Interview: Kamal Kishore on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in collaboration with United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) conducted a two-day International Workshop on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (IWDRI) on January 15-16, 2018 in New Delhi. Participants from more than 20 countries, multilateral development banks, the United Nations, the private sector and academics attended the workshop. To know more about IWDRI and resilient infrastructure, AapdaSamvaad spoke with Shri Kamal Kishore, Member, NDMA.

Q. Please tell us more about this workshop.

A. In November 2016, India hosted the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR). During this conference, our Prime Minister had announced that India will work with other partner countries and stakeholders to develop an international coalition on disaster resilient infrastructure. The workshop that was held in January was a step in this direction.
This workshop brought together a variety of professionals working on different aspects of disaster resilient infrastructure - engineering, finance, disaster risk management, standards, operation and maintenance of infrastructure - together for a conversation on how do we move together to encourage the development of disaster resilient infrastructure.
Over time, we plan to develop a collaborative project with an aim to come up with win-win solutions for all stakeholders involved in infrastructure development.

 Q. What are the major takeaways from the workshop in terms of suggestions or solutions offered?

A. Firstly, the entire process of infrastructure development is so complex and multi-dimensional that in order to be able to address the issue of disaster resilience, we need to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach. Disaster risk management professionals need to engage with a broader variety of actors to come up with innovative solutions to disaster resilient infrastructure.
We cannot look at the resilience of infrastructure systems in isolation as they are connected with other infrastructure systems. For example, if we are looking at the safety of roads, then we have to look at how that connects with the safety of bridges. A major takeaway from this workshop was the emphasis on 'looking at system of systems' and the understanding that we need to embrace the complexity involved in constructing resilient infrastructure and think beyond the narrow infrastructure capital asset to include the system around that infrastructure.
The third takeaway was that we have to devise ways to deal with uncertainty with regards to future risks, particularly in the context of climate change. Traditionally, we have built infrastructure based on the hazard patterns based on as they have occurred in the past. This, however, is not a good guide for the future. In such a context, how are we going to build infrastructure so that we can update or retrofit that infrastructure to address the emerging hazard risks.

Q. How do we integrate disaster resilience into infrastructure development?

A. There are several ways of doing this but I will primarily talk about the four areas which
the workshop also focussed on. The first is looking at how we are going to come up with systems for assessing risk in a sophisticated way where we not only look at risk to infrastructure but also risk from infrastructure, not only present risks but also future risks. The second area of work is how do we begin to develop standards for developing, operating and maintaining infrastructure so that it nudges us towards disaster resilience. The third is how do we build incentives in the financing of infrastructure so that it encourages investment in resilience. Finally, we need to have more predictable systems for recovery of infrastructure systems when they are affected by disasters.

Q. How can developing countries such as ours ensure that adequate finances are available to incorporate resilience in construction as well as reconstruction following a disaster?

A. It’s not just a matter of adequacy of finance; it’s a matter of how we look at cost benefit of investing in resilience. A lot of the times, when we are building an infrastructure and trying to make it resilient, it appears that the cost is increasing. However, if we look at the life cycle cost of the same infrastructure, which includes the initial cost as well as its operation, maintenance and repair, it makes much more sense to make it resilient in the first place. Thus, investing in disaster resilience makes economic sense as well.

Q. How can we ensure minimum disruption and swift recovery of essential services - electricity, transport, communication - in the immediate aftermath of a disaster be ensured?

A. People depend on infrastructure and its efficient service to carry out their day-to-day livelihood activities. If it does not serve properly, then it affects them negatively and makes them more vulnerable. The key to ensuring minimum disruption and swift recovery of essential services is to have a plan beforehand. First of all, we should build our systems to be resilient. Infinite resilience, however, costs infinite money. There will always be events which will exceed the expected design event that we had prepared for. In such a case, pre-planning can make the process of recovery of infrastructure systems and its operations smoother.

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