Impacts of Natural Disasters on Households and Small Businesses in India


Archana Patankar


India’s geophysical and climatic conditions make it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Of the different types of natural disaster, hydrological disasters have the largest number of recorded instances and the highest mortality and damage costs. Since the 1990s, floods have accounted for more than half the natural and climate-related disasters in the country, with damage costs running into billions of dollars. The impacts on people of such extreme, large-scale events depends on their vulnerability and exposure. The impacts are further intensified by socioeconomic factors such as population increase, rapid urbanization, infrastructure expansion, and large numbers of people residing in informal settlements in poor and destitute conditions. This underscores the need to characterize the impacts of extreme precipitation on different stakeholders and formulate policies and action plans to mitigate them.

This paper uses field-level and secondary data to characterize and analyze the impacts of extreme precipitation events at the micro level on vulnerable households and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in three locations—Mumbai, Chennai, and Puri district. Chennai and Mumbai are large megacities with millions of people and critical economic activities. Their coastal locations, land reclamation, and rapid infrastructure expansion in low-lying areas make them highly vulnerable to large-scale flood impacts. Puri district, in contrast, is predominantly rural, and the main livelihoods are agriculture, fishing, and tourism. All three locations have faced devastating extreme rainfall events in recent years and offer rich insights into asset exposure and direct and indirect impacts on urban and rural households and SMEs.

The unique mix of hybrid data, field-level and secondary, is analyzed in this study for assessing flood impacts. Studies conducted by the author in Mumbai, studies carried out by researchers in Chennai, and impact assessment done by government agencies in Puri are extensively used in this paper. This offers a multidimensional view of flood impacts with quantitative estimates and qualitative insights into devastation and distress suffered by different stakeholders. Such insights are normally not captured in routine damage assessments, which focus largely on loss estimates that can be easily quantified. The economic and other impacts of flooding are often not homogenous, and some people and locations tend to be more vulnerable because of socioeconomic and geophysical characteristics. Studies also tend to focus more on household impacts and other vulnerable groups like SMEs remain underinvestigated. This study specially focuses on understanding how and why different stakeholders, such as households and SMEs, are impacted during extreme precipitation and floods.


Asian Development Bank
© Asian Development Bank