By Jyotiraj Patra, New Delhi: Search operations are still on in the eighth day of the boat tragedy in the mighty river of Brahmaputra in Dhubri district of Assam. Bodies of 38 victims have so far been recovered and official estimates suggest that around 350 passengers were on board in the ill-fated boat. Initial investigations in to cause of this disaster point to the fact that the boat with a capacity of more than 200 persons was heavily overloaded and was caught in a severe storm which lead to its capsize. This region in the north-east part of India and its inhabitant are no stranger to storms accompanied by thunder-squall, heavy rains and strong winds in this time of the year. But the sudden onset of an intense storm at around 5.15 pm on 30 April was beyond any one’s imagination and comprehension. The weather conditions which were normal at one point suddenly turned unpredictable and intense within no time. Communities and government machineries in these localities grapple with this emerging reality as to whether such weather extremes are turning out to be more frequent and intense? And most importantly what kind of institutional mechanisms and practices be put in place to strengthen communities’ and governments’ capacity to better cope with, adapt to and recover from these extremes?
These are some of the pressing questions, mostly related to the survival and security of many poor and vulnerable communities around the world, which the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seeks to understand and address. Findings of this enormous exercise of collaboration among scientists, experts and practitioners was approved by the world’s governments and subsequently released in March 2012. One of the key findings from this report categorically underscores the increasing disaster risk in many countries as more vulnerable people and assets are exposed to weather extremes. Of particular significance is the finding that this increase in disaster risk will continue even without taking climate change into account. The report calls for appropriate, improved and robust risk management mechanisms at various levels in society. But what does this scientifically rigor and voluminous report mean for common people, policy makers and practitioners on the ground?
In an effort to make the findings from this very important report easily available, accessible, understood and utilized by various stakeholders, the Climate and Development KnowledgeNetwork (CDKN), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and IPCC have jointly been organizing a series of Outreach Events on SREX. This innovative effort has been supported by the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One such event was organized at New Delhi (2-3 May, 2012) with a specific emphasis on Managing the Risks of Climate Extremes and Disasters in Asia- What can we learn from the IPCC Special Report?
A diverse group of participants comprising of policy makers, scientists, grassroots practitioners and media from across the South Asia region discussed and deliberated on cross-cutting issues of climate and disaster risk management, including the need for greater collaboration and coordination among stakeholders and governments. Exchange of ideas and insights from diverse settings and sectors further enriched the discussion and helped participants better understand the need for an integrated and holistic approach towards building resilience of communities and nations. For this to happen, according to CDKN’s Regional Summary Report, a mix of incremental (small, within existing technology and governance systems) as well as transformative (large, new systems, new ways in thinking) changes in processes and institutions has to be established and strengthened.
Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chairman-IPCC, in his Welcome Address highlighted the timeliness and relevance of this SREX report in light of the need for an integrated knowledge base to deal with the uncertainties associated with the frequency and intensity of many climate-related events. The report not only discuses scientific evidences on extreme weather events but also delves deep in to some of the case studies highlighting the effectiveness of response strategies and prevention measures. These case studies help to better understand and identify lessons about success in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures. The report analyses how the megacity of Mumbai lacked the capacity to address a complex portfolio of (interrelated) risks and non-implementation of its multi-hazard risk plan from 2000 lead to massive loss of lives and damage of properties during the 2005 floods. The report attributes ‘development failures’ to accumulation of risk and the ways through which this risk was being transmitted beyond the urban core.
Sharing his experiences as a people’s representative facing the day-to-day challenges of addressing some of these critical issues of climate change and its impacts on the nature and scale of natural hazards, Hon’ble M. Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India, underscored the need for a robust mechanism of real-time data generation and dissemination for effective planning and response.
Dr. T. Chatterjee, Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, India emphasized on the need to ‘build capacities’ of various centers and networks undertaking scientific assessments of the changes and estimations of the impacts at the sub-regional level and its systematic integration in to the management action plans and resource allocation decisions.
According to Mr. Krishna Gyawali, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Government of Nepal, “The report very well recognizes the limitations of research” and hence there is an urgent need for a strengthened knowledge-policy-practice interface to inform decisions and actions at various levels.
The SREX Hard Talk helped participants engage critically but constructively with key policy makers and authors of the report on issues of actions by governments and need for more affirmative and collaborative actions, including the involvement of the private sector, mostly in the field of risk transfer through insurance.
A systematic analysis of actions and initiatives at the international, national and community level reiterated the need for greater flow of information and learnings from best practices across levels.
CDKN’s Regional Summary Report as well as the Outreach Event have initiated and informed a process of multi-level dialogue and collaboration among various actors associated with and responsible for managing the disaster risks. The next step of action is to further ensure the availability of this information for integrative actions on disaster risk management, climate change adaptation and sustainable development at various levels.
The coastal state of Odisha is one of the most-at risk regions along the Bay of Bengal to climate-induced natural hazards including sea-level changes. A large part of its population belongs to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category with inadequate access to productive assets and other social security programmes of the state. Over the years the state has been witnessing a steady increase in financial investments, including the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country. The whole process of economic development amidst a changing disaster risk context and exposure of people and their assets to these risks necessitates an institutional approach to risk management which is integrative, appropriate and adaptive.
In this background that theReport and its findings are of paramount policy and practice importance for the state of Odisha.
Photo Credit: CDKN
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