The role of the affected state in humanitarian action: A case study on India



Gareth Price and Mihir Bhatt

HPG Working Paper April 2009

1. Introduction

This case study is part of the ODI HPG research programme on the role of the affected state in humanitarian action. It aims to describe the essential elements of India's approach to disaster management as seen in its response to the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The study also analyses policy trends in India's disaster response, focusing on the 2005 Disaster Management Act.

India is affected by both expected and unexpected natural disasters each year. The number of people involved is often substantial - flooding in the state of Bihar in 2007 affected some 23m people. Disasters are also financially costly.

India is one of the largest and most vulnerable countries, in terms of exposure to natural hazards including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis or droughts. Reported direct losses from natural catastrophes more than quadrupled from 1981-1995, reaching $13.4bn, as compared to the losses registered during the previous 15 years ($2.9bn). This alarming trend is accelerating with total losses of $13.8bn reported during the period from 1996-2001.(

Both the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Tamil Nadu and the 2001 Gujarat earthquake revealed different areas of priority and focus for disaster mitigation, preparedness and recovery. This report examines the actions taken by the central and state governments and by the military, and examines the interaction between the state and NGOs assisting in the response effort.

The response of the local and international community to each disaster was equally significant. Approaches that evolved from the responses have continued to affect policy towards disaster management in India. The third section of the report examines the legislative and policy framework at national level and assesses the progress of India's attempt to shift policy on disaster management away from response and relief towards mitigation. The report offers a series of conclusions, as well as recommendations.

The research consisted of an extensive literature review and two weeks' fieldwork in India from 15-29 September 2008. The authors travelled to New Delhi, Chennai, Pondicherry and Nagapattinam to ensure a balance of interviews between central and state government and with officials in the worst-affected field location, and with other key stakeholders from bilateral agencies and NGOs.

Research in Gujarat was conducted by Kuldeep Sagar, who interviewed 90 people through individual and focus group meetings in the towns of Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar and two districts of Kutch and Surendranagar from January 5 to February 2, 2009.