The Profits of catastrophe

As the title of Indian journalist P Sainath's book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought, suggests, disasters are lucrative for the relief bureaucracy and its retinue of supply contractors and distribution agencies. The financial scope that disasters offer for the diversion of public funds into private accounts through various administrative channels is the single biggest impediment to the adoption, in South Asia, of disaster prevention and vulnerability reduction perspectives. The stubbornness of the prevailing orthodoxy, which swears by the inevitability of disaster and hence emphasises the indispensability of relief, can in fact be attributed more to the profits of catastrophe than to ignorance of alternative views.

Among one of the purposes of Disaster Communicaton: A Resource Kit for Media, is to discuss in detail the available alternatives to this official vision of disaster management. Its first chapter is devoted to an extensive analysis of the differences between the prevailing approach and the alternative approach. The former is piecemeal and post-facto because it can, by definition, swing into action only after disaster has taken place on a scale sufficient to draw attention and funds to itself. By contrast the latter is a comprehensive strategy that looks to a community-based prevention and mitigation programme, in which development has a central role to play in reducing the vulnerability of marginal groups to adverse circumstances.

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Himal Southasian