In the aftermath of Cyclone Tauktae that struck Gujarat on 17 May 2021, a professional and volunteers dispatched from AKAH discuss rebuilding plans with a community member whose home was damaged.
AKDN / Alinawaz Nanjee
In the aftermath of Cyclone Tauktae that struck Gujarat on 17 May 2021, a professional and volunteers dispatch...
AKDN / Alinawaz Nanjee
India is prone to a range of natural disasters including earthquakes, flooding, cyclones, avalanches, landslides, wildfires and hurricanes. The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) – formerly Focus Humanitarian Assistance – began its operations in India in 2002. We started with emergency response, relief and recovery, which have quickly become priority areas. In India, AKAH has responded to major disasters across the country. We implement various disaster risk reduction activities to strengthen the capacity of local communities to prepare for and respond to disasters. Our network of volunteers can rapidly deploy resources, including relief items.
AKAH’s school and hostel safety programmes have reached over 50,000 students and staff
Emergency management teams trained by AKAH aim to build resilience against disaster events and increase the capacity of community members in disaster risk reduction and community-based disaster risk management. We work with communities to map and assess risks and our early warning systems improve risk anticipation. We also help communities protect their homes, schools and other public infrastructure against disasters. AKAH India also works closely with non-governmental and international agencies to implement our activities in disaster preparedness and response. These include the European Commission, Global Affairs Canada, other AKDN agencies such as the Aga Khan Foundation and Aga Khan Health Services, and corporate social responsibility partners.
AKAH implements community-based disaster risk management activities to help prepare communities residing in high-risk zones to be aware of and effectively respond to natural hazards. Each project takes into account the cultural nuances of the areas in which we work.
AKAH facilitates the development of crisis management plans, at the local and regional level, that cater specifically to vulnerable communities. We are working with more than 300 at-risk communities across Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana through a participatory process. Together, we are developing plans that integrate critical prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response elements.
These communities live in areas highly vulnerable to natural hazards including earthquakes, cyclones, floods and heatwaves. The plans are informed by hazard, vulnerability and risk assessments (HVRAs). We have completed these for each settlement, combining local knowledge with scientific analysis and updating them every three years. Using these HVRAs, we have developed a robust Geographic Information System (GIS) that helps capture, manipulate, store, analyse, manage and present all types of geographical data for disaster management. We ensure that remote communities have multiple modes of communication, installing satellite phones and emergency communications systems to ensure redundancy. Through our Family Emergency Preparedness Plan (FEPP) project, we have also increased awareness about hazards and vulnerability at the family level and assisted in the development of personalised family disaster management plans. At the national level, we are working with the National Disaster Management Authority of India to support the National Seismic Risk Mitigation Programme. We have also collaborated with the National Institute of Disaster Management for knowledge sharing and capacity building.
To build local preparedness and response capacity, AKAH India maintains a community-based volunteer network of specialised teams including a Disaster Assessment and Response Team (DART), an internationally accredited Search and Rescue Team (SART), Disaster Management Deputies and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). We currently have a network of nearly 2,000 active volunteers trained in basic community-based disaster risk reduction techniques such as first aid, fire fighting, and search and rescue; 40 percent of these volunteers are women. Our search and rescue team, which has 32 members across India, was trained by RAPID-UK and the National Civil Defense College as per the International Search and Rescue Guidelines. It is a team of Master Trainers who train other volunteers from the community. The team is also equipped with personal protective equipment to ensure quick and safe deployment.
Working with this network of trained, local emergency response volunteers, we implement a disaster awareness programme to educate communities about disaster risk, their Village Disaster Management Plans, and preparedness and response measures. We also conduct annual tabletop exercises with volunteers and community leaders. These simulate emergency situations in an informal, controlled environment to test and update Disaster Management Plans. We also conduct large-scale disaster simulation exercises in coordination with local authorities to build community and institutional response capacity. To ensure the rapid availability of relief supplies and equipment, AKAH has also set up village-level and regional stockpiles, managed by community volunteers.
AKAH works with communities to mitigate disaster risk and improve the safety of the physical structures around them. Our engineers and technical experts conduct vulnerability and risk assessments and rapid visual assessments for housing units and physical structures, and provide technical assistance for retrofitting and physical mitigation measures. With support from the European Commission, we have trained local masons in important skills related to building structures in cyclone- and earthquake-prone areas. The training included building roofs that can withstand high wind speeds, repairing structural cracks in walls and roofs, and reinforcing buildings vertically and horizontally using cement safety belts across both planes. Through such initiatives we aim to generate awareness about structural safety practices and build local capacity.
AKAH India delivered a hospital safety module at the Prince Aly Khan Hospital in partnership with the Public Health Foundation of India. We conducted a comprehensive hazard vulnerability and risk assessment and developed a Hospital Disaster Management Plan and Mass Casualty Management Plan with hospital staff. The plan covers fire safety, security, infection control, utilities, triage and emergency management. AKAH also provided several staff training courses, conducted evacuation drills, and worked with staff to form task forces and crisis management plans for various elements of the disaster management plan.
AKAH has conducted comprehensive school and hostel safety programmes reaching over 50,000 students and staff. The programmes integrated disaster risk reduction into the school curriculum by training children and all stakeholders on disaster management and motivating schools to raise disaster awareness within communities. This enabled a deep understanding of specific vulnerabilities, which was used to create scientific risk modelling and disaster management plans for the schools.
AKAH has implemented school safety programmes with support from the European Union in Gujarat. We developed a school disaster preparedness module that has been revised and refined based on field experience to form a model that can be replicated across other disaster-prone states. We introduced non-structural risk mitigation measures in schools in Gujarat under the National School Safety Program, in collaboration with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority. AKAH has replicated the School Safety Programme in Baramulla District as a part of the Kashmir Rehabilitation Programme.
Shake Out is an annual earthquake drill designed to educate people and organisations on how to protect themselves from a large earthquake, and what to immediately do when tremors strike. Since 2011 AKAH has coordinated Shake-Out drills in India with tens of thousands of people participating every year. Participation in the AKDN Shake-Out is required by all AKDN personnel and volunteers.
Over the years, AKAH has responded to a range of incidents in India, including floods, cyclones, earthquakes and a tsunami.
In response to the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Gujarat in 2001, AKDN agencies implemented a Multi-Sector Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme in Kutch District. Of the 21 districts affected, four, including Kutch, were hit particularly hard. There was significant damage to hospitals, schools, electric power and water systems, bridges and roads in Kutch. The programme has built disaster-resistant houses and two rural education centres. Community-managed drinking water supply systems have been set up. Water harvesting structures are reversing groundwater depletion. New clinics offering primary healthcare services to women and children have been established. Savings and credit schemes have helped people regain their livelihoods. Disaster preparedness and management training for villagers is also conducted to build local capacity.
AKAH immediately responded to the earthquake, providing winterised tents, blankets and warm clothing to nearly 400 families in 14 isolated villages. Subsequently, AKAH implemented a three-year earthquake rehabilitation programme, which reached more than 2,250 households and 9,500 beneficiaries in 17 villages.
In response to the tsunami, AKAH provided relief aid in the state of Andhra Pradesh to approximately 4,000 people. Items included food kits consisting of rice, lentils, oil and other nutrients, blankets, tarpaulins, bed and ground sheets, towels, kitchen utensils and clothing. AKDN agencies continued a post-tsunami relief project in Andhra Pradesh to move from relief to development. At the core of the project’s disaster management and mitigation strategy was the creation of community-based organisations that employed an inclusive, participatory approach to sustainable solutions. These organisations were critical in shaping and implementing initiatives that would best serve the needs of the affected communities.
The positive impact of the activities implemented during the project became evident in the community’s response to torrential rains that caused flooding in October 2009. The newly-trained community emergency response teams and community-based organisations were activated. Local communities were able to use their new skills and knowledge. Infrastructure developed by the project, such as cyclone shelters, early warning systems, village-based stockpiles and the 5.75-km evacuation road, were put to use. The two-way, early-warning radio system, for example, was used to create awareness of the disaster in the surrounding villages. Stockpile items amassed during the project, including life jackets, life buoys, tents and community cooking containers, were used to aid displaced families.
In addition, AKAH’s DART was deployed to conduct an assessment drill of the affected area. The drill provided an opportunity for the DART to gain hands-on experience in conducting assessments as well as to provide AKAH with an evaluation of the impact of the project. Following the assessment of the area, the DART developed an emergency response plan for the affected villages in Krishna District, which was passed onto local organisations for implementation.
AKAH provided food to approximately 4,500 families, which reached over 20,000 beneficiaries.
In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, AKAH distributed food to over 7,000 people (1,470 families), with 184 food packets for children in 15 villages for two days.
When the cyclone caused significant destruction in Gujarat, our HVRA had already enabled us to work with communities and local partners to prepare for disasters. We monitored the storm and prepared to evacuate the areas we knew would be worst hit.
We set up a virtual Emergency Operations Centre and an Incident Command Post, deployed 14 SART members to lead the response, transported stockpiles of emergency relief supplies to designated distribution hubs, and worked with CERTS and community leaders to provide shelter for evacuees. We helped relocate 109 families to safe locations. After the cyclone, we conducted Post-Disaster Need Assessments to evaluate what would be needed for short- and long-term recovery, including a structural audit of 45 houses.