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Strengthening disaster risk management in India: A review of five state disaster management plans

This research analyses in detail the state disaster management plans from five very different states (in terms of climate, geography and size): Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha and Uttarakhand.
Edward Turvill


India has suffered from many devastating disasters in its recent history, both natural and climate-related. In November 2015, floods in the southern city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, killed over 370 people and damaged crops worth US$190 m. And in May 2016, at the time of writing this report, record temperatures of 51°C hit Phalodi, Rajasthan, during a heat wave that affected much of northern India. In the face of these diverse and repeated hazards, Indian authorities, from the national to the state level, have taken a series of actions to improve their disaster management efforts.

One of the foremost policies enacted has been the development of state disaster management plans (known as SDMPs). All states in the country are required to produce these documents, which outline the preparations, risk-reduction actions and responses needed to reduce and cope with the threats specific to their region. But how effective are these plans in ensuring states are better able to prepare for, and respond to, disasters?

This research* analyses in detail the SDMPs from five very different states (in terms of climate, geography, size and location): Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha and Uttarakhand. A workshop and interviews with key informants from these states were also held. Through this process, five SDMPs were reviewed and a range of questions were considered:

  • How well do they address all stages of the disaster management cycle: prevention, risk reduction and preparedness, as well as relief and response?
  • Is there sufficient financing for reducing disaster risks?
  • How do these states assess vulnerability?
  • Is disaster risk reduction being mainstreamed across different departments in each state?
  • Do the SDMPs promote gender and social inclusivity?
  • Do they align with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda to reduce disaster risk?

Specific conclusions for each of these issues, as well as recommendations for action, are included in each chapter; these will be of particular interest to the states reviewed, but also to other states in India, and more widely.

*Download from the right-hand colomn. Lightly edited versions of the appraoches and conclusions are provided below. See the text for much more detail and in-depth discussion of the questions given above.

Figure 1 from page 4 of the report: Disaster management cycle in India

Methods and Tools

Six parameters for analysis were agreed upon after discussions with key disaster risk management experts and senior officials from India’s National Disaster Management Authority, which oversees all aspects of the country’s disaster management and disaster risk management policy, and will potentially coordinate future revisions of the SDMPs.

The selected SDMPs were then analysed using open qualitative coding, to arrive at a broad list of themes for exploration. Following this, the SDMPs were reviewed a second time and the initial set of codes was reduced using axial coding techniques.

Following this, 10 qualitative, semi-structured interviews were held with disaster management and disaster risk management officials from the five states being studied. These focused on corroborating insights, filling gaps in data and adding detail to the insights gained.

Once these interviews were complete, a workshop was held in New Delhi, India, with a total of 25 key informants: disaster management and disaster risk management officials from the five states, senior members of the National Disaster Management Authority and representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs). The aim was to validate the findings of the review and develop a set of practical next steps for improving the SDMPs.

As a result of this multi-stage process, the analysis in this report is based on robust engagement with secondary and primary data, which have been systematically analysed and thoroughly corroborated.

Lessons Learnt

Overall, this research finds that while the SDMPs provide a good basis for coordinating disaster risk reduction and management at the state level, they would be strengthened if they:

  • clarify the division of responsibility among the nodal institutions charged with managing disaster risk
  • consider all stages of the disaster management cycle equally, as opposed to their current emphasis on response and relief after a disaster
  • consider new and innovative models for financing risk management
  • mainstream disaster risk reduction across all the relevant sectors and departments at the state level
  • adequately incorporate the socioeconomic vulnerability of different groups, such as women and the very poorest people, into vulnerability assessments
  • consider the additional risks that climate change will bring to vulnerable populations
  • produce baseline assessments and data to track future progress in disaster risk reduction
  • align more closely with the Sendai Framework.

This research found that data on hazard exposure was largely being used to identify areas that needed attention and that there was further scope to understand the inherent socioeconomic vulnerability of populations. Key to understanding this is understanding the needs of women and other marginalised groups. All the SDMPs discuss these groups, but only consider their needs in the context of response or relief, rather than understanding their place in all stages of the disaster management cycle.

Furthermore, most SDMPs are set to help measure progress towards substantially reducing global disaster mortality (target A), substantially reducing the number of affected people (target B) and substantially reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and the disruption of basic services (target D). However, states need to urgently prepare baselines against which to track progress.

Overall, the SDMPs provide a credible approach to systematically tackling a variety of disasters, but integrating the findings and recommendations from this research will further improve their potential to ensure that India not only functions in the face of increasing disasters, but flourishes.

Suggested Citation

Bahadur, A., Lovell, E. and Pichon F. (2016) Strengthening disaster risk management in India: A review of five state disaster management plans. Climate & Development Knowledge Network Report. CDKN: London, UK

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