“Disasters affect everyone, but impact the poor and vulnerable”– A touching note by Arbind Kumar Mishra, Honorable Member, National Planning Commission, Nepal, as he addressed the participants at the UNESCAP Training Workshop on Disaster Risks specific to South and South-West Asia in Kathmandu, Nepal on October 30.
Asia-Pacific, as the world’s most disaster-prone region, has shouldered the burden of more than two million lives lost with economic damage of approximately $1.3 trillion between 1970 and 2016. Add to that the woeful living conditions that plague the region, and the loss becomes unquantifiable. The region accounts for over half of the world’s absolute poor living under the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.
In a region where development is already occurring at a snail’s pace, disasters reverse the development gains. It would not be incorrect to say that the disasters are actually outpacing the development efforts. In developing economies, the annual losses due to natural disasters account for 2.5% of the GDP. Disasters widen the socio-economic disparity, make the poor poorer, and lead to more conflicts. The loss a disaster brings in, impacts not only the physical and financial health of an economy, but the psychological well-being of the people. The effects last much longer than accounted for.
It’s futile to fight nature; it’s likely to overpower. So, why not focus towards building our own abilities to combat the wrath. This is what the UNESCAP Training Workshop focuses on. By bringing together experts on disaster risk reduction from nine countries; India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, it provides an excellent platform for exchanging ideas and best practices that can help the countries learn from each other and consequently achieve better preparation, prevention and response with respect to disasters.
Interestingly, while detailing their disaster management efforts in their respective countries, almost every speaker at the workshop reiterated the fact that ‘technology’ is the driving factor for a better, safer world. Be it modeling through early warning systems or using decision support systems to understand which disaster is going to affect or affecting which area the most, the preparation can become better, efforts can be more directed and response can be faster.
Satellite imagery is already enabling the world to combat disaster risks and carry out more effective response, and the developing economies must follow suit. Few efforts have been made, but increased use of technologies including geospatial is required to be prepared in a better way. We need more systems like the Tsunami Early Warning System developed by INCOIS. It is also very necessary to make such applications affordable. Only when the technology use becomes so widespread that it becomes a household name, we can think of making it affordable.
As Michael Williamson, Officer-in-Charge, Subregional Office for South and South-West Asia, ESCAP puts it, “Space applications can really aid in disaster risk management. With more and more satellites being put in the orbit, the technology is going to be cheaper in the coming days. This will help the community be more prepared for disasters.”
Governments of developing economies must seriously consider investing in technologies for disaster risk reduction. Geospatial information management is necessary. The returns would go beyond monetary concerns. The number of lives early warning systems and mapping using remote sensing technologies can save will make any investment seem small.
Collaboration between countries is another crucial factor achieving for disaster risk reduction. Disasters do not know political boundaries. Earthquakes in Nepal or Bhutan affect India and Bangladesh. Rivers flow beyond boundaries, so floods impact lives beyond political boundaries. In such a scenario, cooperation is vital.
Asia-Pacific countries agreed on a regional roadmap for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the 4th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in 2017. The roadmap identifies priority areas of regional cooperation for the means of implementation and partnerships, as well as six thematic areas including disaster risk reduction and resilience that correspond to major challenges still faced particularly in South Asia.
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017 published by UNESCAP highlights that developmental response to disaster risks must consider sub-regional specificities of shared vulnerabilities and disaster risk. A better understanding of the sub-regional specificity would facilitate cooperation among countries and enhance the capacity of member States, particularly least developed countries and land-locked developing countries to implement risk-sensitive sustainable development strategies, monitor the progress, and report their results towards pursuing the SDGs.
The UNESCAP Training Workshop is an effort to promote such cooperation. As experts from the nine participating countries share their experiences, learning and future plans, everyone in the room is motivated to do more once they reach back home. An area where a wide disparity is observed is the use of technology to manage disasters. While a few developing economies have started actually walking the talk, others seem to be still grappling with the intricacies of ideating and implementation. The gap between the industry and academia seems to a daunting issue here. However, the future seems bright. With everyone on board agreeing with the fact that technology is the answer to most of the worries, we can expect to see happier faces in this part of the world sooner!