South Asian Disasters and the Need for Regional Cooperation

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Jakarta, IO – International cooperation and multilateralism have become indispensable tools in an increasingly complex world. South Asia, a region abundant and lank is defined by its geography and culture, demanding regional coordination and cooperation to address insecurities while building capacities. It comprises eight culturally copious nations, each with its own political ideology, social beanfeasts and economic identity. Susceptibility and vulnerability to natural disasters is another mutuality among these nations, predictions being over 246 million south Asians at risk only from cyclones. Yet, disaster response in these regions has been reactive rather than proactive. Disaster response teams, funding and resource accumulation begins only close on heels to the disaster. Wary of this constant lackadaisical attitude, the countries drafted the SAARC Rapid Response to Disasters Agreement aimed at building a regional disaster management mechanism to substantially reduce the harm caused by such calamities to populace and resources. It seeks to professionalise disaster management and strengthen response systems. The preamble of the agreement also seeks to promote cooperation and coordinated approach towards providing humanitarian assistance to member nations. 

As commendable the initiative might be, the state of implementation remains appalling. This paper seeks to analyse the response to natural disasters which have occurred since 2015. Over 50 calamities have hit south Asian nations in a meagre 6 years including cyclones, floods, drought, earthquakes. Disasters in 2015 included the Darjeeling floods, Manipur landslide, Assam floods, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu floods, Bihar storms, heatwaves and multiple earthquakes in Pakistan and Nepal. This was followed in 2016 by heatwaves and forest fires in India, floods in Pakistan and an avalanche at the Siachen glacier. The years 2017, 18, 19 were submerged by earthquakes and floods in various Indian states and parts of Pakistan. Similarly, in 2020 earthquakes, locust attacks and floods were commonplace in India, Nepal, Pakistan. The major disasters in 2021 were cyclones Gulab and Islamabad flooding. Most of these disasters involved people and land from neighbouring nations being affected, infrastructure crumpling and loss of livelihood on both sides of the borders. A regional response to such calamities was expected in all these situations. Though bilateral arrangements have mustered, no SAARC level contingent has been deployed in the multitude of disasters that have disconcerted the region. Climate uncertainties have increased the chances of calamities, seeking immediate collective response from nations. Nestled in the Himalayan ranges which is still adjusting to tectonic movements, nations including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Afghanistan are also threatened by floods due to melting ice caps. Factors like surging population have cornered people to coastal regions, placing them at risk of cyclones and rise in water levels. The unique placement of Bangladesh makes 97% of its population prone to risk according to a report by the Asian Development Bank. Professionals have also hinted at the multiple nations being affected by a single disaster in the south Asian region. An earthquake in Himalayas has the capacity to affect multiple countries, cyclones in Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea affect two nations parallelly while every flood originates beyond a single nation. Popularly and infamously being dubbed as “mortality hotspots”, South Asian nations need to encash the regional framework opportunity to mitigate disaster risks, response to calamities.