Disaster Recovery, Ten Years After: The Gujarat, India Experience

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In the past decade, there have been many devastating natural disasters, from Iran’s 2003 Bam earthquake and the Asian tsunami of 2004 to Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. All of these events received extensive media attention and drew a large aid response. Those who track natural disasters have noticed a serious increase in frequency over the past decade (http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article26290.html).

But rapid aid and media attention do not necessarily lead to long-term recovery. More than a year after the earthquake in Haiti, pace of recovery remains slow. Numerous media stories highlighted the lack of progress.

For the people caught up in these tragedies, quickly returning to a normal life is paramount for psychological and physical health. But this is often the hardest part. Some countries do this well and others do not.

On January 26, 2001, an earthquake laid waste to a large region of the Indian state of Gujarat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_Gujarat_earthquake). Ten years later there is a remarkable recovery that has taken place. So how did they do it?

The 7.9-magnitude quake killed an estimated 20,000 people, injured 150,000, made a million homeless, and destroyed around 8,000 villages. It devastated the Kutch district capital, Bhuj, and other major towns.

In the decade since the earthquake, the state has averaged double-digit growth. Despite having only five percent of the country’s population, Gujarat racks up impressive economic achievements: it has a fifth of India’s exports and a sixth of its industrial production. It has a long-standing entrepreneurial culture based on trade. It can draw on a well-connected global diaspora that ensures a steady inflow of new thinking and investment. Members of this diaspora also contributed to the US $130 million in aid that poured into the region after the quake.

One of the factors contributing to the successful recovery is effective government action.

The disaster has been turned into an opportunity to jolt the region out of the “Middle Ages and into the modern world,” NGO worker Navin Prasad told the BBC.

All the media attention, support and cash at the time forced the Indian government to pay attention to a region it had ignored in the past.

The army came in to help with the emergency and the Indian government allocated US $2 billion to the reconstruction that followed.

Aid was used well and in the first two years many of the damaged villages were rebuilt. And not just rebuilt to what they were, but completely modernized. New houses were constructed to high standards, with more rooms and lots of light. They also came with running water and a toilet. New facilities like medical centres and communal areas were put in place.

The district capital of Bhuj was levelled in the earthquake. But new plans for the city were drafted in the following years. Now Bhuj has two new ring roads, a new airport, parks and shops. Streets were widened and new water and sewage works installed.

But along with the new infrastructure and plenty of cash, came something more important for the region’s long-term recovery: economic growth. The Indian government created tax-free zones drawing in private investment. An astonishing US $10 billion in private investment has come in with US $7 billion more to come, according to the BBC.

One miraculous turnaround is in the former tiny fishing port of Mundra. Prior to the earthquake, it sat in the middle of a salt marsh. It is now India’s largest private port and rivals Mumbai with its Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone (http://www.portofmundra.com/), incorporated in 2003. The Adani Group, a very large Indian private company with global interests (http://www.adanigroup.com/index.html), owns the port now worth US $7 billion, hiring many people once dependent on aid agencies for income.

The head of the Adani Foundation the charitable wing of the Adani Group, Sushma Oza, told the BBC how the company is spending its profits on further developing the area: “Our own budget for social development in this region is $6m a year, so you can imagine how we are trying to change the lives of people to live in a better way,” she said.

In the western portion of the state, in the administrative district of Kutch which is home to Bhuj, around 300 businesses have been established, including the Welspun towel factory (http://www.welspun.com/content.asp?Link=Y&SubmenuID=24). The biggest towel factory in the world, it was built in just nine months and makes 250,000 towels a day. An ambitious firm, it bought the British company Christy (http://www.christy-towels.com/), maker of the official Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship towels.

So why towels in Kutch? Welspun chairman Balkrishan Goenka laid down the incentives to the BBC: “There were no local taxes for the first five years and no excise duties. Nor were there indirect taxes to government – they were exempted for five years.”

“Those were the primary benefits,” he said. “More than that there was huge support from the local government so industry can come faster.”

Since the earthquake, 110,000 jobs have been created in Kutch alone. More importantly for the area’s future, it is has gone from neglected backwater to a significant pillar of the Indian economy.

Another driver of recovery was the growth of the dairy industry. The Bhuj dairy plant collapsed in the earthquake and was then rebuilt by the National Dairy Development Board (http://www.nddb.org/). The plant can now process 50,000 litres of milk a day and is run by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (http://www.amul.com/organisation.html), India’s largest food products marketing organization. It has 2.9 million producer members and represents 15,322 village societies.

Not everyone has turned their lives around, however. Aid workers estimate thousands are still living in temporary shelters. They defecate in the open and few have clean water. Just getting two meals a day is a problem.

There are complaints about the landless and tenants not receiving the same help.

“Many are tribal, others are low-caste communities, some are Muslims – but they all have one thing in common: poverty,” Bharat Parmer, program coordinator for ActionAid International in Kutch, told Alertnet.

“A large number of these people were tenants and did not own land and so it has been much harder for them to claim their rights as rehabilitation was very much focused on home and land owners.”

But local authorities say rehabilitation schemes have been comprehensive, covering all those who were hit by the quake.

“I don’t think that there are people who did not get what they were due – there may be a rare case here and there but we have rehabilitated all that were in need,” said Gunvant Vaghela, the second-most senior civil servant in Kutch district.

Resources

1) How to activate support from the global technology community in a disaster. Website: http://crisiscommons.org/

2) UNICEF: Community-Based Disaster Preparedness Projects (CBDPs) in India have been helping communities restructure to survive when disaster strikes. Website: http://www.unicef.org.uk/campaigns

3) The US Government has extensive resources online on how to prepare for a wide variety of natural and man-made disasters. Website: http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/

4) The magazine Popular Mechanics has excellent resources on how anyone can prepare their family and community for disasters. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/survival/

5)  Telecoms Sans Frontiers: Focuses on providing communications in the first days after an emergency. Website: http://www.tsfi.org/

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