Prof. Arup Dasgupta
June has been a month of disasters. In Canada, floods in Alberta resulted in the flooding of Calgary city leading to its evacuation. Similarly, flooding affected life in Christchurch in New Zealand. In Germany, the Elbe River flooded huge areas. In India, a cloudburst over Kedarnath, a pilgrimage site in the Himalayas, has created devastation. In all these cases, ithas been unusually heavy rains that created havoc, and the cost of recovery is in billions of dollars and timescales of 5 to 10 years. As governments come to terms with the cost and begin to prepare for recovery, individuals also have to come to terms with their losses in terms of damaged or destroyed homes, businesses and lives.
Insurers are going to be very busy, and coincidentally, this month we focus on how geospatial technology is being used to assess risk in deciding coverage and premia, and to compute damages and compensation. While this works well for movable and immovable properties, its extension to other areas is still evolving. For example, crop insurance is a major area of application. In developed countries, crop insurance is well known and there are commercial models to help farmers to evaluate their risks based on climate information and market intelligence. It is still at a nascent level in developing countries and tied up to government support. Determination of the quantum of support to individual farmers is not easy as most holdings are small. This is an area where geospatial technology should be brought to bear.
While debates on global warming and climate change can go on in seminar halls, extreme weather events and natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and drought will also continue to happen. As a part of risk mitigation, these events need to be understood and suitable early warning systems have to be put in place. This is a major arena for geospatial technologies. The insurance industry has understood the importance of this fast-evolving technology and is in the process of assimilating this into their evaluation system.
However, governments and local authorities do not seem to grasp the importance of the information provided by the application of geospatial systems to evaluate and mitigate risk. Thus, city developers build on floodplains, drainage is dammed indiscriminately, tectonically active zones are ignored while laying roads through mountainous regions, steep slopes are denuded of vegetation, and all this in the name of development. Short-sighted policies ignore long-term effects until nature strikes back and then the bickering over responsibility drowns out the cries of the affected. Administrators and vested interests make this out to be a battle between them and ‘the green brigade’. In reality both need to work together and find the golden mean through the use of geospatial systems.