India: A Conversation With World Bank Country Director in India on Disaster Recovery Efforts in Uttarakhand

November 11, 2013

In the month of June this year, Uttarakhand, endowed with vast natural resources and one of the most frequented tourist and pilgrimage destinations in India, suffered unprecedented rainfall, devastating the towns of Kedarnath, Rambara, Gaurikund and others.

The World Bank team fast tracked its preparation to help the state in its post disaster recovery plans as well as strengthen its capacity for disaster risk management.

Read an interview with World Bank country director in India, Onno Ruhl, where he emphasizes the need to build back smarter so that the state’s fragile mountain environment is not undermined.

Q. What are the key components being supported under the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project?

Disasters such as the one that struck Uttarakhand recently can roll back decades of development. Our new project–Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project–will focus on helping the state government with both immediate relief and reconstruction efforts as well as in disaster preparedness.

While the project will help rebuild houses, public buildings and small roads and bridges, as well as bridle paths, the government of Uttarakhand insists that we should make sure that what we rebuild is located in the safest place possible and built in a way that supports the fragile environment as much as possible. The motto of the project is to “build back better”.

Therefore, to ensure that recovery is targeted, effective and more resilient to future calamities, the project is incorporating lessons from previous disaster recovery efforts both in India and the world. This includes putting in place information and communication systems that can provide early warning to people likely to be impacted.

Q. Does the World Bank fast track projects for disaster reconstruction?

The government of India requested the ADB and the World Bank for support at the end of July. Since winter is harsh in these parts, it was important for us to help shelter the people before the winter set in. Accordingly, a team was sent to Dehradun the day the request was received and the project was prepared in a little over two months as opposed to a 12 month preparation period. Our staff will continue to work out of Dehradun to deliver results on the ground in as short a time as possible.

Q. How will the project help in future preparedness?

Since 1999, when the Super Cyclone hit Odisha, our National Cyclone Mitigation Project has focused on increasing disaster preparedness, and also building shelters.

The system was severely tested two weeks ago when Cyclone Phailin hit Odisha. One million people were evacuated in time, with minimum loss of human life. We are happy that our collective efforts, led by the government of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were able to achieve this. However, there is still work to be done in rebuilding smarter so that physical damage too is reduced.

Nonetheless, it needs to be borne in mind that while a cyclone can be seen approaching over the sea days in advance, this is not the case for a cloud burst. This makes preparedness much more difficult in Uttarakhand, calling for better and more detailed meteorological information.

More importantly, the timely dissemination of this information through various channels of communication, including SMS messages, is critical, especially in a mountainous area where dissemination has to be even faster than in a cyclone. This is a clear area for us to focus on in Uttarakhand.