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National capital of India: from ignorance towards preparedness.

India has witnessed some major disasters in recent memory and the lack of preparedness and inadequacy to face such calamities has been apparently visible. State governments have limited resources and infrastructure facilities to handle a major disaster of the type of Super Cyclone in Orissa (October, 1999) or the earthquake in Gujarat (January, 2001). The Bhuj Earthquake, on 26th January 2001, surprisingly shook the national capital that remained impassive after Koyna and Latur earthquakes. This time Delhi realized, it could also face a similar hazard, but the enormity of destruction would be catastrophic. Since then, a lot has been done in Delhi towards disaster risk reduction. This paper focuses on the dynamic transition from complete ignorance to awareness and preparedness and the role of government in bringing this paradigm shift in approach. The paper further explores the cost effectiveness of different mitigation strategies, adopted or those in the pipeline for Delhi.


India has a history of disasters owing to its unique geo-climatic conditions. About 60% land mass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities and a similar percentage is prone to drought. There exists, a long coastline (8000 Km) with two cyclone seasons. According to a report of National Disaster Management Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, "around 30 million people are affected by disasters every year" (1). Disasters strike in different forms in different regions of the country. Delhi, the national capital is a unique example of City-State combination. Delhi is politically and economically one of the most important states of our country and its ability to mitigate against disasters is of critical significance for the country. As per the latest seismic zones map released by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in 2000, India is divided into four seismic zones. Zone V is the maximum risk zone and Zone II is the low risk zone. The entire region of Delhi is in Seismic Zone IV, at high risk to earthquakes. Further, on a day-to-day basis, Delhi is at risk to numerous hazards, such as fire, floods, bomb-blasts, other acts of terrorism, industrial and chemical hazards, building collapses, road accidents, water logging, etc.

Earthquake Risk In Delhi

In a recent study by R. N. Iyengar and S. Ghosh seismio-tectonic characterization has been attempted with India Gate in New Delhi as the centre, a circular region of 300 km radius has been assumed as the catchment area for Delhi city (2). Tectonic features around Delhi city discussed by Valdiya, K. S., (Himalayan transverse faults and folds and their parallelism with subsurface structures of north Indian plains. Tectonophysics, 1976, 32, 353-386) have been further improved to map all known faults in a radius of 300 km around Delhi city. Twenty faults have been identified, movement on which can cause ground vibration at Delhi.

Seismic history of Delhi, as per the records available, dates back to the earthquake of 15th July, 1720 (intensity IX in Delhi)--well discussed by Kafi Khan. References are also available of the earthquake of 22 March 1825 near Delhi of intensity VII. In the Khurja earthquake (M6.7) of 10 October 1956, many people were injured in Delhi. The earthquake of 27 August 1960, one of the largest instrumented earthquakes affecting Delhi (M6.0) resulted in 50 persons injured. Damage was reported to one of the minarets of Delhi's Jama Masjid, a national heritage during the earthquake (M4.0) on 28 July 1994. During the 1999 Chamoli earthquake (M6.5), 280 km from Delhi, collapse of a few architectural fins and structural damage in a few buildings were reported. One of the largest instrumented earthquakes affecting Delhi occurred on 27 August 1960--which resulted in structural and cracks in certain areas. (3)

Flood Risk In Delhi

Delhi has also been prone to floods. 'The flood problem in Delhi has become more serious since the river Yamuna has been jacketed by high embankments in its entire reach of about 210 km upstream of Delhi to protect the rural population in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. This activity has resulted in a decrease in the valley storage of the river and increase in the peak flood discharge levels during floods.' (10)

Besides the frequent flash floods in most of areas due to poor drainage facilities, there are four major floods witnessed by Delhi. During 1977, Najafgarh drain experienced heavy floods due to discharge from the Sahibi River. 14 persons were reported to have died in a boat mishap. Crop damage was estimated at Rs 10 million. Before the government could get over with the relief operations, another major flood occurred in September, 1978. River Yamuna experienced a devastating flood.. The total damage to crops, houses and public utilities was estimated at Rs. 176.1 million. A decade later, another major flood rocked many parts of Delhi. In September, 1988, many villages and localities were flooded by river Yamuna, affecting approximately 8,000 families. The flood of September, 1995 was the last major flood experienced by river Yamuna in which around 15000 families were affected. (4)

Fire Risk In Delhi

Fire accidents are also very frequent in Delhi. Delhi Fire Service responds to 15000 fire/rescue calls per annum on an average according to official sources. A major fire outbreak in one of the picture halls in Delhi (Uphaar Cinema) is fresh in the memories, with the victims still fighting for justice. Delhi Fire Service has been trying to bring down the fire accidents. Delhi Fire Service possesses special appliances for combating any kind of eventuality arising in the cluster of high-rise buildings and other special rescue jobs. Three Hazmat vans are present in Delhi to deal with all kinds of disasters. Specialized units are also positioned at many places in Delhi. (5)

The safety of Delhi is of prime importance as the National Capital, the hub of national government business, multiplying many-fold the implications of a major disaster not only on the population of Delhi and its infrastructure but also on the functioning of the country itself.

While natural hazards can not be controlled, the vulnerability to these hazards can be reduced by planned mitigation and preparedness measures. There needs to be concerted and sustained steps towards reducing the vulnerability of communities to disasters.

The past couple of years have witnessed a paradigm shift in the approach of central and state governments towards disaster management. The new approach proceeds from the conviction that development cannot be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is built into the development process. Another corner stone of the approach is that mitigation has to be multi-disciplinary spanning across all sectors of development.


The national government is setting up a National Disaster Management Authority, with Prime minister as its chairman (7). In the meanwhile, the Government of Delhi has established a nodal agency, namely the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), to facilitate, coordinate and monitor disaster management activities and promote good disaster management and mitigation practices in the state. The establishment of the DDMA is a key element in the overall disaster management policy of the State Government. With the hon'ble Lieutenant Governer as the head of the Apex committee that governs this authority, Chief Minster, Ministers, Chief Secretary, Principal Secretaries of relevant departments, Police, Fire Service and joint secretaries etc form the members. The Government of Delhi also proposes to introduce legislation in the form of a Delhi Disaster Management Act to provide a legal framework for disaster management in the state.


The Government of India-UNDP Disaster Risk Management Programme is being implemented in Delhi since July 2003. Office of Divisional Commissioner, acting as the state nodal agency for disaster management, has played an active role by focusing on preparedness and mitigation issues. It is a well-known fact that cost of response can be reduced considerably, if part of the investment is directed towards mitigation. The disaster management activities being taken up by the government include awareness generation in educational institutions, government offices, hospitals, market and residential places etc. Training and capacity building of engineers, architects, builders, masons, officials from line departments and the task forces prepared by local communities is also being done.

Great deal of effort is being made to develop a model techno legal and techno financial regime in the capital. Although the building bye laws of Delhi had been revised in 2001 after the Bhuj earthquake, incorporating the six Indian seismic codes for structural safety, the state government has sent the Model Bye laws prepared by the National expert committee to all the Urban Local Bodies inviting comments and suggestions for modification of existing bye laws. Delhi Disaster Management Authority has also drafted State Disaster Management Policy.

Disaster Management planning has been initiated at community level.. Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) Plan aims to raise awareness on the various hazards faced by people of a given area, and encourages the community to assume a sense of responsibility to protect itself and to support public and institutional efforts geared towards disaster preparedness, management and mitigation. The process involves social mapping, risk mapping, resource mapping etc and formation of specific task forces like 'fire fighting', 'first aid', 'search and rescue', 'warning & information dissemination' and trauma counseling etc. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi, with support from United Nations Development Programme has successfully made hundreds of such plans.

Knowledge networking with key stakeholders in disaster management has been done for effective sharing of skills. Delhi government has partnered with a number of volunteer organizations and all line departments to work in partnership to take forward the activities under the Disaster risk management programme.

An online inventory of resources has been developed using the portal, 'India Disaster Resource Network (IDRN)'. All information regarding availability of skilled manpower, equipments, materials and services in a district or neighboring district are now available at the click of a tab.


In all the nine districts of Delhi, the Revenue departments have been designated as the nodal agencies for disaster management. The Deputy Commissioners, supported by the Additional District Magistrates have been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying forward the disaster management activities at the district level.

Establishment of Emergency Support Functions

As a part of Delhi State Response Plan, twelve emergency support functions have been identified with primary and support roles assigned to different agencies in Delhi e.g. Communication have been assigned to MTNL as nodal agency and other telecom players as support agencies. All these agencies have prepared their "Standard Operating Procedures" (SOPs) detailing each and every step to be taken pre, during and post disaster. These procedures have been developed based of the Incident Command system (ICS), and the government officials have been provided special training of incident command system, this being a new concept in our country.

Development of Road Map for Disaster Management

A State Level Road Map for Disaster Management in Delhi on the lines of the National Road Map has been prepared and shared with the central government. This road map aims to sustainable reduction of disaster vulnerabilities of the citizens of Delhi, by systematically addressing issues of awareness on vulnerabilities, systems for effective preparedness and response in government and communities, long-term planning for mitigation, capacity building and training to various stakeholders and regular practice drills. (8) All agencies responsible for implementing the activities proposed in road map have also been identified.

Formation of working groups

Two Working Groups for (i) Prevention and mitigation (ii) Preparedness and response, have been constituted and notified. These groups further consist of sub groups to deal with awareness generation, capacity building, planning, techno-legal aspects etc.

Development of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) material

In order to make the awareness generation activities more effective, the Government of Delhi has developed a lot of resource material comprising of leaflets, posters, planning documents, earthquake tips etc for wide dissemination. The IEC material serves as an agent to generate awareness and induce mitigation and preparedness measures for risk reduction. Multi-media CDs on disasters developed by various government agencies have been distributed widely.

Incident Command System

Delhi is perhaps the first state in the country to have used incident command system in an earthquake mock drill held last year. "This system provides for specialist incident command teams with an incident commander and officers trained in different aspects of incident management-logistics, operations, planning, safety media management etc. (9)

Emergency Operation Centres

Delhi government has set up Temporary Emergency Operation Centers at State and District level, with assistance from the budget of Government of India-UNDP Disaster Risk Management programme. Equipments have been obtained for these rooms. Hazard zone wise standard layouts have been sent by the central government to all states. Construction work has already been started for developing Emergency Operation Centres as per drawings in a few districts in Delhi. Once fully functional, these Emergency Operation Centres are expected to function round the clock and serve as control rooms to look after law and order issues as well as disaster management.


It has been proven over and over again that the impacts of natural hazards can be lessened and even eliminated by appropriate actions taken well before the hazardous event. The most effective way to ensure that this action takes place is the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive hazard mitigation plan.

Model techno-legal framework

The strategies for mitigation need to address to the safety of two kinds of structures--the upcoming construction and the existing building stock. The state government is planning to develop a model techno legal as well as techno-financial framework for Delhi. The Government of Delhi has trained a large number of Engineers, Architects and masons on disaster safe construction practices. Sensitization programmes have been organized for Builders, Contractors and town planners. A system of special audit of buildings is being put in place with a view to ensuring that the new constructions conform to the building byelaws being modified as per the recommendations for Model Building Bye Laws, developed by the National Core Group for Earthquake Mitigation constituted by the National government consisting of experts in earthquake engineering and administrators. The above strategies being adopted by the government of Delhi ensure long term, sustainable qualitative benefits resulting in disaster risk reduction.

Retrofitting of buildings

With the change in the Indian seismic codes in 2002, many of the buildings in this country that conformed to the codes/ standards of the earlier days are now found seismically deficient as per the current code and many present the risk of life-threatening damage. It is this vulnerability of the built environment in the State that will cause even a moderate earthquake in the region to transform into a disaster in the Delhi region. To influence all new constructions, the Government of Delhi has embarked on capacity building programmes for all the key players in the construction fraternity. But the vulnerability associated with our existing buildings needs to be addressed urgently through retrofitting. Retrofitting is the process of assessing and strengthening existing buildings to perform as per required criteria in earthquakes.

But, it is neither economically feasible to seismically retrofit every building not conforming to the current codes with no/ inadequate seismic provisions, nor is it culturally acceptable to replace them all. Thus, first we need to identify the structures that present a significant risk to life safety and predict the expected performance for such buildings of high importance or those needed for emergency response (lifeline buildings) and then find retrofit solutions for these structures identified as high risk.

Since expertise in retrofitting is limited in the country, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India and the Government of Delhi have embarked on a pilot project for demonstrative retrofitting of five lifeline buildings in the city with support from USAID and Geo Hazards International (GHI). The five lifeline buildings selected by the Govt. of Delhi include the Police headquarters, The Delhi secretariat building, the office of Delhi Disaster Management Authority, an important Hospital and a school. Non Structural Safety assessment has also been carried out and Non Structural Mitigation measures have been initiated in the school and hospital. Though the project envisages only the development of retrofitting plans for these five buildings, the Government of Delhi should carry out the actual retrofitting of these five critical buildings immediately and utilize the opportunity provided by the project to start a movement for retrofitting in the Governmental and non-Governmental setup. Moreover, as this is a pilot project, the five examples set by the Project have to increase in numbers rapidly to more examples spread geographically around the state and involving all agencies carrying out construction in the State viz. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi Development Authority, Central Public Works Department etc.

Insurance Policies

The Insurance sector in India is regulated by Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority. The Tariff Advisory Committee (TAC) lays down tariff rates for some of the general insurance products. Earlier earthquake cover used to be a part of fire insurance policy but since May 2000, the Tariff Advisory Committee effected a reduction of 22 per cent in the fire insurance premium and provided for earthquake risk as an add-on cover. Other add on covers available are STFI (Storm, Tempest, Flood and Inundation) covers. The compensation for damage depends not only on the type of cover opted for but also, on the basis of option like replacement cost basis or market value basis. Many insured people affected by the recent tsunami were deprived of compensation for simple reason that they had either not gone for complete cover or because they had opted for cover policy on a market value basis. (10) A better understanding of the insurance procedures and general awareness is required. The premium cost for complete cover is quite high and given the uncertainty about the time when a disaster will strike a similar investment in other mitigation measures like low level retrofitting may turn out to be more cost effective.


Given the seismic vulnerability of the region, an earthquake of a high magnitude is likely to hit Delhi in the near future. In the last few years, Delhi has come a long way from the state of utter ignorance towards disaster vulnerability, to a conscious state. The initiatives to reduce disaster risks taken up by the Government of Delhi are definitely in the right direction. Disaster management in Delhi, however, is yet at its nascent stage. Sustainability is the key word in development process. Whether Delhi will reach the stage of a prepared and safe city, or not, will depend on how long and how seriously the efforts are maintained. While much focus has been laid on awareness generation activities, development of a strategy for disaster mitigation in the state is equally essential. The aim of this strategy should be to reduce losses in the event of a future occurrence of a hazard. Structural mitigation may comprise construction of disaster resistant structures or retrofitting of existing building stock. Land use and site planning may also be done with a disaster mitigation perspective. Prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response are multi disciplinary activities involving a large number of departments. The setting up of DDMA and Emergency Support Function Plan has provided a platform for the officials of these departments to interact with each other. This information, is however mostly limited to the nodal officers nominated for disaster management in their departments. There is a need for further dissemination of disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and response related information, so that the efforts do not lack efficiency.

The State government may introduce the concept of disaster insurance as a potentially important mitigation measure. This will not only generate awareness towards vulnerable areas but also motivate people to settle in relatively safer constructions.

In the case of the Structural Mitigation measures, though a few initiatives for reducing the vulnerability of future constructions are being undertaken, there is a need for drawing up an action plan for a systematic reduction in vulnerability of the existing buildings and structures as well as the future constructions in the form of a Delhi Earthquake Loss Reduction Plan.

The efforts of the national government to introduce disaster management as a compulsory paper in all fields of study at graduation level in all states, if and when realized, will ensure sustainable disaster awareness among the youth, leading to disaster risk reduction in due course. The road map developed by the state government is quite comprehensive and a proper execution of the planned activities will ensure a well aware and prepared capital city. The challenge ahead is to implement the road map, unlike many other proposals and schemes of the government which are limited to paper work and contribute to piles of files and folders.


Disaster Management in India; A status Report, NDM Division, MHA, Government of India.

Microzonation of earthquake hazard in Greater Delhi area, CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 87, NO. 9, 10 NOVEMBER 2004

Bill to enact legislation on disaster management, Taja news, March 10, 2005, see also "Disaster management Authority gets a nod, Financial Express, Feb 25, 2005.

Status Report of Disaster Management in Delhi, Delhi Disaster Management Authority, Office of Divisional Commissioner, Government of Delhi.

Disaster Management in India; A status Report, NDM Division, MHA, Government of India

Teri, Report No. 2000EE65, State of Environment Report for Delhi 2001: Key environmental concerns.

Pushpa Girimaji, The Tribune, Online Edition, February 11, 2001, Chandigarh,


Gol-UNDP Disaster Risk Management Programme United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) C-23, Defence Colony New Delhi--110024, India
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Article Details
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Author:Jafar, Eilia
Publication:Geotechnical Engineering for Disaster Mitigation and Rehabilitation
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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