DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ARTICLE

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a ‘term’ quite frequently used these days and more and more corporate are coming forward to take this challenge. Let it be the Media sector, the Insurance Sector, the Retail sector, the Petrochemical Sector, the Chemical Sector, Food & Beverages, IT Industry, Healthcare Industry, Telecommunications Industry, Automotive, Construction Industry, Crafts, Energy, Banking and Insurances every corporate are trying to find ways of spending money for social responsibility.

As intensive researches are carried on in the best universities of the world, the first initiatives on CSR are generally taken by oil and chemical industries. There is a rise to prominence of CSR in particular companies, we also observe the emergence of something like the CSR ‘movement’ with a aim to find ways to serve humanity as well as finding business opportunities in the growing popularity of the subject.

The reasons are simple; the earth has seen so many natural disasters along with changes in environmental phenomenon due to rapid growth of industrialization. The money received from environment is now being thought to be utilized for the construction of the same. It’s like the saying which states that whatever energy we spent in our entire life for wealth at the cost of our health is later spend for our own wellbeing. These days even customers and clients look at their brands for something new done for society.

Pressures from Media, NGO’s, International Organizations, Government are making corporate to take up tasks which give fast results and are fast visible, which are dangerous because it do not serve any purpose for the community and neither for the organization.

While the world is still researching into CSR, there is a need to understand its long term goals, its long term indications, before any investment decisions are taken. If we take a closer look at the recent rise of CSR, some might well argue that this ‘new’ management idea is all about a recycled fashion; something which again sees ‘business in new way’. It’s actually more than that, it’s about ensuring more humane working conditions for its employees, building good healthcare systems, creating new educational opportunities for the have-nots, making development in areas where people fight for basic amenities and lots more. It’s absolutely not about standing in front of a hungry man providing him/her food with your industry’s photograph. That doesn’t help.

Some of the questions which arise are:

a) Are we investing something which will serve the community in long term?

b) Are we investing keeping in mind the long term objectives of the organizations?

c) Are we really doing something apart from writing reports on corporate social responsibility?

d) Are the amount allotted for CSR meeting the needs of the needy and targeted people?

e) Are the money used for the organizational goal increasing your brand value in real terms?

While all these questions looms around, we need to introspect on our policies and plans with new innovations. Marketing is a secondary thing and brand value increases when those thoughts are put into action and things starts moving on ground. There are industries who had served many in different fields and those industry leaders still flashes in our minds as souls who came into this world to bring a change. Their company values are not counted by their financial strength in billions but by their work which had touched a billion hearts. There are many positive events happening in the world on CSR as Industry associations are coming forward to coordinate and create synergies among individual business approaches to CSR.

Let’s be that messiah for change and lets that thought of change percolates through our minds and together move towards a safer world for our future generations.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Assistant Director in Industry Association/Body

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

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DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND RISKS

Risk Assessment is about identifying the potential hazards and risks associated with any substance, process or activity and determining ways to manage those hazards before the adverse effects become evident.

Risk Management takes a more multifaceted form if a system becomes more complex. This is what happened in Bhopal. It was in 2-3rd December, 1984; the World’s worst industrial disaster killed at least 20,000 people and left thousands maimed and helpless. The medical follow up done by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), based on diverse multi-institutional projects over a 10 year period between January 1984 and May 1994, on the communities that were exposed to the leak provides a reasonably comprehensive viewpoint on both short and long-term health effects. Epidemiological studies formed the core of the study that included 25 research projects, including two multi-disciplinary ones on pathology and toxicology to determine the effects of inhaling noxious gases. The investigations also included clinical and toxicological studies. The entire work was coordinated by the Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre (BGDRC).

An International Journal stated earlier that the findings of the study were not made public till 2004. It was of belief that about 42 tones of Methyl Isocyanate (and other gaseous products of the runaway reaction) were leaked from the storage tank in 1984. Approximately about three-fourths of the storage tank population at that time was exposed to the leak. Large part of the populations were affected to different degrees and when experts debated on the ways to find solution, people died like flies. A total number of approximately 80,000 people were studied at severely, moderately and mildly exposed areas and compared with controls from unexposed areas. Later it was found – of the total population, 3.9 percent was affected severely, 8.6 percent moderately and 50.1 percent mildly, while 37.4 percent was not affected. Most people included in the study had no fixed occupation or fixed source of income. Nearly 70 percent of the people, lived in Kuccha houses, in the severely affected as well as control areas (areas where the gas had not spread), and prevalence of the smoking habit ranged from 0.2 to 14.3 per cent.

If one goes through the ICMR report then one could come to a conclusion that the three-fourth of the deaths occurred within the first 72 hours of the leak, which happened around mid night of December 2-3, 1984. It was the post-exposure phases that is now considered as depending on the varying clinical features, the different post-exposure phases have been classified in the study as acute (first month of exposure), sub-acute (one to three months) and chronic (more than three months). The ocular symptoms during the acute period were related to the effects of the gas(es) on the eyes and the respiratory tract. In the acute phase, in addition to respiratory complaints, including chest pain and breathlessness, there were complaints of muscle weakness, febrile illness and vomiting. After examination of blood, it was found that in this phase there were increased white blood cells and higher than normal hemoglobin levels. Situations of these types of can be termed as EXTREME EVENTS, which is beyond the natural capacity of the individuals to cope.

If we look through the doors of history then one can find that risk and crisis management is lettered with narratives about the ways in which the organizations failed to deal with the demands of ‘extreme events’. Extreme events by definition are a class of outcome that have very high consequences (often exceeding the perceived worst class scenario) but also a low probability of occurrence. These factors make them difficult areas for analysis and investigations. These may lead some individuals to come to a conclusion by dismissing their significance by stating that they are not representative of the ‘normal’ state of affairs within the ‘system’ under consideration. Extreme events call into question our understanding of the various classes of phenomenon in which they are found and the strategies that organizations have in place to deal with them.

Thus they confront the secretarial claims and their control systems and can often call into question many of the fundamental assumptions that are held about the nature of hazard. These types of extreme events are also found in Natural Disasters or catastrophes or go-physical phenomenon, extreme weather conditions and also for long term phenomenons like global warming.

For example, a region receives a clear warning about heavy downfall and the same place receives enough rainfall in a 24 hour period (which is equivalent to months of precipitation in the given region) then the scale of the event will definitely surprise many people and will cause situations which may be difficult for the local population to cope. Again, a clear look states that it is often the scale of the events that present challenges around prediction. These leads to elementary complexity in the provision of mitigating advice to those, who are exposed to these type of risks. However there are attempts to provide early warning systems to warn the people against the upcoming disasters.

‘Extreme Events’ are typified by being both high consequence and low probability events. They are events that have the potential to overpower our resistance and yet they occur so uncommonly that we are powerless to develop enough experience from them and expand effective management control strategies that are grounded in the normal trial and error learning process that characterize organizations.

Extreme eventsare however also characterized by the various attempts to ‘manage’ them so that one can prevent the process of its escalation that has the power to move a system within its boundaries of its normal perturbation towards an extreme position, where it can no longer be controlled and has the potential to cause considerable levels of damage. Here we need to understand the consequences of an extreme event rather than seeking to search for developed technologies of prognosticating their occurrence.

If we understand the possible harm that such ‘extreme events’ can cause, it would lead the outcome administrators to reflect on the process by which incidents can shoot up to generate considerable damage and how inadequate our understanding base is, which often depend around these processes.

Some organizations consider the nature of their past histories as evidence that they are ‘crisis prepared’ or ‘resilient’. The lack of sufficient information and evidence about the exact understanding of the possible harm of a particular catastrophic hazard is often seen as a ‘justification’ that the organization is prepared for such crisis. But what if these crisis takes the shape of an extreme event. The coping capacity of such organizations is largely a function of the assumptions that exist around controls, which work under a range of conditions and to an extent that they are able to cope with the task demands that they are generated by emergence.

If we look into the details then one arrives at a conclusion that there are few handful of managers who have an ‘Hand on’ experience of ‘crisis’ not necessarily an extreme event and that would allow them to manage these events with their own past histories he/she had undergone. Therefore the organizations need to engage in simulation exercises in order to ensure that managers have some experience of dealing with those processes around which the hazard might escalate. It would help if the mangers are also willing to consider the experience of other organizations, which are having similar experiences around such types of events. As crises are in essence, extreme events, our understanding of them will be a function of the observations that we can make ‘at a distance’ rather than by direct experimental learning.

However, what these extreme events do is to point to the manner in which managerial assumptions around control can generate the conditions in which catastrophic failures can occur. As such, they serve an important role in allowing us to develop strategies for coping with the consequences of extreme events or crisis by considering the range of impacts that such events can generate.

My assumption goes that these factors stated above may be lacking for what happened in Bhopal Gas Disaster in 1984. A deep look into these aspects and significant research with proper implementation of policies in these areas can help organizations, corporate and other agencies to tackle ‘extreme events’ more professionally and effectively.

Please Note: Incase, there is any mistake in the above data, kindly feel free to mail me at the e-mail address given below.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY – A NECESSITY FOR EFFECTIVE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

Emergency Management is a highly complex problem and has diverse manifestations. It’s a phenomenon which affects people in different ways and is the result of social, cultural, economic and political factors.  The links need to be found for analyzing a better Emergency Management. All crisis does not give rise to emergencies and the radical changes does not mean that it’s in negative. A Change may not necessary lead to the fulfillment of ones goal. The vision of the policy makers should be to assist the vulnerable and poor people to bring about positive change and to support their capacity to withstand adverse changes that may affect their social and economic developments. The changes should be made after proper thinking as any changes for the vulnerable people or the communities may give rise to a crisis that may overpower their capacity to cope and is a call for Emergency. Crisis is not only about this unexpected catastrophe but also the sum-up of this slow build-up of political, social, economic and environmental factors.

Along with all these issues, there is a combination of unexpected incident such as Cyclone, Flood, Earthquake, Drought or any other type of major accidents, which would definitely add to these changes in a very negative way. Hence, it is critical that relief interventions should aim to address these issues which are the standing parameters for a crisis and which leads to Disasters. It’s this inequity and poverty, which make people more vulnerable to the effects of Natural and Industrial Hazards. Environmental Degradation, which in itself is often poverty related may aggravate such hazards. It is a well known fact that Natural Resources are divided into two categories.  One is the renewable and the other is the non-renewable sources of energy. Human Beings would never lack vital materials if he/she would adjust his population size and resource demands at or below the level that allows the biogeochemical cycles to operate in such a way that materials as well as organizations are “reassembled” as fast they are “dispersed”. The shift from “special interest conservation” to “total ecosystem conservation” is helping to establish the fact in the minds of the general public that Human Beings is a part of a complex environment which must be studied, treated and modified as a whole and not on the basis of isolated “projects”. Hence Human Beings should take cautions while tampering with the Environment with lakes to draining, fillings, dredging, pollutions, stabilizations, mosquito control, algae control and the planting of any fish, which are able to swim. It’s we humans, who constrict them with levees and dams and then flush them with dredging, channelizations and floods and silt of bad farming.

These types of willingness may arise from three fallacies in thought. First each of these tampering is regarded as a separate project because it is carried out by disconnected projects by a separate bureau or profession, and as expertly executed because its proponents are trained, each in his own narrow field. The public does not know or understand that the bureaus may cancel one another and that expertness can cancel understanding. Second there is a notion that any materials built by constructed mechanism are better than the Natural ones. Third, we perceive organic behavior only in those organizations which we have built.

Its thus we human turn wise to tolerate a hasty type of tinkering and make radical amendment to our biotic constitution for our short term benefits. This can lead to a revolt of Ecology and can be rightly termed as ‘Ecological Backlashes’ or ‘Ecological boomerangs’. Thus it is right to define ecological backlash as an unforeseen detrimental consequences of an environmental modification which cancels out the projected gain or as is too often the case, actually creates more problems than it solves.


When it happens, it is a double tragedy since not only is the amount spent in remaking the landscape lost to bad investment but additional sums must then be spent to correct all the new problems created. Hence it is not possible for any independent agency to intervene in a strategic fashion without understanding the dynamics of change, to which there are many inter-related contributory factors, the most important are:

I} Environmental Degradation:

A)     Long Term processes producing patterns of vulnerability, such as environmental degradation.

When the human population of an area is small, poor land use may affect only the people who are guilty of bad judgment. As the population increases however, everyone suffers when land is improperly used because everyone eventually pay for rehabilitation or is now too often the case, everyone suffers a permanent loss of resources. A small example is if grasslands in low regions are plowed up and planted to wheat (poor land use), a “dust bowl” or temporary desert will sooner or later be a result.  If the grass cover is maintained and moderately grazed (good land use), no dust bowl will likely develop. It is a general observance that good land use planning has come only after human has first destroyed or damaged a landscape. It is just as the saying goes that Human does not seem to understand a system which he did not build and therefore he seemingly must partially destroy and rebuild before use limitations are understood.

One such factor which is of concern is: the soil conservation profession has tended to “sit on its laurels” and is failing to move with the times. For example, too much effort is now being devoted to creating more farmland by channelizing streams, draining marshes, swamps and so on, at great public expense when nothing is being done to save existing farmland from destruction by ill planned urban development. In general, soil conservation needs to go beyond its present rather exclusive farm range or forestry orientation to the consideration of the urban-rural landscape complex where the most pressing problems now exist.

One solution to these problems may be:

i)                    Cluster development: A cluster development of residential housing around village or town centers with each unit separated by broad green belts.

ii)                   By retaining stream valleys, steep slopes, lakes, marshes, aquifer recharge areas and waste disposal areas free from houses, buildings, and other high density uses. Without such planning, there might be no open space, and which would lead to the same kind of urban blight, chronic pollution and social disorder that we now observe in older, unplanned cities.

Generally, the short term profits that can be made by exploiting urban land are so huge that it is difficult for people to foresee the socio-ecologic backlashes and overshoots that accompany uncontrolled growth.

With the increase in population, food supplies will reduce resulting in increasing prices. Although as little as one third of an acre can produce enough calories to sustain one person, the kind of quality diet we want – one that includes a lot of meat, fruit and leafy vegetables – requires about 1.5 acres per person (Odum).

In other words, the size and quality of the “environmental house” should be an important consideration and not the number of resources; we can relentlessly squeeze from the earth. A reasonable goal could be to stress on the fact that a third of all land could be under open space use. The dependence of a city on the countryside for all its vital resources (food, water, air and so on) and the dependence of the country on the city for economic resources must become so widely recognized that the present political confrontation that exits between the rural and urban populations is obliterated. Somehow, environmental sciences and natural disaster management must be merged.

B)      Contingent or proximate event producing reductions in resources or entitlements, such as a Natural Disaster viz drought

Here comes the concept of biotic communities. A biotic community is any assemblage of populations living in a prescribed area or physical habitat. It is an extent that it is has characteristics additional to its individual and population components and functions as a unit through coupled metabolic transformations. It is the living part of the eco-system as indicated in a statement.

Biotic Communities is and should remain a broad term which may be used to designate natural assemblages of various stages from the biota of a log to that of a vast forest or ocean.  Major communities are those which are of sufficient size and completeness of organization that they are relatively independent.

The community concept is important in the practice of ecology because it is seen that as the communities grows so is the growth of an organism. Thus often the best way to “control” a particular organism whether we wish to encourage or discourage it, is to modify the community, rather than to make a direct “attack” on the organism.  Let’s take an example; it is often observed that mosquitoes can often be controlled more efficiently and cheaply by modifying the entire aquatic community (it can be done by fluctuating the water level, for example) than by attempting to poison the organism. Lets take the example of “weeds” thrive under continual disturbance of the soil and the best way to control weeds along a road side, for example is to stop scarping and plowing up road shoulders and way sides and encourage the development of a stable vegetation in which the weeds can not compete.  Hence, human welfare similarly depends on the nature of the communities and ecosystems upon which HE/SHE superimposes his/her culture.

All these add to trauma of the residents, when there is a sudden Natural Disaster like Cyclones, Hurricanes, Earthquakes etc. Environmental Mitigation measures are the need of the hour.

II} Sustainable Livelihoods:

The real basis for assessing the appropriateness of any type of intervention is an understanding of livelihood systems and the strategies in which people are already engaged, the problems which they face and the ways in which they are adapting to changing environmental and economic conditions. The notion of “livelihood” systems” takes into account the wide range of people’s roles, activities, personal capacities and resources, which make up the way they make a living; and how these elements are related to each other.

Its here comes the concept of serving the poor profitability. These are the people who have great needs, but they can’t express their needs in a way which may matter to markets. Markets seem to avoid the needs as it doesn’t bring profit and hence poor always tends to remain poorer. It’s where Government and corporate houses comes into play and try to make a difference. But today Corporate Social Responsibility seemed to break that ‘tax free’ attitude and has come for the betterment of the World as more World Business Leaders tries to come forward with their aim to improve the smaller parts of the World where there presence is left.

Even if there are many allegations to the fact that CSR is for branding and bring a good image to the members of the public as well as to the stakeholders, but there are always positive things attached to it. CSR contributes for the betterment of atleast few marginalized sections of the Society. Well, in practical the number far exceeds our imagination. For example Mittal Steel at Kazakhstan owned and operated a Steel Plant and to make the place better Mittal Steel also renewed the tramways, the power plants, the hotels and the Stadiums and developed Social activities such as children’s camps. This was a need for the ordinary people for good infrastructure, good education. A dream of theirs filled by one Corporate through their CSR. That’s development. It’s all about helping the targeted communities and also doing Business. A win and win situation for both the community as well as the Corporate.

One practical approach as done by some American Corporate is to allow the Industry take a leadership role to the social problems and find the ways to a sustainable livelihood in even the remote parts of the Country. It would bring funds to run these social projects effectively. It’s like Industry houses searching ways to align self interest with the larger good of the society.  When business backs philanthropic initiatives with real corporate muscle and expertise, things can drastically improve at the remote areas of a country, since in addition to cash they are providing nonprofits with managerial advice, technological and communications support, and teams of employee volunteers and they are not just funding those initiatives not only for philanthropy budgets but also from business units such as marketing and human resources. In the process, corporate houses may like to form strategic alliances with non-profits and emerging as important partners in movements for social change while advancing their business goals. These are not short term goals but needs a planning for long term management of the issues, which are addressed above.

Hence the results may not show its flavor in the present as we still believe in our notion of giving relief to the persons who are in urgent needs, but surely would give dividends in the future. There are still millions, who don’t have nutritious food. They don’t have proper house to live in. The amazing innovations that we are proud of i.e. Computers, Good Food, Technologies etc generally passes by. They remain in the same place with no growth. Yet, when we talk about development and social reforms we talk of elevating the lives of those who are not so much fortunate.

This is the reason; we need successful interventions so that they contribute to long term impacts on poverty and well being. It’s when there is Social and Environmental Sustainability; we would move a step ahead in successful applications of Disaster Management Planning and Policies and in turn would move towards a Safer India for us as well as for our future generations.

Thanks a lot for reading.
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Please send your feedback in the e-mail address given below.
Thanks and Regards,
Mr. Mainak Majumdar
Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant