West Bengal is among the most critically disaster-prone states in India. Natural disasters are common phenomena in West Bengal due to its multi-hazard profile. The southern districts of South and North 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and East Midnapore are highly exposed to cyclone. Almost all districts except part of Bankura and Darjeeling are prone to floods.
The northern districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri come under Zone V of high earthquake probability. The remaining part of these two districts, along with the districts of Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, 24 Paraganas (south & north) lie in Zone – IV. The rest of the state along with Kolkata lies in Zone – III expect some portions of Purulia, Bankura and West Medinipur. Small part of Purulia, Bankura and Medinipur lies in Zone – II.
Landslides are common features in the northern mountains, while land erosion due to river inundation and high tide are regular in central and southern districts. As the southern part of the state begins in the below sea level areas of the Sundarbans and extends through the deltaic plains of the Ganges, and rapidly rises in the north into the tea gardens and the Himalayas, the state is highly vulnerable to multi hazard proneness.
Cyclones, floods, landslides and drought are all annual features in the state, causing different degrees of disasters and humanitarian challenges. Such challenges have serious impact on overall development mainly service delivery of different flagship programmes as well as on livelihood, resulting in reduction in the agricultural, livestock and industrial production.
West Bengal is more concerned with Agricultural Drought which is a prolonged period of abnormal moisture deficiency in different critical stages of crop growth. It differs fromdistrict to district and month to month as well. However, the effect of drought is much injurious than flood in terms of loss of agricultural crops and the impact on food availability. The districts of Bankura, Purulia, Birbhum and parts of West Midnapore have been affected by drought at regular intervals, mainly due to deficient rainfall and adverse soil conditions.
Impact of Disasters on Children
In West Bengal children constitute one third of the total population who are vulnerable to flood, cyclone, landslide and earthquake. The child population (0-17 years) in West Bengal constitutes 33 per cent of the total population (29.9 million) and adolescents (10-19 years) constitute 20 per cent (18.2 million ). By 2021, the population is expected to increase by an additional 10 million. Despite efficient planning and strategy building in implementation procedure of sector specific programmes, achievement setbacks are evident with higher exposure to natural disasters across districts. The reductions in levels of infant mortality (25 per 1000 live births), stunting (32.5 per cent), school dropout (5.8 per cent7 among boys) and early marriage (41.6 per cent) in hazard prone areas are slow indicating the urgent need of risk informed programme process. Hence there is always a higher risk to their rights and their lives.
West Bengal has achieved several milestones yet there are many areas which are yet to be developed with regards to human development. To achieve developmental outcomes in different sectors of public service, it has put stress on equity and social justice to provide access to basic services to stop denial of child rights and deprivation. In the pathway of achieving the social outcomes, it faces bottlenecks in the programme implementation due to heterogeneous exposure to natural and manmade hazards across districts. Moreover, poor and marginalized population are more vulnerable to shocks and stresses with higher exposure and weaker entitlement in the absence of proper preparedness, response and mitigation procedures. As a result, they slip back to deprivation again though there exist efficient sector specific policies.
With 80 per cent probability of flooding and cyclone every year, high number of deaths (<100) and injuries, high damage of crops, damage & disruption of services are common incidents affecting children’s well- being. Probability of very high destructive earthquake and landslide is over 60 per cent in any given period (No Forecast available). The state is vulnerable to earthquakes and it is in seismic zones II, III, IV and V that may cause damages to housing, hospitals, schools, disrupts water supply, transportation and other communications.
Conclusion: Given this backdrop, UNICEF West Bengal, Disaster Management & Civil Defence Department (DM&CD), West Bengal and Department of Women & Child Development and Social Welfare (DWCD&SW), West Bengal – have taken an initiative to start the process of risk informed programming after analysing the risks to children and impact of such risks on their survival, growth, development and protection. It will help to integrate risk-informed activities in the programme, make necessary adjustments in sector specific action plans and implement in such a manner that impact of disaster on programme intervention can be minimised.