The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) - formerly Focus Humanitarian Assistance - began its operations in India in 2002. It started with emergency response, relief and recovery, which have quickly become priority areas. In India, AKAH has responded to major disasters across the country, and implements various disaster risk reduction activities to strengthen the capacity of local communities to prepare for and respond to disasters. An effective response strategy ensures the timely deployment of resources, including relief items, through AKAH’s network of volunteers.
Emergency Management teams trained by AKAH aim to build resilience against disaster events and build the capacity of community members in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM). The project also works to improve risk anticipation through the establishment of an Early Warning System (EWS). AKAH has so far trained tens of thousands of volunteers for disaster response and management across Central and South Asia, and many more in the other countries in which it works.
Preparedness & mitigation initiatives
Disaster management plans: AKAH India facilitates the development of crisis management plans at the local and regional level that cater specifically to vulnerable communities. The plans are prepared by the community and integrate critical prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and response elements. AKAH India has developed its own Geographic Information System (GIS) that helps capture, manipulate, store, analyse, manage, and present all types of geographical data for disaster management. Through its Family Disaster Management Plan (FDMP) project, AKAH has also increased awareness about hazards and vulnerability at the family level and assisted in the development of personalised family disaster management plans.
Awareness programmes on Disaster Risk Reduction: The Disaster Awareness Programme aims to educate the local communities on the contents of their crisis management plans as they take into account risk and response measures. The ‘Safe You Safe Me’ campaign, launched in 2013, is another initiative that aims to generate awareness on disaster preparedness and build community resilience. The campaign toolkit comprises of materials such as placards, posters, films, handouts and flipcharts that deliver key messages related to earthquakes, fires, floods and cyclones.
Local capacity building: AKAH India’s community-based volunteer network is comprised of specialised teams including a Disaster Assessment and Response Team (DART), an internationally accredited Search and Rescue Team (SART), Disaster Management Deputies (DMDs) and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). It currently has approximately 2,000 volunteers trained in basic community-based disaster risk reduction techniques such as first aid, fire fighting, and search and rescue.
Safety drills: Fire evacuation drills have helped establish safe and systematic evacuations in case of a fire along with an evacuation plan that was developed in close coordination with local leaders. Every year, AKAH India participates in the AKDN ShakeOut, a global annual earthquake drill that educates people on how to protect themselves in the event of an earthquake.
Hospital safety initiative: AKAH India delivered a hospital safety module at the Prince Aly Khan Hospital in partnership with the Public Health Foundation of India. Key milestones from the project included an assessment module followed by several trainings, evacuation drills, the formation of task forces and establishing crisis management plans in addition to conducting comprehensive reports and recommendations to further enhance safety through structural and non-structural measures.
School and hostel safety programmes: In light of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 and Priority 3 of the Hyogo Framework (2005 to 2015) to use knowledge, education and innovation to build a culture of safety at all levels, AKAH India reached out to children with comprehensive school and hostel safety programmes. Stakeholders from different levels of management and students were enlisted to put in place a system supplemented by trainings that built basic capacity to deal with various crises on the school premises. A scientific risk model was developed that used well-defined indicators to calculate risk scores for each school before and after the project. A stockpile of supplies was also set up in most of the project schools.
In 2007, under the Disaster Preparedness Programme of the European Commission for Humanitarian Assistance (DIPECHO I), AKAH India supported by the Aga Khan Foundation (UK) implemented a 15-month project to enhance the disaster resilience of communities through school safety. The project covered 25 private schools. A baseline survey showed that these schools had the highest degree of risk to disasters due to their location. School safety trainings covered emergency drills, establishing emergency task force teams, the production of teacher and student disaster preparedness materials, and training in first aid and fire safety. AKAH India developed a school disaster preparedness module at the end of the project, which has been revised and refined based on field experience to form a model that can be replicated across other disaster-prone states.
Between 2009 and 2010, AKAH India implemented DIPECHO II in 18 villages of Gujarat. The primary objective of this project was to strengthen the capacity of rural communities in Gujarat, and to enable them to be better prepared, mitigate and respond to natural disasters thus reducing their vulnerability through the implementation of sustainable disaster risk initiatives. It also covered school safety in 12 private schools, aimed at schoolchildren, teachers and school administration. Following the success of the DIPECHO I and II projects in Gujarat, AKAH has replicated the School Safety Programme in Baramulla District as a part of the Kashmir Rehabilitation Programme. In all projects, AKAH takes into account the cultural nuances of the areas in which it works. This approach has enabled the school safety project to be a model for the Kashmir Rehabilitation Programme.
Stockpiles: Emergency stockpiles of essential relief items have been set up by AKAH India, which can be mobilised in the event of a disaster.
Civil society collaboration: AKAH India partners with like-minded organisations to provide expert knowledge and quality resources to a range of projects and to build capacity to respond to disasters.
- In 2012, AKAH India’s SART provided search and rescue training to emergency response government personnel under the Delhi Emergency Management Exercise (DEMAX). Training programmes were designed to harness the strengths and capabilities of emergency responders, police, fire and rescue services, educational institutions, hospitals, humanitarian agencies and paramilitary forces.
- In collaboration with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), AKAH India designed and implemented a module to train school teachers in disaster preparedness. In 2015, 400 government schools in Gujarat including students and teachers participated in ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in the world that originated in California, USA and is designed to reduce the risk of death and injury by practicing earthquake safety procedures. AKAH facilitated the participation of 102,180 people across India in the AKDN ShakeOut drill in 2015. Participants of the ShakeOut are taught what to do in the event of an earthquake: Drop, Cover and Hold On when the earth shakes.
AKAH India also works closely with non-governmental and international agencies including the European Commission, Global Affairs Canada, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Health Services.
Over the years, AKAH India has responded to a range of incidents including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, and a tsunami amongst other emergencies. Some of the significant response activities include:
- Gujarat Earthquake, 2001: In response to the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Gujarat in 2001, AKAH along with sister AKDN agencies implemented a Multi-Sector Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme in Kutch District. Of the 21 districts affected, four were hit particularly hard. Kutch District was one of them. There was significant damage to hospitals, schools, electric power and water systems, bridges and roads. The programme has built disaster-resistant houses and two rural education centres. Community-managed drinking water supply systems have been set up. Water harvesting structures are reversing groundwater depletion. New clinics offering primary health care services to women and children were established. Savings and credit schemes have helped people regain their livelihoods. Disaster preparedness and management training for villagers is also conducted to build local capacity.
- Kashmir Earthquake, 2005: AKAH immediately responded to the earthquake providing winterised tents, blankets and warm clothing to nearly 400 families in 14 isolated villages. Subsequently, AKAH implemented a 3-year earthquake rehabilitation programme, which reached more than 2,250 households and 9,500 beneficiaries in 17 villages.
- Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2005: In response to the tsunami, AKAH provided relief aid in the state of Andhra Pradesh to approximately 4,000 people who benefitted from food kits comprising of rice, lentils, oil and other nutrients. Non-food items such as blankets, tarpaulins, bed and ground sheets, towels , kitchen utensils and clothing were also distributed.
- Gujarat Floods, 2005: AKAH provided food to approximately 4,500 families, which reached over 20,000 beneficiaries.
- Cyclone Ogni, 2006: In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, AKAH distributed food to over 7,000 people (1,470 families) and 184 food packets for children in 15 villages for two days.
- Post Indian Ocean Tsunami Project: In August 2009, AKAH completed its 3-year Andhra Pradesh Relief to Development (APR2D) Project, which stemmed from the devastating South Asian tsunami of December 2004 that claimed close to 200,000 lives and wiped out homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. The APR2D project reached over 4,000 families in 15 affected communities in Krishna District, helping improve the ability to cope in times of disaster. The aim of this project was to strengthen the capacities of communities at the local level to prepare, mitigate, prevent and respond to natural and man-made disasters. The project also aimed to reduce vulnerability from health and hygiene risks, establish partnerships with key stakeholders and disseminate knowledge and best practices while enhancing gender equality in the area.