Disaster mitigation and preparedness in Puducherry, India -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Disaster mitigation and preparedness in Puducherry, India

By James Samuel

Habitat for Humanity’s pilot disaster preparedness and mitigation project was conceived as part of the post-tsunami reconstruction project in southeastern India following the December 2004 Asian tsunami.

As part of the disaster response program, Habitat included disaster preparedness and mitigation in its housing intervention for affected families. The project was also designed for replication in other disaster-prone areas in the Asia/Pacific region.

The project was implemented in July 2008 in Tamil Nadu state and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Both of these tsunami-affected areas regularly suffer from torrential rains and floods during the annual monsoon period as well as droughts and cyclones.

The dangers from the raging elements are heightened for the very poor and marginalized communities such as the fishing community and Dalit people living in these areas who lack awareness of risks and protective measures.

Due to the long-term nature of such a project, Habitat adopted the strategy of working through REAL (Rural Education and Action of Liberation), a local nongovernmental organization working with tsunami-affected people in India as well as Goodwill Industries, an international NGO.

Both organizations had already built strong relationships with the affected communities. By incorporating disaster preparedness and mitigation aspects, Habitat was able to add value to its local partners’ development initiatives for these vulnerable groups.

The goal of the pilot project was to equip vulnerable families in 41 coastal villages with skills for disaster preparedness and mitigation. As of June 2008, the pilot project had served more than 9,150 families in the Union Territory of Puducherry and in the neighboring Cuddalore and Villupuram districts in the Tamil Nadu state.

Recognizing children to be among the most vulnerable groups in the community, Habitat worked to train students and teachers in 15 schools in Villupuram district in the appropriate response to natural hazards. Students were taught to be aware of the risks and impacts of various hazards, as well as measures for minimizing damage and loss.

Students and teachers also received training in how to prevent, be prepared for and mitigate disasters. Nearly 2,250 students and 70 teachers from 15 schools were trained. Some 4,000 booklets on disaster management, published in the local vernacular, were also distributed.

In addition, Habitat rehabilitated houses through its local partners to improve structural safety. Improvements were made to nearly 800 houses in six villages. They included sealing septic tanks, repairing and retiling roofs, refinishing floors, strengthening house walls and providing staircases for immediate evacuation.

The disaster preparedness and mitigation project has the potential of reaching a few thousand more families as local partners continue the work in vulnerable communities by developing village contingency plans and forming task forces to respond to hazards.

In the 41 villages where Habitat and its partners conducted training, village-level disaster management committees will be formed. Each committee will be made up of the village headman, representatives from women self-help groups, young people, schoolteachers and children, among others.

The committees will select and coordinate volunteers for village-level task forces to handle early warning, rescue and evacuation, first aid, water and sanitation needs, and trauma counseling. Together with trained volunteers, the committees will prepare the village emergency response and disaster management plans.

The goal is for the vulnerable communities to be in a better position to approach the local government or other organizations to advocate for measures to reduce their vulnerability through capacity building and mitigation.

James Samuel is disaster response manager in HFHI’s Asia/Pacific area office.