Children play a key role – Disaster risk reduction in Pune

What have drawing lessons got to do with disaster risk reduction? How can an illiterate person carry out a risk analysis? The RISK Award Project 2015 in Pune provides us with the answers to these questions.

It has been a year since the All India Institute for Local Self-Government won the RISK Award in 2015. Munich Re Foundation joined AIILSG for a field trip and evaluated the project's progress in February 2016. The NGO is implementing an ambitious programme to prove that the risks for slum residents ensuing from disasters can be dramatically reduced – with simple methods and means. This interesting project is based on several different pillars.

Self-dependent risk analysis
Our project partner has developed an innovative instrument for risk analysis that allows the community authorities in the slums to take independent action – even without a scientific background. Instead of using complicated questionnaires reflecting the diverse disaster scenarios, self-explanatory pictograms and a sign language have been developed on the basis of emoticons. The slum residents now have a simple method of assessing their situation themselves and informing the project partners accordingly, even though they might not be able to write. The instrument is called "Self-Assessment and Planning Tool (SAP Tool)". It will not only be used in the RISK Award project areas but also for medium-term risk analysis in many of India's slums and beyond.

The customary risk analysis questionnaires are being replaced by pictograms and emoticons.

Women's self-help groups strengthen the community
Analyses carried out by the United Nations show that women and children are disproportionately impacted by disasters. The reasons are many and varied. They often have less access to education, they go to work or take care of the household, and consequently are sometimes less mobile than men. Women are therefore often underrepresented in the risk planning measures of the communities and committees. The RISK Award project aims to change this and integrates women into the measures from the very start. They learn in self-help groups how to prepare for different risks. 

This can include simple things such as safe handling of gas canisters, the use of a fire-extinguisher or participation in First Aid courses. The measures also extend to complex evacuation drills in the event of a landslide or earthquake. What is important is that responsibility is gradually transferred to the women and that they can independently qualify other women in the slums to become trainers. "This not only strengthens the resilience of the entire community but also the status of the women themselves", emphasises Shweta Gupta (AIILSG). The slums in Pune are divided into sections by straight lanes. Each of these lanes consists of roughly 20 to 40 households housing approximately five people respectively. For each lane in the project area, up to three women were appointed to take responsibility for a well-equipped first-aid package, hang up posters with emergency numbers in the community area, and organise further training measures.


Dhage Deepa looks over the Janata Vasahat slum on the Parvati Hills. It is located on a steep slope. Each monsoon season triggers grave landslides that sweep whole houses away.

Children are the key
When disaster risk reduction is at stake, we must think in long-term categories to ensure sustainable success. It is not enough to conduct one training exercise, such as an evacuation drill, and then believe that everything is safe and well, that people are prepared. Following the correct and efficient procedures in a dangerous situation must become an automatic response. This is the only way to save as many people as possible when disaster strikes. A a result, AIILSG is making every effort to begin training as early as possible. Already primary school children are being informed and trained. Different kinds of media are used to make classes interesting and playful. Street plays are one possibility, along with puppet shows, drawing competitions and drills in the community centres. At first glance, the training measures appear to be a bundle of fun for the children. However, they are also a playful method of bringing the messages across successfully and enduringly. If the children go home to their parents and see, for example, that a gas canister is not stored correctly, that an uninsulated cable is running next to a water tap, or that hazardous waste is simply being disposed of, they raise voices of warning in their own homes. 

Children in the community centre of the Mahatma Gandhi Vasti slum pay close attention during a lesson on risk prevention.

The slums in Pune are just the beginning
Pune has more than 440 slums with several thousand residents. Each! Approximately one fifth of Pune's residents lives on or below the poverty threshold. The RISK Award project is being launched in ten slums with the aim of making them safer against disasters. In the long term, the measures are to be extended to include all of Pune. The potential is tremendous.

In addition to this, AIILSG wants to examine whether the SAP tool and the formation of self-help task forces also make sense in semi-urban and rural areas. The organisation has chosen the small town of Medha in the Satara district as the target region. Earthquakes, landslides, droughts, spring tides and flooding form a dangerous mix in this area. Initial contacts are being set up with the schools, and once again it is the children who are important as first voices for the project. 

During the work with the small children and the women in Pune, it quickly became clear that a further group of people must be integrated more closely: the adolescents. They are the trainers of tomorrow and are on the interface between school, training and professional life. AIILSG is trying to anchor knowledge on disaster risk reduction more firmly in this area too by cooperating with the universities. Joint training courses and seminars are being offered, for example at the Yashwantrao School of Social Work in the Satara District and at the Bharati Vidyapeeth University in Pune. To underscore how important also young people are, Prof. Mukesh Kanaskar, Head of AIILSG, speaks of a movement: "Young people must realise that they are important pillars of our society. They can contribute a lot to safety. For this reason we are founding the 'My DRR' initiative: Movement of Youths for DRR." If disasters are made a priority for everyone – men, women, adolescents and children alike – Pune and many other regions in India and elsewhere will be much safer.

CB, 09 March 2016


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