India’s unique geo-climatic conditions and high socio-economic vulnerability to calamities are responsible for increased frequency in natural disasters. This causes great damage across the States. India is highly vulnerable to floods, cyclones, avalanches, heat/cold waves, landslides, lightnings, earthquake and droughts.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority, around 40 million hectares of land in India is exposed to floods (around 12 per cent of the total land area), 68 per cent of land is vulnerable to droughts, landslides and avalanches, 58.6 per cent landmass is earthquake-prone, and tsunamis and cyclones are a regular phenomenon for 5,700 km of the 7,516-km long coastal line. Such vulnerable conditions have placed India amongst the top disaster-prone countries.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index report 2019, India is the 14th most vulnerable country in the world, due to extreme weather-related events. The report also noted that India lost around 2,736 lives in 2017 due to disasters, second only to Puerto Rico, that saw 2,978 lives lost. Further, economic losses in India due to such calamities accounted for around $13,789 million, the 4th highest in the world.
Between 1970 and 2009, India experienced 371 natural disasters, as a consequence of which 1,51,000 persons were killed and 1.86 billion were affected. Floods are the most frequent disaster in India, accounting for 52 per cent of the total occurrences of calamities, followed by cyclones (30 per cent), landslides (10 per cent), earthquakes (5 per cent) and droughts (2 per cent).
In terms of disaster damage to infrastructure, crops and livelihood, floods are the costliest, causing 63 per cent of damages, followed by cyclones (19 per cent), earthquakes (10 per cent) and droughts (5 per cent). In terms of human casualties, the earthquake is the most lethal disaster in India with 33 per cent of casualties, followed by floods (32 per cent), cyclones (32 per cent) and landslides (2 per cent) (World Bank, 2012).
Natural disasters not only adversely affect the human and physical capital but also pose a serious threat to India’s economic development. A 2019 article in the Indian Growth and Development Review (in publication) by Yashobanta Parida and Devi Prasad Dash confirms empirically, that damages due to floods adversely affects the per capita GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) growth across States.
Moreover, frequent disasters also increase the fiscal pressure on the Centre and State government, besides worsening the social and economic conditions of the people. Natural disasters also increase farmer distress and are responsible for farmer suicides to a great extent. As per a 2018 article in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change by Parida, Bhardwaj, Dash and Roy Chowdhury, natural disasters, particularly drought and floods, increased farmer suicides in India due to crop damages.
According to the Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India report, around 2,61,779 people were killed due to natural disasters and the annual average death rate was 5,236, between 1967 and 2016. To classify, 92,224 were killed from lightning, 44,923 by cold waves, 36, 631 heat strokes, 32, 213 landslides, 29,897 floods and 25,891 cyclones.
In terms of share of natural disaster fatalities over the period of time, lightning is the most lethal, accounting for 35 per cent of total disaster deaths, followed by cold wave (17 per cent), heat strokes (14 per cent), landslides (12 per cent), floods (11 per cent) and cyclones (10 per cent). Additionally, in India, annually 65 people were killed per 10 million population due to six major natural disasters (see Table).
The impact of natural disasters, particularly disaster fatalities, vary across Indian states due to diverse geo-climatic conditions and relative socio-economic vulnerability (see Table). For example, between 1969 and 2016, on an average per year, 90 people were killed per 10 million population due to lightning in Chhattisgarh, which is highest among the States. This was followed by Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. Manipur accounted for the least number of lightning fatalities.
Assessing death due to heat strokes, Punjab is the highest (20) followed by Tripura (14), Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh (13 each), and Odisha (12). Uttaranchal is the lowest in heat strokes fatalities.
The reasons for rise in fatalities due lightning and heat waves are the increase in temperature and humidity across Indian States. Hilly states are more prone to landslides.
Similarly, central and northern India are more vulnerable to cold wave disasters, while coastal states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat and West Bengal are more prone to cyclones.
A large number of States in India are vulnerable to floods due to the geo-spatial distribution of rainfall, higher flood-prone areas, higher socio-economic vulnerability and inadequate resilient infrastructure across States to prevent flood risk.
Though it is important to work towards constraining disaster losses on all fronts, trends indicate the need for strong and swift policy measures to secure human losses due to lightning deaths. In order to mitigate natural disaster fatalities across States, we suggest few measures which can help minimise fatalities to an extent.
First, in an Environment and Development Economics article by Parida, it is suggested that not only higher per capita income but better Central and State political cooperation will also help in minimising disaster fatalities. Second, higher public expenditure towards disaster resilient infrastructure such as construction of dams and drainages and for protection of river embankment and canals assume great significance.
Third, the installation of advanced disaster warning systems, particularly in low lying areas, that are accurate in predicting rainfall in coastal areas is needed. Fourth, to mitigate death due to heat wave and lightning, public measures such as planting of palm trees, campaigns for awareness on disaster impact through media during high heat and humidity months must be undertaken.
Recently, a World Economic Forum report stated that Bangladesh is planting five million palm trees to prevent lightning deaths. India may follow similar lines to mitigate fatalities due to lightning storms. Robust Central and State government coordination both pre- and post-disaster, along with a better disaster management policy, is essential to mitigate disaster fatalities across States.
Parida is research fellow at the Verghese Kurien Centre of Excellence, Institute of Rural Management, Anand. Goel is Assistant Professor in Economics, GGS Indraprastha University, Delhi. Views are personal