Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Building a more disaster-resilient India

Ally Carragher studied at the Bologna Center in 2012-13 and like most MA candidates is spending her second and final year at SAIS DC. An International Development concentrator, Ally recently traveled to India for her IDEV practicum.

Every four minutes a person is killed on India’s roads.

India holds the dismal distinction of being number one in the world for road fatalities. The deadliest roads are in the southern state of Kerala.

Those statistics haunted me as I loaded onto a tuk-tuk in Kerala as part of my International Development Practicum.

Ally's first tuk-tuk ride in Kerala
As a second-year IDEV student, I’m part of the inaugural practicum class. Three classmates and I are working on a year-long project, including two weeks in India, to address the strategic challenges of a real-world client: the Indian Institute of Emergency Medical Services (IIEMS).

The tragedy of India’s roads is not merely a consequence of chaotic drivers and congested roads. It also stems from a severely underdeveloped emergency medicine system.

When an accident occurs, few bystanders know how to react. A good Samaritan who wants to call an ambulance not only needs to know the number -- India lacks a national emergency number such as 911 in the U.S. -- but also must be living in a part of the country with ambulance service. Three out of every 10 accident victims die before reaching a hospital. Those who make it become patients of doctors who are not required to be trained in emergency medicine or trauma care.

It’s a terrifying prospect.

Spreading the word for IIEMS
This is where IIEMS comes in. The non-profit, founded by an Indian-American emergency medicine physician who splits his time between Kerala and Pennsylvania, and is supporting the development of India’s emergency medical system every step of the way: training medical professionals in life support and trauma, operating an ambulance service that helps patients regardless of their ability to pay and conducting public outreach events that equip community members with practical life-saving skills. It’s a small but dedicated team motivated by a commitment to saving lives.

So what does IIEMS want with four SAIS students? Despite the great work the staff is doing, funding is a constant concern, and they need help navigating the web of international donors, lenders and corporations that might be willing to support their efforts.

What is more, IIEMS is confronting a new challenge: how to increase India’s resilience through disaster-response capacity building and drill facilitation. India’s geography, climate, population density and infrastructure make it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, yet there is no comprehensive disaster response mechanism.

Our practicum team is designing a branding strategy, developing targeted promotional materials and presenting a plan for identifying new partnerships and funds to help the organization expand into the disaster space.

If all goes well, the next time I climb into a tuk-tuk in India I’ll be able to breathe just a little bit easier.

Ally Carragher (BC13/DC14)

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