disasters or face disasters stoically, resolutely and sensibly.

My best wishes to all of you. Thank you.

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