September 7, 2015
Denver, CO – MURP Professor Andy Rumbach authored a new study on the increasing disaster risk of smaller cities that was published in the journal Habitat International last week. The study examines smaller urban areas in West Bengal, India and the unique challenges these areas face in terms of disaster management.
While planning for natural disasters is taking place in major urban centers around the world, Andy points out that “small cities are often far away from where decisions get made and struggle to insert themselves into the agenda of decision-making bodies.”
This is especially true in developing countries. Using the Darjeeling district, a mountainous region of West Bengal, as a case study, Andy highlights that despite the increased potential for heavy rains, runoff, unstable mountain slopes, and landslides, none of these potential hazards has been adequately planned for. The state disaster plan does not fully consider issues specific to the mountain regions. “As a result, the plan displays a poor understanding of local conditions and needs,” the study said. “Landslide hazards, which are a major threat to lives and property in the small cities of the Darjeeling district are a case in point.”
The study looks at the roles decentralization and local capacity building could play in better preparing smaller cities to cope with and respond to disasters. “One obvious recommendation is a more gradual decentralization of governance and funding, with significant support for capacity building at the local level,” Andy said. “Another recommendation would be to strengthen the role of non-governmental organizations and the private sectors, actors who are virtually absent from the existing [government] disaster management infrastructure in India.”
By Andrew Rumbach
Decentralization, the devolution of fiscal, political, and administrative powers and responsibilities from centralized governments to local ones, has spread rapidly throughout Asia. Proponents of decentralization argue that it has the potential to improve local capacity for governing many challenging issues, including the management of hazards, disasters, and the effects of global climate change. Disaster governance is particularly challenging in small cities, communities that house a large portion of Asia’s urban population but where disaster management institutions, knowledge, and capacity are often lacking. Across Asia, a substantial portion of urban growth is occurring in small cities. This paper examines whether decentralization has led to more effective disaster governance in small cities in India, using the state of West Bengal as a case study. It finds that decentralization has created the potential for improved disaster governance, by providing constitutional and legal authority for improved urban governance and local disaster management plans and programs. In reality, however, decentralization has yet to significantly reduce urban disaster risk in small cities in West Bengal.