Caritas India launches urban disaster risk reduction programme in Chennai

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Caritas - India

Every year, cyclones or floods hit Chennai with greater intensity and this erratic pattern is likely to increase in coming years. In 2015, the city witnessed seven heavy rainfall events with more than 60 mm of rain on a single day. Cities like Chennai face tremendous pressure to reduce the impact of human, social, economic, and environmental losses from disasters in urban areas.

Caritas India launched its much-awaited Urban Disaster Risk Reduction Programme at Chennai with the support of its regional diocesan partner, Madras Social Service Society (MSSS), on January 21, 2019, to reduce the risk and impact of natural disasters in the urban setup.

Over 11,000 households from 9 slums in Chennai and Delhi are set to benefit directly from Caritas India project “Urban Action for People’s Resilience in Delhi and Chennai.” The intervention will inculcate the culture of preparedness in the community and children to avert disaster situations in these urban conglomerates.

The first year of the project (November 2018 to October 2019) is being implemented on a pilot basis to understand its feasibility and develop a broader scope for understanding disaster in the urban context. The first year will also involve the development of preparedness and mitigation measures and further facilitate the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction in urban planning and development.

The project, through its two-pronged approach, seeks to reach out to slum communities and neighbouring schools to build a culture of safety and resilience, and to further empower local authorities and communities to reduce and manage disaster risk.

The programme was graced by Mr. K. Pandiarajan, Minister of Tamil Language, Culture and Archaeology, and saw the participation of around 400 community members from three project clusters, namely Little Mount, T Nagar, and Park Town.

In the backdrop of an alarming rise in the population of Chennai over the past decade and its implications on the city’s current state of development, Fr. Jolly Puthenpura, Assistant Executive Director, Caritas India, stressed the need to equip oneself and the community against disaster risks in urban areas.

“The memories of 2015 floods are still afresh and most of you present in the hall must have borne the brunt of the deluge,” he affirmed. He also stated the significance of involving the urban poor in the heart of urban resilience building and further reiterated the need to engage with multiple stakeholders in mainstreaming disaster risks in development policy.

Dr. John Arokiaraj, Caritas India Thematic Manager and Tamil Nadu State Officer, explained the project components and shared that this project is an extension of the initial response and recovery work carried out after the 2015 floods. “Proper planning and preparedness measures, combined with adequate management of resources, can prevent the outbreak of major disasters,” he stated.

Mr. Pandiarajan shared in length about the efforts undertaken by the Government of Tamil Nadu towards disaster mitigation, and how the involvement of civil society organizations like Caritas and MSSS will expedite community mobilisation and create a pool of informed and responsible stakeholders at the grassroots level. He stated that the state and central government have allocated funds of Rs 1800 crore and Rs10,000 for disaster mitigation, besides allocating provisions for creating first responders in every community to augment local capacity. He also stressed the need to ensure proper management of water resources both at the local and the state level, as water bodies play a crucial role in urban planning, citing examples of the 2015 flooding, which was largely caused by the encroachment of water bodies. He applauded Caritas India and MSSS for taking the lead in implementing the Urban Risk Reduction Programme and encouraged the community to whole-heartedly support the cause.

The programme was also attended by major Diocesan Functionaries, namely Fr. Stanley Sebastian, Vicar General; Fr. P. Lawrence Raj, Parish Priest, Little Mount; Fr Albert Thambithurai, Director, TASOSS; Fr Arokiaraj, Assistant Director, TASOSS; Fr Patrick I Joseph, Director, MSSS; Fr Ignatius, Parish Priest, T Nagar & Executive Committee Member of MSSS.

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