Floods are ravaging Assam again as official records state 18 lakh affected and more than five people dead across 20 districts due to the current wave of floods. The recent announcements by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the dwindling Centre-State relations have badly affected state funding for disaster response. There is no doubt that Assam is strategic due to 2,800 miles of international borders shared with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. However, the repeated floods, which have increased in the recent years with recurring floods in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 – 2015 have failed to highlight Assam floods as national problem.
The displaced populations are residing in schools run as relief camps, and will return to their villages once the water recedes. The access to water supplies, sanitation facilities in these camps is inadequate to meet the needs of the lakhs in number displaced. The floods in Assam affect drinking water sources and the quality of drinking water creating an acute drinking water problem. As a result, the affected people are depending on floodwaters and open defecation becomes challenging especially for women and adolescent girls. The recurring floods have impacted the water, sanitation, health and education systems in Assam.
In order to continue with schooling of children, these camps are shut down within a fortnight, forcing the people to leave the camps and fend for themselves. Their road to recovery is clearly distraught as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil societies and NGOs. In my research of community recovery after the 2012 floods in the state show that destroyed families had not received the promised financial damage compensations even two years after. The populations living in the fringes were displaced once again when the embankments are constructed, paid nominal land value, and no further support for resettlement. In many areas in Morigaon, the newly constructed embankments breached in the following monsoons causing further distress to riverine communities in Maihang and Bhuragaon blocks.
This year again the floods have magnified the challenges of recovery for these marginal groups, the women especially who bear the responsibilities of running households, child-care and rebuilding homes after floods every year. This strangely takes a toll on their physical and mental health, overall well-being and economic conditions. The Indian Disaster Management Act, 2005, does not recognize the chronic challenges of erosion suffered in Morigaon, Lakhimpur and Nalbari among other districts as a natural disaster. Probably the recent flood events and resultant erosion will serve a reminder to the top brasses in the centre to take stock of the situation and deliver the promises.
For the past few weeks I have had the i-Rec conference on my mind, while ensuring CGI gets delivered to remotest regions in Nepal. Now I am in London UCL, to welcome 120 registered participants to the 7th international conference brought together by i-Rec, Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) and official sponsors International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB).
The innovative conference format includes 14 round table sessions, 7 plenary sessions, London reconstruction walking tour, key note presentations and also introducing the book launch of the Second Edition of the Reconstruction Text-Book “Shelter After Disaster, by Ian Davis”, which was originally published in 1978 by Oxford Polytechnic Press.
This 7th biennial conference looks at the following sub-themes: 1) Disasters in urban context, 2) Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities, 3)Linking a past, present and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design and its influence on urban recovery, 4) Supporting urban risk reduction through reconstruction, 5) Relocation from hazardous areas and 6) Local governments, urban governance and institutions.
There are participants from both academic and practitioner backgrounds presenting research across both urban and rural contexts, and debating the major issues revolving in themes and trends in disaster recovery and reconstruction. What entails in the organising of such a conference of massive scale and what lessons can be drawn from such a collaboration of high levels of expertise and experience?
The conference had initially received 85 abstracts which were blind, peer-reviewed by 13 members of the scientific committee requesting for further details, improvements and encouraging practice-based approach, threading a balance between empirically-rich practice accounts with academic rigour and methodological preciseness. Tomorrow delegates from across 22 countries will gather to hear from and discuss newer areas of research and collaboration on disaster recovery and reconstruction in urban areas. More details are available on the conference programme and abstracts online. For live updates starting tomorrow follow me on Twitter: @snek87
There has been a lot of literature that talks of systems approach to resilience. I am using this approach to deal with the data and evidence gathered while studying recovery of communities from disasters.
It will help me unpack the layers of households, communities local actors and humanitarian agencies and deal with each of them seperately and yet get some coherence.
I also wish to talk of the infrastructure like roads, bridges and embankments as well as facilities such as water supply and latrines, while not forgetting practices of water and food handling and hygiene.
Let me keep you posted of how it goes?
Often in my professional and academic work, I have stumbled upon articles and research papers, even books (Mark Pelling Adaptation to Climate change: from resilience to transformation) which describe in detail the recent research on adaptation and mitigation efforts to counter climate change in the global environment. Reading one particular article while writing a book chapter on environment justice and resilience interfaces, I came across the work of Neil Adger from Tyndal University who writes and researches in climate change adaptation policy and action.
Although there are many global efforts stemming from economic and political standpoints (UNFCCC etc) at adapting to and mitigating the impacts of global environment change, Adger (2001) writes that efforts are often at the individual level, as spontaneous reactions to changing circumstances to resource use or economic constraints or opportunities. How climate change affects all the various sectors that humanitarian action revolves around, and how intricately is climate change adaptation efforts centred around the global and sustainable development efforts are the major contentious debates which have left more questions unanswered than unravelling the mystique of these various silos.
From my perspective, and so from many others, resilience discourse and thinking, and attempts to operationalize resilience have directed their efforts to break down these silos of development, climate change adaptation, emergency and humanitarian action, conflict management and disaster risk reduction (Refer to ODI working papers by Katie Harris, Tome Mitchell, and Manyena et al, 2012 etc). Focussing on the community level actions and changes to understand recovery and resilience, I try to understand how impacts of climate change have variously altered lives at the community levels.
If anyone reading these has any ideas, thoughts or arguments, look forward to hearing from you.
Two years into my doctoral research on disaster resilience, I am still struggling to come to terms and understand and comprehend in its entirety what resilience actually is and isn’t.
Synonymously used, or sometimes alternatively with disaster risk reduction, adaptation, coping capacity or adaptive capacity, recovery or sustainability, resilience seems to be a determining factor in many international policy discourse, humanitarian action and development discourse. Where are we headed to with a new vocabulary, or is it really something new? Often repackaging old ways of working and addressing problems with new terms and connotations provides a new perspective and challenges the old paradigms and processes, while falling short of any major transformations.
Will resilience thinking also hit a wall soon and become rehashed and reused in a new term? When used in operationalising, or policy action, or in academic circles there are agreeable nuances to the word, and many such disagreed notions of resilience. For example, by resilience do we mean returning to the previous state after a shock, or leading to a transformation? For some, resilience would mean ensuring some level of functioning if there is any shock or distress, while others draw parallels with fluctuations and redundancy.
Well then how will we ever reach an agreement on what resilience is and how it shapes our understanding and work? That is the million dollar question isn’t it then? When you translate it in simpler ways to share a mutual agreed and shared understanding of goals, objectives and aspirations with the common man who does not read academic texts and heavy-jargon newspaper articles but faces the outcomes of adhoc development and unnatural risks of naturally occurring disasters. We should learn from them, what resilience would actually mean to them? Now that will be a fruitful exercise, relevant to our work or not.