In conversation with Shri Rajendra Singh, Member, NDMA on Aapda Mitra Initiative

The Aapda Mitra Initiative was launched in 2016, with an aim to train 6000 community volunteers in 30 flood prone districts. Four years later, volunteers of this initiative have risen in the face of various disasters including COVID-19 to safeguard community members. Aapda Samvaad spoke with Rajendra Singh, Member, NDMA to take a peek into the progress of the initiative as well as future plans. 

You recently led a team from NDMA to Uttarakhand to review the Aapda Mitra Project. Please tell us about your experience. 

Haridwar is one of the districts selected under Aapda Mitra scheme. Under the scheme 200 Aapda Mitra volunteers were trained in disaster response especially flood risk management.  DDMA Haridwar conducted a flood rescue demonstration with the support of trained Aapda Mitra Volunteers. Manual rescue as well as rescue by boat was also demonstrated. The District Magistrate of Haridwar presented a brief on mitigation activities done by DDMA Haridwar. 

A meeting was held with Shri Trivendra Singh Rawat, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Uttarakhand and the following issues were discussed along with presentation of pocketbooks related to do's and don'ts for various disasters : 
  • Construction of Relief Shelters in various Districts of the State
  • Training of Yuva Mangal Dal and Mahila Dal by SDRF on lines of Aapda Mitra
  • Trauma training should be included in Aapda Mitra
  • Upscaling of Aapda Mitra scheme in remaining 11 districts of Uttarakhand
A review of the Projects/Schemes in partnership with Govt. of Uttarakhand, SDMA and all other stakeholders/line departments was undertaken. A meeting was also held with the Chief Secretary. NDMA also visited the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Visual Disabilities (NIEPVD), Dehradun to understand the functioning of Community Radio and its outreach. NDMA highlighted that Community Radio can be used in organizing the communities to plan, implement and monitor disaster management activities along with facilitating relief, rehabilitation and restoration initiatives as well.


Why was the Aapda Mitra Initiative launched?

In case of any disaster or emergency, before any government machinery & support reaches or outside help gets galvanized, it is the community which has to respond immediately. As the community plays the role of First Responder, the impact of a volunteer from the community in disaster response can be tremendous, as the extent of damage – in terms of economic and human loss is greatly influenced by the initial response to a disaster. Therefore, there lies a critical need to train people in certain basic skills in disaster management so that they are able to respond promptly and also assist the concerned agencies in rescue and relief operations. Keeping this in mind, NDMA initiated the Aapda Mitra scheme in 2016 to promote a culture of volunteerism in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and to create a pool of 6000 trained and certified volunteers in 30 flood prone districts of 25 States/UTs of India.

How has the Aapda Mitra Initiative helped in building local capacity? 

There is a need to develop the capacity and skills of the community so that they can deal with disasters in a more pragmatic manner. This is also highlighted in point eight of the Prime Minister's 10 point Agenda on DRR which emphasizes 'Local Capacity Building Initiative.' Some of the States have reported that the services of these trained community volunteers have been exceptional in rescuing the stranded people during floods and cyclones such as Kerala Flood, Kolhapur Flood, 
Assam Flood, Cyclone Fani etc. These volunteers are also providing their services in COVID-19 containment zones in coordination with District Administration which is commendable.The scheme has been influential in training and strengthening the capacity of the local volunteers and following suit, other DDMA's are demanding to raise the similar cadres in their districts. The identity given to the local volunteers has given access to the Government organization and Non Government organizations for the support as authorized resource persons as well as involving them in disaster responses. The volunteers have been primarily trained for flood, but as seen during COVID-19, these volunteers are willing to serve in any kind of situation for the community.

How has the participation and inclusion of women been in the initiative? 

Women are more affected by natural disasters than men, since they have limited access to resources and skills for effective emergency response. Empowering women through involving them in the disaster management process is important for reducing community vulnerability to disasters and this has been highlighted in point three of the Prime Minister's 10-Point Agenda on DRR which emphasizes 'Greater Participation and Leadership of Women in Disaster Risk Management.' More than 500 women volunteers from 13 States have undergone Aapda Mitra training. These trained  women volunteers play an active role in disaster situations by evacuating their children & elderly family members to higher ground & by rescuing household goods needed for their survival during onset of a disaster.

These women volunteers also assist the District Administration in creating awareness among women of different communities, resource mapping and in conducting training. Many young girls are being trained to take up the task of educating other women which empowers them, helps in developing their personalities and increases women's participation.

How has the Aapda Mitra Initiative adapted in view of the COVID-19 crisis, can you cite an example? 

In the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic, some of these trained Aapda Mitra have worked/ are working  in close coordination with the District Administration of various States viz; Assam, Supaul, Bihar; Kottayam, Kerala; Kolhapur, Maharashtra; Haridwar, Uttarakhand; Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh; Sepahijala, Tripura; Jagatsinghpur, Odisha; Purba Medinipur & South 24 Pgs, West Bengal and Sikkim; to support the needy including persons with disabilities in providing home delivery of essential items such as food, ration, medicines, dissemination of information & awareness generation and preparation & distribution of food.

Are there any future plans to expand the Aapda Mitra Initiative? 

Based on exemplary actions performed by the trained volunteers during emergency situations, and the Vision 2024 of the Government of India, there is a strong demand from States/UTs to upscale it in other districts of India to train more volunteers. Thus, NDMA is planning to upscale the scheme in 350 districts which are prone to landslide, earthquake, cyclone and flood with an aim to train 1,00,000 volunteers across India and with a maximum provision for women volunteers. 

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