Disaster response: Learnings from Kerala Floods

26 November, 2018

Dear HIFA colleagues,

On 15th August 2018, Kerala experienced its worst flood in nearly a century. With at least a million people evacuated, over 450 deaths and a few still missing, the floods impacted people throughout India.

I am a medical student at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal. My college opened a volunteer call to send an emergency response team to the disaster-hit Kerala for medical help on 19th August and there are a few crucial learning points that came out of the experience that I’d want to share with you all.

1) Strengthening local capacities- Community participation in health care is grossly undermined. The fishing community of Kerala moved quickly and participated in rescue operations shoulder to shoulder with the national rescue agencies. Fishermen alone saved almost 100,000-150,000 lives. This very well demonstrates the importance of local capacities to deal with disasters. There should be clearly articulated efforts to strengthen community capacities to cope with disasters. Suitable system and operational procedures should also be in place to extend government support to local community efforts during disasters. The fishermen of Kerala could achieve what they have, due to the support government extended to them.

2) Infrastructural modifications are a necessity- With increased investment in infrastructure, it is critical to plan buildings and cities with due regard given to their safety and operability during disasters. It was sad to see some critical infrastructure facilities like airports which were critical to mounting a response were shut as they were impacted to a very great extent.

3) The gap in medical education- There is a tremendous gap in medical education and disaster management training that needs to be addressed. Even after being in med school for 3 years, students lack preparedness for disaster management and in my view, the only way out would be introduction of drills and more practical teaching in the curriculum itself.

4) Focus on mental health is needed (and is of course quite undermined) and not only physical rehabilitation.

5) Strengthening public health awareness, especially for disasters. The floods were immediately followed by a huge jump in infectious skin and respiratory diseases and snake bites. The lack of awareness in the general public about preventing the spread of such diseases or their first aid proved to be a problem.

Does anyone have similar experiences or learning points they’d be willing to share? Please feel free to send your message to hifa@dgroups.org

Regards,

Poorvaprabha Patil

HIFA Assistant Moderator and Country Representative for India

HIFA Profile: Poorvaprabha Patil from India is an undergraduate medical student at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal. Poorvaprabha has a huge passion for the field of medicine and public health. She is a polyglot with a very deep curiosity for the various cultures and places in the world. She enjoys working with healthcare related NGO and INGOs.

Email: poorvapatil01 AT gmail.com