Asia-Pacific fighting climate change (2012-02-27)
The region needs to bring people from different disciplines of endeavor, ranging from the natural to engineering sciences, together to work for disaster risk management
By Komal Raj Aryal
There is mounting evidence that Asia and the Pacific are undergoing weather patterns more extreme than previously experienced, attributable to the effects of global climate change. Reduction of the impact of climate change is gaining importance in the international agenda.
Increasing intensity and frequency of climatic hazards are impacting negatively upon environmental and socio-economic systems. As disasters such as flooding, mudslides, forest fires, cold waves and heat waves and storm surge, decreases in ground water are issues in the arena of governance of sustainable development in the region.
Many countries from the region are struggling to cope with frequent disasters that are believed to originate from climate change. In the last three years we have seen major floods and mudslides induced by high intensity rain in of Korea, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Vanuatu, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Disaster risks associated with climate change have the potential to affect us all and the indications are that the risks, both in Asia and the Pacific region and globally, are likely to increase in the future.
Finding ways to avoid the impacts of climate change is a major challenge to all. The geography of Asia and the Pacific is complex, encompassing as it does, everything from the rural mountainous area of Nepal to the urban and sophisticated area of Songdo Future City of Incheon. In rural Asia, the economy relies upon agriculture whereas in urban Asia the economy is dependent upon industries and infrastructures.
In the past 50 years, Asia was extensively engaged in industrial production for local, regional and global consumption. At the same time, various urban centers of Asia have emerged as major hubs for global economy. The by-products of high-tech manufacturing are increasing and as a result climates are changing, leading to frequent localized disasters that affect the global economy.
The experience of flooding on Thailand’s economy, according to BBC news on Feb. 20, is: “Thailand’s economy has declined sharply. Major local and multinational companies including Honda and Sony have been affected by flooding. These industries have had to cut their profit margins as production disruptions became commonplace.”
People in Asia and the Pacific have been living with risk for a long time. The history of climate change related disasters in region is notorious and well documented. Recent events include Cyclone Nargis which killed a reported 138,000 people in Myanmar in 2008; the 2010 floods in Pakistan which directly affected an estimated 20 million people; 2011 flooding in Australia, Thailand and the Philippines; 2011 urban landslides and heavy rain in Korea; and extensive wildfires in Russia during 2010, attributed to the combination of drought and extreme temperatures.
The impact associated with such events is widespread and increasingly complex, as society, infrastructure and our relationship with the environment becomes more intertwined and interdependent.
My experience with historical disaster events in Nepal shows that repeated climatic disasters push already affected communities to vicious poverty cycles. On the one hand, frequent small-scale disasters have a greater impact in terms of casualties than large-scale ones. On the other hand, repeated disasters encourage industries to relocate to areas where the frequencies of disasters are low, thereby reducing economic opportunities for the people living in and around the disaster-prone areas. This leaves local communities at risk of hunger.
It is time to work together to reduce risk at the local level to control our future changes in the way we operate within our world. Firstly, we need to bring people from different disciplines of endeavor, ranging from the natural, social, physical and engineering sciences, together to work for disaster risk management. Secondly, we need to reach consensus about how to integrate risk management as a foundation within science. The United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action HFA (2005-2015) in 2005.
Since then United Nations organizations have been accelerating disaster risk reduction activities as a way to improve the capacity of all nations to reduce the impact of natural hazards. Huge amounts of funding have been allocated to facilitate the implementation of existing plans.
However, the midterm evaluation report recommends more education and training activities before implementing HFA local level plans. The sustainability and effectiveness of initiatives depend on the leadership of the institute that initiates resilience building in the region.
In the context of disaster risk reduction in Asia and the Pacific, we need a thorough local socio-political risk analysis, to support current objectives. At present, local level interventions are primarily of the “project” and not of the “process” type; they fit the notions of risk management initiatives at a local level rather than local based risk management as such.
Ownership and sustainability of the processes and results are therefore in question and, consequently, so is the role that local risk reduction can play in sustainable development governance. Disaster effects are wide reaching. Disasters are increasing.
Unless everyone is involved in the relevant risk avoidance activities, somebody (and it might be you) will suffer the consequences. But the worst thing is that it is very likely that the population impacted will be universal. Disaster effects at a local level seem avoidable but repeated disaster events of increasing magnitude will soon be unavoidable.
Resources in the disaster impact areas will become increasingly difficult to access or generate and this will have a national impact through food supply and industrial manufacturing, which will then generate an international impact.
This is not an isolated phenomenon; disasters are proliferating and climate change is involved in the process. Halt climate change and you will at least slow the process of deterioration.
On using local analyses of vulnerability, risk would promote a more comprehensive, localised view of risk and its causal factors. But participatory local climatic risk analysis is still organised from the perspective of disaster risk and very often not as part of an overall diagnosis of local development activities needed and the factors that promote disaster resilience locally. More often than not it is climate change and therefore climatic disaster risk that is at the center of concern and not development in a more general sense. It is of global and local importance that Asia and the Pacific get a handle on this situation while we still have the opportunity.
Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015
1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation
2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning
3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels
4. Reduce the underlying risk
5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels
Dr. Komal Aryal, currently at Northumbria University in Britain, is exploring disaster vulnerability in different geographical areas. His current research explores local risks and the impact of these risks on local environment. This research has been used to develop local risk and resilience tools (LRRT). The aims of LRRT are linked with current and future development needs associated with local and global sustainability. He has organized more than 70 local, national and international events in Nepal, Japan, Korea, Bangladesh, India, Panama, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Denmark. Monitoring local risks and communicating them to appropriate communities may help to reduce the impact of future disasters.
In recent years every government in Asia and the Pacific has had to cope with the effects of a substantial number of weather related incidents exposing the vulnerability of their populations. Climate change can affect sustainable development governance in two ways; a slow onset impact (drought, prolonged wet periods) and sudden rapid impact (typhoons, floods, heavy snow, long dry or wet spells, glacial lake overflow, landslides).
Often, the sudden rapid impact of climate change will come without warning leaving the population little or no time to react. Experience of previous incidents has shown that such events are rarely straightforward and often leave victims in a vulnerable state. Government departments at all levels are then faced with complex situations.
People have been known to have survived the slow onset impact of climate change for many years and have developed adaptation strategies. Recent increases in the sudden rapid impact of climate change means that governments in Asia and the Pacific region should expect these types of incidents every year.
To manage the complex and multiple impacts of sudden and rapid climate change events, the government departments have a responsibility to integrate risk reduction and adaptation strategies jointly and apply a cross-cutting approach for sustainable development governance. Following the publication of the HFA reports from NGOs, development banks and other agencies have repeatedly highlighted the role and duties of government in overseeing disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) integration.
However, it is seldom the case that strategies for strengthening institutional capacities are identified. The focus is often on improving community awareness and all too often cultivating awareness within and across governmental communities is overlooked.
While it is reasonable to expect that all the heads of government departments have an understanding of the vulnerability, risks, hazards and the principles of DRR and CCA, it is likely that specialized training will be required for the individuals charged with developing and implementing policy depending on the scale and complexity of the local situation. The extent to which DRR-CCA policy integration for sustainable development governance is carried out is a matter for individual department heads and it is likely that decisions will be based on comprehensive pre- and post-disaster risk assessments.
A proactive stance allows sustainable development governance through government integration of DRR and CCA. For this reason, pre-disaster risk assessment is considered a key component of the approach. For this I like to recommend a procedural approach for integrating DRR and CCA into development planning across all sectors of national government using the following five-step approach:
Many governments in Asia and the Pacific region have separate central departments for dealing with disaster risk and for dealing with climate change adaptation. Both departments are designed to tackle risk locally. These departments should either be combined, forming a new DRR and CCA department or encouraged to form a joint coordination body at the central (national) level to oversee integrated risk and adaptation policy formulation.
Both departments will consist of team members who have valuable knowledge on DRR and CCA in regional and international contexts and a merging of this information will facilitate a more streamlined and efficient perspective for evolving DRR and CAA strategies for sustainable development governance plans.
All national government departments should liase with the centralized DRR and CCA department or joint coordination body to ensure that all departments obtain an operational knowledge-base for integrating risk reduction and adaptation into the departmental policies and programmes. This will also ensure continuing interoperability with HFA 2005-2015 and the National Adaptation Program and procedures as government officials develop their own capacities and understanding.
The purpose of the five steps (in the diagram) is to provide awareness on integrated DRR and CCA policy, departmental coordination and operational procedures relevant to minimize the impact on sustainable development governance in Asia and the Pacific region. It must be emphasized, however, that this is only guidance: Each disaster is different and each government will need to exercise professional judgment to reduce the impact locally according to the circumstances present.
For sustainable development governance to be successful, local risk assessment needs to be implemented at all levels of government, across all sectors. Cross-sector working will be essential to avoid the emergence of duplicated or conflicting policies.
The best practices and policies should be disseminated between local, national, regional and international levels to maximize knowledge-sharing and strategy effectiveness. As well as information dissemination in the form of seminars, providing those in other sectors with the opportunity to observe practical examples of local risk assessment policies being implemented on the ground can often serve to strengthen the understanding of what sustainable development governance can achieve.