A stitch in time

prevention pays, but only when we invest in it. It will not pay dividends, without sustained, suitable and strategic community-level investments across the country and across development sectors. Disasters will continue to take up an increasing amount of time, cost large amounts of money and require endless efforts, not only for the national and local governments but, more importantly, to the poor among the vulnerable communities of India.The last days of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (idndr) that ends this December is a good time to find out if India is investing.

Costs of disasters in India are rising each year and in many states they have overspent the available relief amount from the government of India. In 1998 almost every state called on the government to provide additional and huge amounts of relief far beyond the scope of the two relief funds of the government of India. In other words, the cost of relief is eating up development sector allocations already. And when relief remains unpaid, the poor victims are absorbing the costs. Even then, to a considerable degree, disaster risks are approached with a relief or charity attitude and not as an opportunity to invest in prevention of disasters.

Within the possible range of investment options available to India in prevention measures, I wish to highlight specific areas of high, immediate and long-term returns. These areas are identified on the basis of my recent involvement with a team of three experts invited by the government to review its activities under the auspices of the idndr decade. The review, not a complete exercise so far, is called idndr : Indian Experience and Initiatives , and is available from the Natural Disaster Management Division of the Union Ministry of Agriculture. A more complete and comprehensive version is being prepared in due course.

These areas of investments in prevention are of even more significance if India plans to make prevention pay at the vulnerable community level.

Investment in urban risk reduction activities is of top priority. Without integrating community risk reduction plans with citywide development plans, no amount of preventive measures will pay either economic or political dividends. The communities across India