Where expertise in Development Studies reaps benefits is during a time of crisis. Disaster lays open any society for interrogation where it is destabilized to the core and this is where reforms can take place. What DS brings into the picture is the multidimensional approach needed for the last mile connectivity and solutions. Disasters often catch up with the prediction and projections that help understand the magnitude any disaster can go up to. And quite often, disasters are a result of friction between expertise and domains who fail to work in harmony and where DS can help mitigate is through finding solutions on a middle ground. The rift between saving the environment and generating power can be bridged by using alternative forms of energy.
Amartya Sen's work on Poverty and Famine signify that famines are most often caused by man-made decisions rather than the wrath of nature. It is interventions and analysis like these that remind us to have social interventions that seek to empower the poor than to anticipate a monsoon failure.
Disaster is a particular time when the social inequalities that were buried deep down surfaces to expose the bundle of lies that nurses the system. To that the instance of COVID-19 in case of India. I shall intentionally use the word migrant to describe the Indians stuck abroad who were brought home by the state machinery during the crisis. However, the daily wage migrants were left with no option but to walk 400kms to their homes in the North. Where the international migrants were screened in the airport, the internal migrants were sprayed with disinfectants on arrival.
Even the prevention that this crisis seeks in the name of social distancing is a matter of privilege. To be in a house with separate rooms to isolate yourself with a steady supply of essentials is what this is. Can the same be applied to Dharavi? Of course not. And how does even account for the rise of domestic violence after social distancing?
What becomes important is to understand at what level of hierarchy do we plan our preventive or curative measures, does it do justice to the least privileged? And this has often to do with the access that any individual has directly with the state machinery.
The commencement of any disaster is a matter of debate since there are disasters which are measured on the visible destruction, for example, the Haiti earthquake, then there are some that become a matter of conscious, famines when we talk about that, then there are some which will have no underlying symptoms but will create havoc, the 2008 financial crisis. Also, it becomes a matter of privilege to when any disaster in a real sense begins, the plague wasn't really a concern till it reached Europe. And like any receding tide, it ceases to exist when the privileged are no longer affected.
At a conceptual level, every disaster has a making. Chernobyl wasn't one day in the making, it was a result of scientific negligence on part of the state. It became a disaster the day ideology trumped science, the blowout was the result of the making.
At the same time, any disaster continues to exist in forms and ways which are mostly not visible to the naked eye. Bhopal Gas Tragedy leaves every new generation with lifetime health issues, therefore we cannot claim that the tragedy ceases to exist. The trauma and scars that are left are often the markers of the perennial reminder of the disaster.
The state has an overarching yet translucent role in the production and management of disasters. It is in the legitimacy of the state that helps enforce the production of any disaster in the dark and the claim to act in case of managing it. On top of that, it becomes interesting how the state as an institution in times of disaster assumes the paramount role and the language of the domain under threat. In the case of Covid-19, the language of the state becomes the language of science. Similarly, on a global scale, the state becomes the representative of the individual, the state then becomes the individual, while the individual becomes numerical. In the case of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Indian state took upon itself to represent the victims, therefore, denying them their voices. It is this conflict between legitimacy, language and representation that the state lapses to produce a disaster and ironically arms itself with the same for managing it.