Disaster management in IORA: Traversing Rhetoric & Reality
The 2016 World Risk Report rightly points out that since the energy and service sectors are getting increasingly privatised, the economic interests and constraints of the private sector pose further risks to countries affected by disasters. While new and better technologies are being rolled out by private agencies in the aftermath of a disaster, this often represents a false faith in technology especially when users are not trained. Issues of access, security and logistics remain controversial. For example, while drones are promoted for humanitarian rescue and relief, there remain issues of trust. – Dr Janki Andharia*
Given the history of sub-regional dynamics, trans-boundary political sensitivities and trust deficits, between countries, the idea of regional co-operation while undeniably significant and alluring, is in reality complex and poses several challenges, not to be overcome easily. Possessing a vision and garnering political support for co-operation and exchange requires enlightened leadership and wisdom at multiple levels. IORA member countries are diverse – in terms of their economic status, political stability, technological sophistication, demography, livelihoods, security concerns and physical geography.
The absence of critical infrastructure or its destruction in the aftermath of a hazard event make a country more vulnerable and amplify the impact of a disaster. These include natural hazards, conflicts, accidents or terrorist attacks. Cascading impacts on multiple sectors increase damage.
The Sendai Framework (2015-30), adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, recognizes the increasing impact of disasters and their complexity in many parts of the world and declares its determination to enhance efforts to strengthen disaster risk reduction in order to reduce the loss of life and assets caused by disasters around the world. It calls for unceasing and tireless collective efforts to make the world safer and better prepared for the risks posed by disasters in the decades to come.
Efforts of Regional Organisations such as SAARC Disaster Management Centre over a decade, while noteworthy, are viewed as superficial and lacking in meaningful impact. Associations for regional cooperation are in fact marred by lack of co-operation and mistrust. Further, long-term disasters, as a rule, have political causes as seen in the cases of Syria, Sudan, Yemen or Afghanistan. Issues of oversight, transparency and monitoring funds become very significant and agreements and frameworks for these must be developed.
Between 2005 and 2015, disasters have continued to impact the well-being and safety of persons, communities and countries. Over 700,000 people have lost their lives, over 1.4 million have been injured and aproximately 23 million have been made homeless as a result of disasters. Overall, more than 1.5 billion people have been affected by disasters in various ways and the total economic loss was more than $1.3 trillion. In addition, between 2008 and 2012, 144 million people were displaced by disasters. Disasters, many of which are exacerbated by climate change and which are increasing in frequency and intensity, significantly impede progress towards sustainable development. Evidence indicates that exposure of persons and assets in all the countries has increased faster than vulnerability has decreased, thus generating new risks and a steady rise in disaster-related losses, with a significant economic, social, health, cultural, and environmental impact in the short, medium and long-term, especially at the local and community levels.
The 2016 World Risk Report rightly points out that since the energy and service sectors are getting increasingly privatised, the economic interests and constraints of the private sector pose further risks to countries affected by disasters. While new and better technologies are being rolled out by private agencies in the aftermath of a disaster, this often represents a false faith in technology especially when users are not trained. Issues of access, security and logistics remain controversial. For example, while drones are promoted for humanitarian rescue and relief, there remain issues of trust.
Conflicts of interest in humanitarian work have been experienced often, especially as disaster situations become more complex. Besides, a debate rages over how humanitarian should relate to human rights. Should various actors denounce human rights violations that often leads to or complicate humanitarian distress (as was the case in Burma after the 2008 cyclone), or should they be content that humanitarian needs are being addressed and mute, if not avoid, the rights discourse?
Aid money is sometimes diverted to the military. While development requires security, development alone cannot bring security. In Afghanistan, the vast amounts of aid money to insecure parts of the country were often dangerous and ineffective. One section building schools in a contested area invited attacks by the other side. The Taliban attacks on schools skyrocketed. Building roads through conflict areas on schools skyrocketed. Building roads through conflict areas often resulted in construction workers being attacked and the roads being minded anyway. In places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, the perception of being allied with the ‘other side’ has resulted in increased attacks on aid workers: the number of violent attacks on them has more than doubled since 2003.
Despite these challenges, opportunities for regional co-operation that exist need to be valued and made more robust especially since Disaster Risk Management offers a fairly neutral agenda. Although national strategies for DRM very regional initiatives such as the IORA with its DRM focus, merit special support.
According to the Sendai framework, international, regional, sub-regional and trans-boundary cooperation remains pivotal for supporting the efforts of states, their national and local authorities, as well as communities and businesses, to reduce disaster risk. Existing mechanism may reqquire strenthening in order to provide effective support and achieve better implementation. Developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries and African countries, as well as middle income countries facing specific challenges, many of which are IORA membesrs, need special attention and support to augment domestic resources and capablities through bilateral and multicltural channels in order to ensure adequate, sustainable, and timely means of implementation in capacity-building, financial and technical assistance and technology transfer, in accordance with international commitments.
A mutual appreciation of disaster management frameworks entails an analysis of what regional activitieswould be useful to each country in order to prevent, mitigate and respond to disasters and the extent to which policies and programmes can be acceptable.
Joint trainings capacity building, exercises and drills around the management of disasters suc as oil sspills, floods and cyclone, and rescue and evacuation protocols may be considered. Sharing data for deccision support or early warning can be a step forward. Supporting the development of health infrastructure and networking may be worthwhile activities towards disaster preparedness and response and globalisation of response through networks and associations offers vast opportunities to strengthen supply chain management. Ideas such as using zeppelins to reach remote areas need financial and technical support. Finally, promotingcooperation between academic, scientific and research entities and networks and the private sector, would be useful in order to develop new products and services to help disaster risk, in particular those that would assist developing countries and their specific needs.
If the aim is to enhance resilience (as the Hyogo and Sendai Frameworks emphasise), individual countries and regions and international communities need to come together to work towards disaster risk reduction and alsi for disaster response and thee IORA’s concerted programmes in this arena must expand, ddespite the trepidations. IORA is on track wwhen it encouragespartnerships between institutions to strengthen the management of disasters and for the development of jointtraining programmes and regional schemes. Similarly, encouraging research insitutions to developmutually beneficial collaborative projects to share their experiences and best practices helps enhance technical capacities within the region. IORA’s emphasis on knowledge sharing andd capacity building for the creation of a culture of safety and resilience within the Indian Ocean region are indeed laudable and need to be carried further as it celebrates 20 years.
*Dr. Janki Andharia is Professor and Chairperson, Centre for Disasters and Development, School of Disaster Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India