Floods are a sub-continental issue, but are never treated as such
Floods in South Asian countries is the most common hazard, which turn to disaster in regular intervals, and end up affecting regional and state economies. According to the CRED/OFDA database, total loss due to the floods in the last 50 years has been $34 billion in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and, on average, $601.54m per year. More than 130,000 people have died and the number of those rendered homeless being 60 million.
Floods in South Asia have impacted our MDG ambitions. The pecuniary value of damage and loss has been estimated, but did not count the loss of affordability of the poor, the excluded, and the marginalised.
Even now, when we’ve moved away from MDGs to SDGs, flood remains a major threat to us. Just a few large-scale floods in South Asia, like the ones seen in 2004 and 2007, will be enough to trigger famine.
Unfortunately, floods are inevitable in our sub-continent, and evidence shows that public structural actions such as building dams, protection walls and embankment, and linking rivers have only increased flood-related vulnerabilities.
But floods have never been treated as a regional issue, despite the main rivers of South Asia flowing over more than two countries. South Asian state authorities tend to view floods from petty nationalistic perspectives. They are used as a weak argument in negotiations or trade-offs in bilateral discussions and treaties. Nothing more.
Climate change has had a severe impact on the frequency of floods. Their effects are embellished by other phenomena such as the construction of dams and barrages, while lack of comprehensive information among the states on common rivers don’t help matters either
Needless to say, climate change has had a severe impact on the frequency of floods. Their effects are embellished by other phenomena such as the construction of dams and barrages on the common rivers, and collapse of embankments and reservoirs, while lack of comprehensive information among the states on common rivers and arbitrary blockage or release of water by the barrage during the monsoon period don’t help matters either.
The numbers of people living in the vulnerable and risk-prone areas increased significantly in the last 50 years due to the population boom.
To exacerbate matters, failure of proper public action in mitigating risk of flood, combined with a lack of access to essential higher services, have only increased vulnerability, pushing the poor to even worse conditions in terms of food security.
Socio-political organisations within South Asia maintain a distant focus on the flood issue due to their ignorance and stereotypical views on such disasters. Most duty-bearers, elected parliamentarians, private sector representatives, and NGOs exhaust their energy on relief distribution and immediate response. But they aren’t interested in addressing the causes behind the high-level impacts of floods on the poor and marginalised.
Public action on floods tends to focus almost exclusively on control while response planning is dominated by homogenous ideas.
The following action points can be considered by policy-makers:
1. Develop a regional strategic plan of action to build flood resilience in South Asia.
2. Mobilise socio-political organisations and the corporate sector to develop Regional Economic Zones for the poor and vulnerable people.
3. Invest more in propping up various development sectors, eg agriculture, health, education, water resource management, small industries, trading, social enterprises, etc.
4. Initiate a Memorandum of Economic Cooperation with ASEAN to facilitate a Safe Migration Corridor for the flood affected communities within the sub-continent.
South Asian states should recognise flood as a regional threat, a threat that encompasses more than just money and livelihoods. Our countries are inextricably tied to water bodies, and just as these rivers lakes have contributed to our countries’ prosperity, they can also be our undoing.
We need to take floods more seriously.
Shashanka Saadi, an Eisenhower Fellow, is currently working as Head of Emergency Response Program at BRAC International.