The All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) is a non-governmental, community-based organization that works towards reducing disaster risk in some of India’s most vulnerable communities. Linking these communities to national and international humanitarian relief and recovery policies, AIDMI educates and promotes mitigation efforts through pilot projects, action research, planning, and advocacy initiatives.
Established after the 1987-89 Gujarat droughts, AIDMI evolved from a project into an autonomous organization in 1995. The organization has expanded the scope of its work over time to now cover eleven types of disasters in six states of India; it also now serves seven countries in Asia. The UU Holdeen India Program has been providing support to AIDMI since 1996.
Pioneers in the area of disaster risk mitigation, AIDMI believes that relief is only one part of the disaster scenario: Prevention and development are also essential components. Communities have a lead role to play while victims have a right to safety and recovery; through proper planning, education, and training, the severity of disasters can be effectively mitigated, and in some instances, avoided altogether.
Working via sector security programs in the areas of Water, Habitat, Food, and Livelihood, AIDMI promotes the adoption and practice of action-based disaster mitigation through:
• Partnership with the poorest within disaster vulnerable communities
• Integrating water, food, habitat and livelihood security
• Capacity building of multiple humanitarian stakeholders
• Synergy between traditional and modern risk reduction strategies
• Education and training
• Promoting use of humanitarian standards in disaster response
• Providing timely and targeted relief in a sustainable manner
School Safety Audit
Since the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, AIDMI developed and conducted a school safety audit in six states of India and found that nine out of ten schools in poor neighborhoods in India are likely to be directly affected by a natural disaster. In the event of a disaster, the child of a poor landless laborer is four times more likely to be killed than the child of an urban middle class bank manager.
Over the course of the last year, AIDMI worked with 28 local community-based organizations of the poor and local non-governmental organizations in those six states to reach out to 600 schools with basic school safety literature, training, a basic kit (including fire extinguisher), and enrollment in the national government’s insurance for children—26,000 children are now insured as a result of this outreach. AIDMI has been invited to Jordan, Israel, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia to do similar work.
Disaster Recovery Evaluation
Disaster victims are best qualified to know the success and failures of their own recovery, yet they are hardly ever asked to make such evaluations; instead, external experts evaluate local recovery in an impersonal, top-down process, without giving victims an opportunity to share their experiences.
In January 2010, AIDMI invited 60 local disaster victim leaders from 11 Asia and Pacific countries where there is ongoing disaster recovery to review five recovering communities in Gujarat, nine years after the 2001 earthquake. These leaders found that: (a) though the poor make most effort at recovery, they are the last to receive recovery resources; and (b) the most difficult part of recovery is not the provision of water or food or shelter, but the role of the authorities in linking victims with mainstream development.
In other words, from the perspective of the disaster victims, the State has had the most difficulty in reaching out to its own citizens; those same citizens are receiving the least amount of resources despite highest need, and, are receiving those resources much later. AIDMI’s findings will be released as part of a UNDP (United Nations Development Program) report later this year. Meanwhile, AIDMI is working with the Indian Space Agency to incorporate this victim-to-victim communication method as part of their early warning system. In 2010, AIDMI proposed to make this a reality in at least three states with the Government of India.
Human Rights in South Asia
Human Rights are recognized, although reluctantly, in the development process. However, authorities, or even humanitarian agencies do not recognize the right of victims to safety and recovery. To them, relief is charity.
AIDMI is working with the Brookings Institute to define and promote such rights to recovery in South Asia (including Myanmar where the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) introduced AIDMI after Cyclone Nargis). Authorities from South Asia were invited to Chennai in August 2009 to a training workshop to affirm the existence of these rights, to discuss them, and to hear the voices of victims who pointed out how these rights had been violated.
The event was well received. The UN Under Secretary General for Human Rights Prof. Kalin appreciated AIDMI’s work and has proposed more collaboration. The right to shelter of the 2008 Koshi flood victims is still not addressed; AIDMI is holding an Asia-wide event in Delhi this December with the National Institute of Disaster Management of Government of India to explore ways in which the process of recovery can be improved.
Civil Society Education
While some of the most inspiring recovery work is done by local organizations such as Developing Initiatives for Social Human Action (DISHA), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Navsarjan, and Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) for example, the humanitarian training at India’s universities focuses on what is done by the authorities and the UN. The youth of India do not learn about civil society efforts and their crucial role in recovery.
In response to this, AIDMI has invited 28 universities to study the role of civil society as part of their curriculum, by working directly with local civil society organizations and initially focusing on two areas–school safety and insurance coverage. Six universities are piloting the initiative with 18 civil society organizations. AIDMI plans to work with these universities to develop an internship or fellowship for students to work directly with victims’ organizations.
Staffed by a young, committed team of technicians, professional, field practitioners and volunteers (community and international), AIDMI’s 63-member team encompasses diverse professional experience, ranging from journalism, social work, architecture, engineering, and urban planning to economics, finance, information technology, business management, political science, and disaster management. For over fifteen years, the AIDMI team has worked with some of India’s most vulnerable communities, saving lives through effective action and preventative education.