Need of the hour: Sustainable Disaster Relief

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Written by Anusha Nair

August 22, 2019 • 2 min read

aerial view of flood
Source: The Hindu

The German watch report highlights that India is among the nations which are frequently hit by catastrophe and records high casualties every year (The Times of India, 2018). For example, southern Kerala was severely affected by floods in which 400 people were wiped out. Besides, nearly 2400 people have lost their lives to cyclonic storms, landslides, and flash floods. There is an urgent need for formulating local and national adaptation plans. The policymakers of the country have a humanitarian duty to save the affected communities by extreme events.

Floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes shatter the lives of few very quickly; but it leads to lasting problems after that for many. Recent floods in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala have left the people in turmoil. But it can be seen that, as with Assam floods, a tragedy for most has translated into cash for few and amongst those benefited are vendors of solar panels and appliances. The number of solar equipment vendors has drastically increased, and the sale of solar panels has seen a rise, especially during the floods as quoted by Jaideep Baruah (in charge of the environment at the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council).

Grassroots solar power

Vendors in various markets such as Mohanbazar, Manubazar and Bankhaazar have generators which have solar panels installed. Using this, first, they charge the batteries, and then allow vendors to charge their torches and mobile phone for a fee. Vendors like Rahul Amin daily gets around 200 clients per day. Depending on the type of solar panel (poly- or mono-crystalline) it costs INR 46-73 per watt. Only there is more demand for solar panels of capacity ranging from 12-20 watts.

Occupants of relief camps and flood-affected people in makeshift houses are seen using solar panels for their fundamental demand. Also, there are boat clinics with solar panels aimed at providing primary health care, seen in districts such as Nalbari and Barpeta. Its origin can be traced back to 2016 when C-NES ( Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research ) signed an agreement with Bengaluru-based SELCO Foundation originally started by Harish Hande to power these clinics with solar energy. Fixing solar panels on the ceilings of the boats enables them to operate on a 27×7.

It is generally seen that following emergency relief in the wake of a disaster, long term recovery majorly focuses on the rebuilding of infrastructure rather than taking measures in ways that create environmentally and socially sustainable futures for the affected communities. While solar power comes to rescue, albeit, in a pseudo-unethical manner, the problem isn’t in the panels, but with human behaviour. If we chose to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, the frequency of disasters themselves would reduce.

The way forward

In order to be sustainable, the process needs to generate employment that rebuilds communities in a way that it decreases the environmental impact of relief and reconstruction work. Decentralised community energy generation along with local sustainability enterprise, could be a way to provide opportunities to better cope with the transition from relief to sustainable recovery. Such is a case when an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.8 hit Nepal in 2015. SunFarm (an NGO which aims at installing solar energy in schools, health clinics and hospitals in the developing world) helped the residents with solar purifiers and solar-powered systems under 200 watts.

In such situations, disasters provide us with an opportunity to rethink on how to get development right the first time. Such development will not only leave a safer world for future generations but also assist people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change today.


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