Disruption on a massive scale, either natural or man-made, occurring in short or long periods is termed as Disaster. Disaster management in India has been an important point of discussion owing to frequent natural disasters ranging from earthquakes, floods, drought, etc.
Loss of life and property due to these disasters have been steadily mounting throughout the world due to inadequate technology to combat disasters, rise in population, climate change, and continuing ecological degradation. The global efforts to manage disasters have proven to be insufficient to match the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters.
What is a Disaster?
A disaster is defined as a disruption on a massive scale, either natural or man-made, occurring in short or long periods. Disasters can lead to human, material, economic or environmental hardships, which can be beyond the bearable capacity of the affected society. As per statistics, India as a whole is vulnerable to 30 different types of disasters that will affect the economic, social, and human development potential to such an extent that it will have long-term effects on productivity and macro-economic performance.
The various disaster-prone zones in India can be inferred from the map below:
Disasters can be classified into the following categories:
What is Disaster Management?
Per the Disaster Management Act of 2005 defines Disaster Management as an integrated process of planning, organizing, coordinating and implementing measures which are necessary for-
1. Prevention of threat of any disaster
2. Reduction of risk of any disaster or its consequences
3. Readiness to deal with any disaster
4. Promptness in dealing with a disaster
5. Assessing the severity of the effects of any disaster
6. Rescue and relief
7. Rehabilitation and Reconstruction
Agencies involved in Disaster Management
Now let’s have a look at some of the types of disasters and the means to combat them.
Definition: The devastating effects caused by an enormous spread of a certain kind of living organism that may spread disease, viruses, or an infestation of plant, animal, or insect life on an epidemic or pandemic level.
1. The nodal agency for handling epidemics – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
2. The primary responsibility of dealing with biological disasters is with the State Governments. (Reason – Health is a State Subject).
3. The nodal agency for investigating outbreaks – National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD)
4. Nodal ministry for Biological Warfare – Ministry of Home Affairs (Biological warfare is the use of biological agents as an act of war)
Biological Disasters – Classifications
Charles Baldwin developed the symbol for biohazard in 1966.
The US Centres for Disease Control classifies biohazards into four biosafety levels as follows:
Legislations for prevention of Biohazards in India
The following legislations have been enacted in India for the prevention of biohazards and implementation of protective, eradicative and containing measures when there is an outbreak:
Prevention of Biological Hazards
The basic measure to prevent and control biohazards is the elimination of the source of contamination. Some of the prevention methods are as follows:
Preventive Measures for workers in the field (Medical)
Prevention of Biological Hazards (Environmental Management)
Safe water supply, proper maintenance of sewage pipelines – to prevent waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, dysentery, etc.
Awareness of personal hygiene and provision for washing, cleaning, bathing, avoiding overcrowding, etc.
Environmental engineering work and generic integrated vector control measures.
Water management, not permitting water to stagnate and collect and other methods to eliminate breeding places for vectors.
Regular spraying of insecticides, outdoor fogging, etc. for controlling vectors.
Controlling the population of rodents.
Post-disaster Epidemics Prevention
The risk of epidemics is increased after any biological disaster.
Integrated Disease Surveillance Systems (IDSS) monitors the sources, modes of diseases spreading, and investigates the epidemics.
Detection and Containment of Outbreaks
This consists of four steps as given under:
1. Recognizing and diagnosing by primary healthcare practitioners.
2. Communicating surveillance information to public health authorities.
3. Epidemiological analysis of surveillance data
4. Public health measures and delivering proper medical treatment.
Legal Framework for Biological Disasters
1. The Epidemic Diseases Act was enacted in the year 1897.
2. This Act does not provide any power to the center to intervene in biological emergencies.
3. It has to be substituted by an Act that takes care of the prevailing and foreseeable public health needs including emergencies such as BT attacks and the use of biological weapons by an adversary, cross-border issues, and international spread of diseases.
4. It should give enough powers to the central and state governments and local authorities to act with impunity, notify affected areas, restrict movement or quarantine the affected area, enter any premises to take samples of suspected materials, and seal them.
5. The Act should also establish controls over biological sample transfer, biosecurity and biosafety of materials/laboratories.
In the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoH&FW), public health needs to be accorded high priority with a separate Additional Directorate General of Health and Sanitation (DGHS) for public health. In some states, there is a separate department of public health. States that do not have such arrangements will also have to take initiatives to establish such a department.
At the national level, there is no policy on biological disasters. The existing contingency plan of MoH&FW is about 10 years old and needs extensive revision. All components related to public health, namely apex institutions, field epidemiology, surveillance, teaching, training, research, etc., need to be strengthened.
At the operational level, Command and Control (C&C) are identifiable clearly at the district level, where the district collector is vested with certain powers to requisition resources, notify a disease, inspect any premises, seek help from the Army, state or center, enforce quarantine, etc. However, there is no concept of an incident command system wherein the entire action is brought under the ambit of an incident commander with support from the disciplines of logistics, finance, and technical teams, etc. There is an urgent need for establishing an incident command system in every district.
There is a shortage of medical and paramedical staff at the district and sub-district levels. There is also an acute shortage of public health specialists, epidemiologists, clinical microbiologists, and virologists.
Biosafety laboratories are required for the prompt diagnosis of the agents for the effective management of biological disasters. There is no BSL-4 laboratory in the human health sector. BSL- 3 laboratories are also limited. Major issues remain regarding biosecurity, the indigenous capability of preparing diagnostic reagents, and quality assurance.
Lack of an Integrated Ambulance Network (IAN). There is no ambulance system with advanced life-support facilities that are capable of working in biological disasters.
State-run hospitals have limited medical supplies. Even in normal situations, a patient has to buy medicines. There is a lack of stockpile of drugs, important vaccines like anthrax vaccine, PPE, or diagnostics for surge capacity. In a crisis, there is further incapacitation due to tedious procurement procedures.