Rethinking Disaster Risk Management in South Asia


Wednesday, January 17 2024 | 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Address: Marriott, Islamabad, Pakistan

Rethinking Disaster Risk Management In South Asia

The prevalence of natural disasters in South Asia, coupled with the impact of climate change, underscores the need for the region to prioritise collective action for disaster risk management. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, landslides, avalanches, heat and cold waves, earthquakes, forest fires, and tsunamis are common in the region. Furthermore, the impact of these hazards is exacerbated by climate change. Over the past two decades, more than 750 million South Asians have been impacted by one or more climate-related disasters. The causes and impacts of these hydro-meteorological and many geological hazards are not limited to the territorial confines of a state. Changes in climate conditions in a country can potentially lead to natural disasters in neighbouring areas, while disasters in one state can have a ripple effect in the adjacent states.

In South Asia, a changing climate means that nearly two billion people are subjected to longer and heavier monsoon seasons as well as droughts. Therefore, countries in the region must concentrate on disaster risk management. Collaboration between states is necessary to develop and implement effective strategies to mitigate the risks presented by the hazards. The development and data sharing between early warning systems, investment in resilient infrastructure, and incorporation of artificial intelligence and machine learning to craft regional disaster preparedness plans are vital measures that can aid in preventing and minimising the impact of natural disasters.

Due to the frequency of natural disasters, all the countries in South Asia have developed indigenous practices to deal with recurrent disaster situations. Realising the need for a collective response, states in the region have been trying to join forces. Cross-border sharing of information, indigenous knowledge, and technology can be favourable for the resource-scarce region. At the governmental level, even though regional countries have national frameworks to address disaster risk, their capacity is limited, and governance issues affect effective response. Moreover, there is heavy reliance on foreign funds.

In terms of regional cooperation, factors such as political friction often hinder effective partnerships, yet South Asian states have previously collaborated through platforms such as the Asia Regional Resilience to a Changing Climate (ARRCC) Met Office Partnership programme or the Cooperative Monitoring Center (CMC) South Asia regional program on environmental cooperation. However, the scope of such collaboration has remained limited. Additionally, international organisations have been working in unison with regional countries to improve the latter’s disaster management mechanisms. For instance, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), a multi-donor partnership hosted by the World Bank and the European Union, have been supporting South Asian countries in enhancing their disaster risk management capacity. However, there is a gap in the level and kind of collaboration required between regional states.

To address these regional challenges, the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research, in collaboration with Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (Regional Programme Energy Security and Climate Change Asia-Pacific), are gathering a group of South Asian experts to participate in a roundtable discussion. The specialists will provide an overview of the disaster risk management systems in the region’s countries, highlight the existing challenges in governance, and devise means of improvement. The roundtable will feature three panels. The first panel will analyse South Asia’s vital national policies, the legal and institutional frameworks concerning natural hazards, and disaster risks. The second panel will explore the indigenous best practices and avenues for collective information exchange, and the third panel will identify entry points for future regional cooperation for disaster risk management in the region.

The day-long event coincided with the launch of a special report titled “Pakistan Floods — Underlining the Need for Regional Cooperation for Disaster Risk Management in South Asia” based on a joint study conducted by CSCR and KAS RECAP that critically assessed Pakistan’s implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as the disaster risk management systems of other South Asian countries.

Frederick Kliem – Director, KAS RECAP

Nisar Memon – Former Senator, Pakistan

Panel 1

Syeda Ailiya Naqvi – Managing Editor & Director, CSCR

Syed Muhammad Bilal Khalid – Disaster Risk Management Specialist, World Bank, Pakistan

Medha Bisht – Associate Professor of International Relations – South Asian University – New Delhi, India (virtual participation)

Kusum Athukorala– Regional Chair, Global Water Partnership South Asia; Steering Committee Member, Women for Water Partnership, Sri Lanka

Md. Shamsuzzoha – Chairman, Department of Emergency Management, Patuakhali Science and Technology University, Bangladesh

Panel 2

Mohammad Talha – Director Academics, CSCR

Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam – Pakistan Editor at The Third Pole

Netra Sharma – Project Manager, National Adaptation Plan Readiness Project, United Nations Development Programme, Bhutan (virtual participation)

Sayed Ahmed Sahim – Head of Emergency Management, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Afghanistan

Ahmed Fizal – Environmental consultant at the Fizal Environmental Consultancy and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Maldives

Dipak Gyawali – Independent Analyst and former Minister of Water Resources, Nepal

Panel 3

Shaheen Akhtar – Head of Department of International Relations, National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan

Sohini Bose – Associate Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, India (virtual participation)

Ayreen Khan – Independent Analyst and Founder of iCan, Bangladesh (virtual participation)

Mahesh Raj Bhatta – Research Officer at the Centre for South Asian Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal

In a crucial step towards building a more resilient South Asia, leading experts from across the region convened for a day-long roundtable discussion titled “Rethinking Disaster Risk Management in South Asia” at the Islamabad Marriott Hotel on January 17, 2024. The event, co-organised by the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS RECAP), served as a platform for in-depth analysis of existing challenges and the formulation of concrete steps towards enhanced regional cooperation in disaster-preparedness and response.

Setting the stage for the discussion, KAS RECAP’s Regional Director, Dr Frederick Kleim, emphasised the urgency of climate change mitigation and adaptation techniques to minimise its impact. He highlighted that despite not significantly contributing to environmental harm, South Asia is among the most vulnerable to its effects and thus underscored the need for proactive measures to address its consequences.

Former Senator and Chairman Water Environment Forum Nisar Memon was the keynote speaker at the conference. He maintained that the two organisations, CSCR and KAS RECAP, who have teamed up to conduct the roundtable have a history of selecting the most contemporary subjects in line with their missions. He emphasised that South Asia must come together and this forum can form a portal for information sharing, establish institutional interaction, sharing research forecast, early warnings and projects.

Over the day, distinguished panellists representing diverse domains, including academia, government, civil society, and international organisations, engaged in insightful discussions across three thematic panels. The first panel, titled ‘A Synergistic Approach to Disaster Risk Governance’, emphasised the need for robust national frameworks, enhanced coordination among government agencies, and improved resource allocation to address current limitations in disaster risk governance across South Asia. Syeda Ailiya Naqvi, Managing Editor and Director of CSCR, moderated the panel. Initiating the discussion on the theme, Syed Muhammad Bilal Khalid, Disaster Risk Management Specialist at the World Bank, Pakistan, highlighted the governance efficacy gap and underscored the absence of a resilient early warning and forecast system in Pakistan, which contributes significantly to the challenges encountered in averting such disasters.

Joining the event virtually from South Asian University, India, Dr Medha Bisht emphasised the necessity of a shift from disaster risk management to disaster risk governance, encompassing different viewpoints and aspects of disaster response. Dr Bisht stressed the importance of incorporating a multi-disciplinary approach. On the other hand, while highlighting Sri Lanka’s strategy in disaster risk management, Kusum Athukorala, Regional Chair at Global Water Partnership South Asia, underscored the necessity for a people-centric approach to bridge the gap between policy-making and the actual implementation of the plan. The final speaker on the panel, Md. Shamsuzzoha, a Professor at the Department of Emergency Management from Patuakhali Science and Technology University, Bangladesh, underlined that, among other South Asian countries, Bangladesh consistently faces natural disasters each year. Presenting a disaster resilience and management plan, he underlined the importance of its timely implementation.

The second panel at the roundtable was entitled ‘Reducing Disaster Risk – Sustainable National Practices.’ and was moderated by Talha Ibrahim, Academics Director, CSCR. The panel presented successful indigenous and best practices from various South Asian countries, highlighting the potential for knowledge sharing and cross-border collaboration in areas such as flood protection, landslide prevention, and early warning systems.

The Pakistan Editor at The Third Pole, Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam, was the panel’s first speaker and highlighted local governments’ crucial role in disaster mitigation. She underscored the importance of adopting innovative approaches to address these challenges. Virtually joining the conference, Netra Sharma, Project Manager, National Adaptation Plan Readiness Project, United Nations Development Programme, Bhutan stressed the importance of implementing an early warning system to address hazards, emphasising the need for a collective obligation to tackle these challenges.

Gracing the panel was also Sayed Ahmad Sahim, Head of Emergency Management at Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Afghanistan, who underscored the need for a top-to-bottom institutional approach to manage challenges effectively. He elucidated the importance of local-level responses at in village and remote areas in mitigating disaster risks. His argument was further strengthened by the next esteemed speaker, Former Minister of Water Resources in Nepal, Dr Dipak Gyawali, who stressed the significance of traditional practices and local community-led responses to disasters in South Asia. He maintained that discussions on disaster risk reduction in the future would prominently revolve around the reduction of water usage in the production of goods. Lastly, Ahmad Fizal, Environmental Consultant at Fizal Environmental Consultancy and United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Maldives, drew attention to the threats confronting island states in South Asia, particularly emphasising the implementation of nature-based solutions as crucial strategies for mitigating disaster risks.

Talha Ibrahim, Director Academics, CSCR, continued leading as the moderator for the third panel of the roundtable, facilitating the discussion among the panellists on ‘Entry Points for Regional Cooperation on Disaster Risk Management’. Dr Shaheen Akhtar, Professor and Head of the Department of International Relations at National Defence University, Pakistan, accentuated the importance of prioritised regional collaboration, especially in information and data sharing and transboundary flood management, to effectively address disasters in South Asia. Joining virtually, Sohini Bose, Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India, also highlighted the crucial role of regional organisations like SAARC in fostering multilateral collaboration on disaster risk management, arguing for the growing regional awareness and consciousness regarding natural disasters.

Also virtually contributing to the panel was Ayreen Khan, founder of iCan, Bangladesh, who brought attention to the spill-over effects of natural disasters, significantly influenced by the inseparable connection between the climate and geography of South Asia. Lastly, Mahesh Raj Bhatta, Research Officer at the Centre for South Asian Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal, underlined the fragility and challenges arising from political constraints in the region, which are impeding regional collaboration.

The roundtable discussion was concluded with remarks from Dr Salma Malik, Associate Professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, emphasising the people-centred approach as a way forward for disaster risk management. She expressed gratitude to speakers from all South Asian countries coming together to address this pertinent issue.

The Rethinking Disaster Risk Management in South Asia roundtable demonstrated the invaluable role of collaboration in fostering regional dialogue and action. The CSCR-KAS RECAP partnership effectively brought together diverse voices and expertise, paving the way for a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to disaster risk management in South Asia. The insightful discussions highlighted the urgency of addressing climate change, strengthening national governance frameworks, implementing sustainable practices, and fostering regional cooperation. By translating these insights into concrete action plans and policies, South Asia can build a more resilient future for its people and communities.


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