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close this bookDisaster Preparedness - 2nd Edition (DHA/UNDRO - DMTP - UNDP, 1994, 66 p.)
close this folderPART 3 - Implementing disaster preparedness plans
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPromote the plan at the national level
View the documentEstablish a reliable information base
View the documentDefine appropriate institutional structures
View the documentConsider this advice
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentSUMMARY


In this part of the module you will learn:

· four problematic reactions related to promoting preparedness plans at the national level
· three ways to avoid common promotional pitfalls
· four approaches for establishing a reliable base of information
· four plausible institutional structures for preparedness planning
· three lists of advice related to institutional structures, NGOs and bilateral donors

Promote the plan at the national level

Many government officials will be skeptical about the benefits of disaster preparedness plans. Introducing the subject of disaster preparedness strategies or plans to government officials may elicit at least one of the following responses:

A tremendous idea! This is just the answer all who are concerned with disaster management want to hear. In reality, the respondent may have little idea of what such a plan entails. Even if this person appreciates the broad principles that are involved, he or she may become wary when the full range of necessary measures begins to unfold.

We need development, not disaster preparedness! A difficult argument to refute, particularly if an official assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. Ministries of finance and economic planning are often the most reluctant to dedicate time and funds to a proposal that seems tangential to their major concern of development. Focusing on development projects often reflects institutional success and generates considerable external assistance.

We already have one. Excellent, but what does the official mean? The government may have a designated disaster relief office in some back ministerial corridor. That one room and one officer hardly constitute an effective disaster preparedness plan. It is not an easy task to suggest that efforts which the government has made to date are not adequate.

We don’t need one. This response is usually followed by a description of the effective role played by national Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies in times of disasters; or the way the government handles these matters effectively on an ad hoc basis; or an explanation that the government has other priorities.

Q. Review the common reactions listed above. How would you respond to each of these reactions when promoting a disaster preparedness plan?




The text that follows the question contains three measures which could be part of your response.

Given these common responses, it is important to sensitize reluctant government officials to the virtues of disaster preparedness. A combination of the following measures may assist in the process.

Clarify essential points

There is no trade-off between disaster preparedness and development. The two are closely linked, conceptually and practically. An effective disaster preparedness strategy or plan will:

· Protect development. Disasters delay, or, in the worst case, destroy progress that has been made to date. An effective disaster preparedness plan should be integrated into the development process so that the former can protect the latter.

· Introduce disaster mitigation. Disaster mitigation measures such as safer buildings, “off-the-shelf” food-for-work programs or cash-for-work public works programs not only protect people and their assets, but also speed up the development process if they are adequately designed.

· Strengthen the local infrastructure. For example, the institutional and communications structure required in disaster preparedness necessarily strengthens the overall local infrastructure.

· Exert pressure on traditional aid donors. This may affect the overall amounts these donors allot to development. Conversely, donors are increasingly interested in spending resources on disaster preparedness measures. Many donors now realize that disaster preparedness is cost effective when compared to the price of emergency response.

Seeing is believing

For those government officials who doubt the overall value of disaster preparedness, organize study tours to countries where disaster preparedness plans (for example, China) and strategies (for example, India) have proven highly effective.

Organize conferences and workshops

If this stage is reached, there are converts already on the way. However, since a disaster preparedness plan will require the commitment of the government and relevant non-governmental organizations, conferences and workshops afford good opportunities to convince those in doubt.

Establish a reliable information base

The more disaster-prone a country, the less reliable the information base is likely to be. This point goes to the heart of what disaster vulnerability is all about: extensive poverty, weak infrastructure, and inadequate administration, Under such conditions, it is difficult to maintain a reliable information base.

There is often a “data game” that is played before, during and after a disaster. Sometimes there are political reasons for governments to provide unreliable data. Certain demographic data might, for example, reflect an official’s regional affiliation, Infrastructural data might reflect the wishful thinking of a ministry that has not completed a project as well as it suggests. Agricultural data might reflect an optimistic forecast of the minister for agriculture. Such games are also played by international organizations. An agency might exaggerate the number of water projects it has completed, or assume that there are more primary health care facilities in a particular region than in fact is the case. At times agencies assume that food needs are greater than they are to avoid being accused of underestimating the extent of a possible crisis.

Even under the best of circumstances, baseline data and information systems cannot be perfect. Gathering sensible data and approximate information is a far more realistic information goal. It is highly recommended to implement the following information systems at the beginning of the planning process.

Vulnerability assessments

These assessments are particularly important for planning design purposes and for establishing a basis for information flows and updates. These assessments should be undertaken with the same rigor as any development project. With a team leader that knows a particular region well, sectoral experts from UN organizations should join with their national counterparts to undertake the sort of full-scale assessment.

Joint-information programs

Joint data and information systems between the UN disaster preparedness focal point and this person’s government counterpart are vital for both the planning process and the plan itself. The fact that the government is working from the same information base that the UN focal point is using will smooth debates that might arise. In project proposals relating to the disaster preparedness plan, be sure to allot funds for computer equipment, training, and whatever else the counterpart office might require to maintain an effective system.


Even in the most disaster-prone country, lack of data is less often a problem than a plethora of conflicting data. Non-governmental organizations often know more about particular areas than government offices. Some procedure should be established, in agreement with the government counterpart, to cross-check information with other organizations, including other government ministries at central and regional levels.

Joint-assessment process

As part of the disaster preparedness plan, it should be formally agreed that in times of emergencies, a team or teams comprising agency representatives of the government focal point, the UN DMT, the government focal point and non-governmental organizations familiar with the affected area assess the situation jointly.

Such procedures should be formally adopted within the proposed disaster plan. Joint assessments can reduce duplication of efforts, promote a degree of consensus about damage and needs, and ensure that subsequent appeals have national as well as international endorsement (when external aid is needed).

Define appropriate institutional structures

It is not easy to determine the home base for a disaster focal point. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider related to various options: in the Prime Minister’s office, in one of the ministries, or as a separate entity.

A key feature of a disaster preparedness plan must be to ensure that line ministries have vested interests in the disaster preparedness proposal. This means that resources and responsibilities should be parcelled out amongst all those deemed important to the plan. The idea is not to take away the medical functions of a ministry of health, but rather to enhance its capabilities to respond in coordination with other ministries. That does not necessarily mean that a ministry of health would be responsible for the logistics of emergency medicines. It might mean that its responsibility for ensuring emergency medical provisions would be acknowledged, that its institutional strength at local levels would be enhanced, and that its commitment to the plan might be greater.

Q. In your country, which government agency is the focal point for disaster preparedness?




See Figure 4 for help in defining the government agency.

FIGURE 4 Options for integrating disaster preparedness within government structures

In a disaster situation, all responsible officials must have a clear idea of their roles and functions. This is what a disaster plan establishes and what rehearsals test. The effectiveness of implementation can be judged by an inter-ministerial committee and supported by the findings of a secretariat.

It is advisable to have a secretariat to liaise with designated ministries: before implementation of a plan (for information updates, training requirements, and rehearsals); during implementation periods, (for coordinated assessments); and after the first stages of implementation (for second phase programs of recovery and rehabilitation). The roles and resources brought by non-governmental organizations for disaster preparedness, mitigation, prevention and relief purposes should be incorporated into the information required by the inter-ministerial committee on disaster preparedness. The government should also have a mechanism to determine the amount and type of assistance provided by bilateral donors and international agencies.

It is important to bring the planning process to the regional and local levels. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Having established a broad framework for the plan, take the plan and relevant officials to the field to work out the most effective ways to implement the proposal. The means of implementation should include attention to resources for preparedness at the family and local levels. The more centralized administrative planning systems should be in support of local efforts, not vice versa.

A national disaster preparedness strategy or plan should allow regional variations to meet the specific conditions of particular areas. This is essential for ensuring that the institutional structure of the plan has the support of regional and local officials. Establish local working groups to review the plans on a periodic basis and be sure that the substance of these reviews is considered. Where relevant, incorporate these reviews into updates of the overall plan. Such working groups are essential when it comes to warning systems, evacuation measures, and health or nutritional assessments.

Be sure that disaster plan rehearsals are not conducted merely at the central level, but that they combine central, regional and local level interaction. Distinguish in the plan the types of disaster responses that do, or do not, require central government approval.

Consider this advice

Some warnings are in order related to appropriate institutional structures for disaster preparedness plans.

The exchange of information must be an active undertaking. Do not wait for another agency to approach the UN DMT secretariat for information. Be sure that there is an established and effective system to disseminate information.

Ensure that agency representatives are briefed regularly on what is happening about the disaster preparedness plan. Encourage relevant agencies to participate in the planning process.

Be sure that any national disaster preparedness plan fully recognizes the particular specializations of relevant UN agencies.

See to it that no decision about such specializations is discussed without a representative of the agency present. If that is impossible, be sure to brief the agency about the discussions that have ensued.

Do not assume that what is written in the plan is what any individual agency might follow. Before any point of implementation, such as conducting joint assessment missions, be sure to double check specific commitments.

See how specific agency interests might be developed within the context of the proposed disaster preparedness plan. Could an international child welfare agency, at its own behest, play a more active part in health preparedness?

Do not assume instant cooperation from non-governmental organizations. There is frequently a degree of wariness that pervades relations between NGOs and government and between NGOs and the UN system. Nevertheless, NGOs can be vital components to a national disaster preparedness plan. Where willing and able, NGOs should be incorporated into the plan.

A few more warnings are in order related to NGOs in disaster preparedness plans.

Avoid dictates. Effective NGOs are normally represented by people with considerable field experience. These people frequently have grass-roots experiences with disaster relief operations. They know their business, so remember that the exchanges are between equals.

Share experiences. See whether there is an NGO forum in which UN activities concerning disaster preparedness might be discussed. Consider holding special workshops on particular technical matters for NGO staff, on topics such as emergency logistics.

Exchange information. One of the standard responses from NGOs when discussing UN information-gathering is that it is a one-way process. The UN gets the information, and the NGO gets nothing in return. Both UN and government workers benefit considerably from certain insights and information provided by NGOs. Therefore, the exchange of information should be more open. The door of the DMT secretariat should be open to NGOs.

Incorporate NGOs in disaster preparedness activities. Governments might agree and even welcome the opportunity to collaborate with NGOs. However, be certain that a government’s enthusiasm for incorporating an NGO into a preparedness plan is not a measure to constrain NGO activities. Both the government and NGOs must ensure that their agendas are not compromised.

Advice is also in order related to including bilateral donors in plan implementation.

Be sure that donors are in the know. In the disaster preparedness plan, there will be an officially designated focal point in the government that will monitor the relief contributions coming into the country. However, the information may not get through. In times of emergencies, the UN DMT should meet regularly with donors to be sure they know what is needed, what has arrived and the status of ports, airports and other distribution links.

Conduct disaster preparedness briefings. Even before donors provide assistance, be sure they know the procedures set forth in the disaster preparedness plan on how assessments will be made and how subsequent appeals will be issued. Be sure donors know how relief is to be delivered, according to the disaster preparedness plan.


Drought Preparedness and Mitigation - The Approach in India in 1987

India is located between Latitudes 3 and 8 degrees N and longitudes 88 and 97 degrees E. The Tropic of Cancer passes through the middle of the country. Sixty eight percent of the country receives precipitation less than 1125 mm per year, which limits agricultural potential even in normal years. Most of the rain (73%) falls in the monsoon season from June to September.

The drought of 1987

Failure of the monsoon brought prolonged dry spells in western India and severely affected agricultural production, causing the fourth serious drought disaster in this century. Crops were damaged in an area of 59 million ha spread over 267 districts and 22 states. Of the 285 million persons affected by the drought, nearly 92 million belonged to vulnerable groups including subsistence farmers and agricultural laborers. The previous worst drought occurred in 1965 when India had to import grain to mitigate the resulting famine.

Organizational response: In mid-July of 1987, when it appeared that drought conditions were likely to have a serious impact on agriculture, the Government of India (GOI) took initiative to mitigate the impacts rather than wait for requests for assistance. A Committee of Secretaries on Drought was set up and an Action Plan was developed. The plan included:

· preparation of water budgets to optimize use of reservoirs and ground water sources

· contingency plans to minimize crop losses

· provision of drinking water to the affected populations

· strengthening the food delivery system

· public health measures including providing supplementary nutrition for the vulnerable children

· contingencies for providing adequate fodder and nutrients for the livestock.

The implementation of the drought relief programs was monitored on almost a daily basis by a Crisis Management Group under the Central Relief Commissioner. State level relief committees directed the implementation of projects and coordinated the appropriate departments.

Agriculture: The following steps were undertaken to improve agricultural prospects in drought affected areas and kept crop losses to a minimum. The 1987 harvest was only 3.5% less than the previous year:

1. A timely supply of wheat seeds was provided to Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir for the Rabi harvest (the winter crop season) to make up for the amount lost during the Kharif (the first crop season).

2. Obtaining credit was facilitated through flexible lending by the National bank for Agricultural and Rural Development.

3. The Rural Electrification Corporation connected 150,000 water pumps.

4. Generation of power was improved for local power plants and uninterrupted supply of power was provided to the agricultural sector for 8-10 hours per day. Other fuels were also supplied.

5. Kits for vegetable production were supplied.

Employment Generation: The most immediate impact of the drought was on the incomes of rural families. Providing employment opportunities to these affected persons became a leading priority. Thus, 52% of the drought relief funds went to employment generation, mainly for jobs relating to drought mitigation. Part of the wages were paid in food grains to supplement the diets of families of the workers.

Labor efforts were directed toward construction of ponds, tubewells, field channels and roads as well as soil conservation and water harvesting. To improve future agricultural production, the government launched 54 major irrigation projects in 14 drought affected states to create an additional 133,000 ha of irrigated land.

Information Campaign: A widescale information campaign was undertaken by the various press, information ministries and radio agencies to create public awareness regarding the impact of drought and the relief measures undertaken. Special programs to improve knowledge of drought mitigation were also broadcast. Active steps were taken to enlist volunteers to help with the relief programs. For example, volunteers distributed fodder and drinking water in the affected areas.

Strengthening institutional mechanisms: Due to the severity of the drought of 1987, the drought affected states had to seek financial assistance from the GOI to cope with the effects. Decisions regarding the use of the money took between 30 and 45 days. Subsequent to the drought, a Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) was established for every state. The States draw on the funds to meet immediate requirements for disaster relief, and rehabilitation and reconstruction following disasters. The un-utilized balance each year is put toward the following year for five years after which the residual funds become available as development resources.

Emerging perspectives

1. The Indian experience bears witness to the effectiveness of formulating development and preparedness policies to meet predictable natural disasters. A comparison of the 1965 and 1987 droughts show that inputs resulting from development in the interim years assisted in avoiding extreme destitution in 1987 that occurred in 1965. This was the case despite the fact that the 1987 drought was more severe and affected twice the number of districts and people. Development inputs included: early warning systems, clear policy frameworks and institutional mechanisms for administering relief programs, an effective food delivery system, community mobilization, innovative measures by field agencies and advancements in agriculture, irrigation and food security.

2. When relief measures are recognized as being inevitable, adequate resources should be programmed at the operational level to assure timely response. With resources now programmed at the state level through the CRF, response should be more rapid and effective.

3. Employment generation in a period of drought is the basic means of providing income and purchasing power to those sections of society which have lost normal means of subsistence. The ever-changing economic milieu of a society, however, complicates the problems of assessment of the employment needs in different areas. Sections of the rural population shift dependence from farm income to other avenues of income due to economic development and perhaps the occurrence of the drought itself. Generation of skills for drought prone populations, through participation in national development activities such as adult literacy and social awareness programs, is needed to assist the vulnerable groups to switch to new occupations as economic development proceeds.

4. The experience of 1987 highlighted the importance of information dissemination relating to drought and relief measures. The public satisfaction with relief measures depends largely on the perception of the responsiveness of the administration both in quality and quantity. Also highlighted were the importance of nongovernmental input and use of volunteers for implementing and monitoring relief operations. Mechanisms to facilitate this input should be institutionalized.

Source: B. Narisimhan, Management of Drought: An Indian Approach in 1987, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, New Delhi.


When introducing disaster preparedness strategies or plans to government officials it is important to sensitize officials to the virtues of disaster preparedness: that an effective disaster preparedness plan will protect development, introduce disaster mitigation, strengthen local infrastructures and exert pressure on traditional aid donors.

It is important to establish a reliable information base in order to prepare an effective disaster preparedness plan. The following information systems are highly recommended: vulnerability assessments; joint information programs (between UN and government representatives); cross-checking mechanisms in order to sort out conflicting data that may emerge; and joint-assessment processes (with government, UN, NGOs and local networks) in order to reduce duplication of efforts, promote a degree of consensus about damage and needs, and ensure joint endorsement of any aid appeals.

It is also essential to define appropriate institutional structures that will be responsible for plan design, rehearsal, implementation and evaluation. The roles and functions of responsible officials must be identified. Plans to coordinate the efforts of all designated ministries and procedures to include NGOs are needed. Mechanisms to determine the amount and type of assistance to be provided should be established. It is important that regional and local involvement be incorporated into the disaster preparedness planning process at all stages. This requires variations and flexibility in planning strategies in order to meet the specific conditions of particular areas.

Pulling it all together

This module has reviewed the breadth and scope of disaster preparedness. Annex 1 can be used as a tool to not only review the subject but also to help structure what is in a disaster preparedness plan. A useful exercise is to review each item on the checklist to determine if the information exists in your country and where to obtain it. If the information is unavailable or doesn’t exist, filling that gap will be an important step in implementing disaster preparedness.