Post Disaster Management, Poverty and Food

By Gargh Shankar, posted on March 22nd, 2011 in Disaster Management Theme, Earth Observation, Health

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Gargh Shankar
Editor in Chief, Journal “Disaster Advances”, Sector AG/80, Scheme no. 54, Vijay Nagar,
Indore, 452010 INDIA
Email: sgargh@gmail.com

Image of a dripping faucet

Figure 1: Drought in Orissa, India. Credit Vinoth Chandar

Disaster is a sudden, calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, and destruction and devastation to life and property. The damage caused by disasters is immeasurable and varies with the geographical location, climate and the type of the earth surface/degree of vulnerability. This influences the mental, socio-economic, political and cultural state of the affected area. Generally, disaster has the following effects in the concerned areas:

1. It completely disrupts the normal day-to-day life;
2. It negatively influences the emergency systems;
3. Normal needs and processes like food, shelter and health are affected, and deteriorate depending on the intensity and severity of the disaster

Developing countries bear the brunt of natural and man-made disasters (90% of the people affected live in Asia) and these countries lack the resources and capacities to respond effectively. Disasters pose a major threat to sustainable development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

Poverty, vulnerability and disasters are linked — it is most often the poorest that are worst affected and suffer the most. Their poverty makes them more vulnerable. Conversely, droughts, floods and even earthquakes have impacted people’s lives and livelihoods without being deemed a disaster, when those people were sufficiently prepared and had the capacity to cope and recover quickly.

Disaster Management activity can be broken into three stages:

• Pre-Disaster Stage
• Emergency Stage
• Post-Disaster Stage

Disaster Management requires a multi-disciplinary and pro-active approach. The message being put across is that, in order to move toward safer and sustainable national development, development projects should be sensitive toward disaster mitigation. Food security has been a global concern since the early 1980s, encompassing food availability, access and utilization. Food insecurity arises when food systems fall under stress, and such stressors can be the climate change-induced cyclone and storm surge.

India is considered as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its geo-physical location; overpopulation; massive poverty level; and high dependency on climate sensitive sectors for livelihoods such as agriculture. The Indian coast is well-known for suffering severe cyclones and induced surges. At least one major tropical cyclone strikes India each year with powerful tidal surges that affect hundreds of thousands of lives.

Photo of a family living in a shack

Figure 2: Poverty in India. Credit UN Photo/Kibae Park

The present increasing trend of global warming might escalate tropical cyclones and other natural disasters with the colossal damages in the 21st Century. Moreover, the basic pre-requisite physical and meteorological conditions necessary for a generating tropical cyclone exist in the Bay of Bengal; and are considered as an ideal ground for cyclone genesis, with 6-10 % of world’s tropical cyclones. In fact, more than 60% of total storm-related deaths in the world occurred in India and Bangladesh due to cyclones and induced surges.

About 30 percent of total Indian population is ‘absolute poor,’ failing to acquire a minimum level of food energy (2122 Kcal per day per person), of which 20%and 8% are hard-core poor (below 1805 Kcal per day per person) and ultra-poor (below 1600 Kcal per day per person), respectively. Apart from the widespread deficit in per-day calorie intake, normal diet is also imbalanced in terms of nutritional value, where more than 80% of calories are derived from cereals.

Twenty percent of the population of India lives in coastal areas; 54% of them are functionally landless and more than 30% are absolutely landless. Population density in coastal areas has increased in last 50 years. The Indian coast is prone to man-made disasters such as salinity, arsenic contamination and pollution. Livelihood of the coastal population primarily depends on natural endowments, such as agriculture, fishery, forestry, near-shore transportation and salt farming. Therefore, any hazardous events make the life and livelihood of coastal people vulnerable, and those events will be further accelerated by global climate change.

Food security is a function of numerous factors that allow individuals to access nutritionally adequate and safe food in proper ways, including employment, education and community variables. There is no single yardstick for measuring food security. Consumption, poverty and malnutrition are used as proxy measures; and assets and income are used as determining factors.

Food insecurity is a complex issue which depends on various demographic and socio-economic aspects of an individual household: : income below the poverty line, female -headed households with larger family size, ethnic groups and older adults. Likewise, landownership, education, and age are also noteworthy factors of food insecurity. Assets play a vital role for securing a household’s food consumption. Adequate food consumption is often constrained by limited assets and savings.

Illustration of famine relief being handed out in India 1877

Figure 3: Madras famine. Credit Illustrated London News

Apart from assessing an individual household’s food availability, food insecurity also implies anxiety for not having sufficient food or feelings of anxiety and uncertainty for future food consumption. Level of anxiety might be different based on the level of prevailing food insecurity.

For instance, in the least severe cases of food insecurity, a household head may feel anxiety for not having enough food, which could result in compromises with food preferences and consumption. In contrast, in a severe cases of food insecurity, a household might fail to eat because of not having food and a higher level of anxiety. A household’s anxiety for food is assessed in the simplest way based on the perception about the concern for future food consumption. Present studies find that during the post-cyclone period, most respondents were worried about future food consumption.

Per capita calorie intake is considered as a dependent variable in the present analysis, assuming that a household’s post disaster food security is a function of food prices, household income, expenditure, demography, post cyclone coping strategies, socio-economic and environmental factors.

Household annual income has appeared as a casual factor of post-disaster food security. Households that have access to better income earning sources are relatively less likely to be food insecure than households having limited opportunities of earning. Studies reveal that average calorie availability is relatively higher among higher-income households. The impact of a cyclone is found as a significant predictor, having negative influence on a household for achieving food security. Therefore, cyclone damage reduces the level of household food consumption on one hand and increases the need for post disaster emergency recovery, reconstruction and healthcare expenses on the other. The reduction in food consumption and additional emergency expenses that a household incurs have a direct impact on per capita calorie intake.

Satellite image of the bay of bengal cyclone Honu

Figure 4: Bay of Bengal cyclone. Credit NASA

In conclusion, we can say that post-cyclone household food security varies according to location and socio-economic factors (gender, income, education, etc.). Thus, it is important to identify vulnerable locations and groups through scientific analysis of food security indicators and indices. Improving the socio-economic status of targeted groups is a prerequisite to minimize post-disaster food insecurity. Maternal characteristics are important predictors of post-disaster food security. Asset selling might increase the availability of food for shorter periods, but in the long run such coping strategies should be discouraged. Consumption smoothing has a negative influence on post-disaster food security; thus priority for relief and rehabilitation should be given to those groups who are at the bottom of such coping behavior. Post-disaster income diversification appears as a significant predictor. Hence, safety net programs (food for work or cash for work) need to be emphasized and continued, specifically targeting the absolute poor and hardcore poor and made more effective through proper monitoring. Moreover, emphasis should be given on re-building livelihoods, such as assistance for producing food rather than providing food. In other words, supports should be expanded for income-generating activities for the rural poor in disaster-prone areas, which could reduce the prevalence of post-disaster food insecurity for a longer period of time.

Our mission is vulnerability reduction to all types of hazards, be it natural or manmade. This is not an easy task to achieve, keeping in view the vast population, and the multiple natural hazards to which India is exposed. However, if we are firm in our conviction and resolve that the government and the people of this country are not prepared to pay the price in terms of massive casualties and economic losses, the task, though difficult, is achievable and we shall achieve it. Our vision 2020 is to build a safer and more secure India through sustained collective effort, synergy of national capacities and public participation. What looks like a dream today will be transformed into reality in the next decade. This is our goal and we shall strive to achieve this goal with a missionary zeal. The path ahead, which looks difficult today, will become a lot easier as we move along together.

The author:

Dr. Shankar Gargh is Professor of Chemistry at Government Holkar Science College, Indore, INDIA. He is editor-in-chief of various international journals and his research fields include environmental chemistry, polymer chemistry, disaster prevention and management, biochemistry, strategic management etc. 60 students have been supervised by him for Ph.D. thesis and he organizes international conferences in various countries to promote research in various fields of science.

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