Disaster governance in South Asia: Regional collaboration essential

SAARC has apparently failed to emerge as an effective regional body even 33 years after its inception. It could not play an effective role in helping nations enforce comprehensive frameworks on disaster management due to lack of inter-governmental cooperation, writes Mohammad Tarikul Islam for South Asia Monitor
Feb 9, 2019
Disaster governance is an emerging concept that is closely related to risk governance and environmental governance. Disaster governance arrangements and challenges are shaped by forces like globalization, world-system dynamics, social inequality, and socio-demographic trends. Governance regimes are polycentric and multi-scale, show variation across the hazards cycle and tend to lack integration and be formulated in response to particular large-scale disasters.
Disaster governance is nested within and influenced by overarching societal governance systems. Although governance failures can occur in societies with stable governance systems, as the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina shows, poorly governed societies and weak states are almost certain to exhibit deficiencies in disaster governance.
With its significant experience in disaster risk reduction (DRR), democratic governance and development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is taking forward the practical and conceptual work on DRR governance and mainstreaming.
Natural hazards on their own do not result in disaster. Rather, it is the vulnerability of populations in countries that has a direct bearing on levels of disaster. Supportive governance is necessary to ensure coping capacities in societies. Equally critical is the need for processes: Institutions with sufficient managerial and coordination capacity can integrate the efforts of relevant sectors and account for vulnerable and poor communities.
South Asia, with one fifth of the world’s population, is an extreme disaster-prone region. Over the past 40 years, South Asia faced as many as 1333 disasters that killed 980,000 people, affected 2.4 billion lives and damaged assets worth $105 billion. South Asia has been acknowledged to be a region in crisis because of natural calamities. South Asia with its population of about 1.5 billion is one of the regions in the world highly exposed to a variety of natural as well as human induced hazards.
The major reasons for increasing vulnerability of people in the region are largely related to demographic conditions, rapid technological and socio-economic changes, fast expanding urbanization and development within high-risk environment
Recurring disasters pose a great development challenge for all SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries. In that context, a SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management and Disaster Prevention was articulated in 2005. The SAARC Centre for Disaster Management and Preparedness, SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre and SAARC Meteorological Research Centre have been entrusted with assigned tasks to implement the framework in the context of regional cooperation within the mandate of the respective regional centres.
The framework clearly states that implementation and follow-up of strategic goals and priorities for action should be addressed by different stakeholders in a multi-sectoral approach, including with the development sector. Member states and regional organizations will integrate disaster risk reduction considerations into their sustainable development policy, planning and programming at all levels. Civil society, including volunteers and community-based organizations, the scientific community and the private sector are vital stakeholders in supporting the implementation of disaster risk reduction at all levels.
As per SAARC Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management, all the member states will be encouraged to apply a holistic approach and maintain consistency in programming and building multi-stakeholder partnerships at all levels. Member states and other actors are encouraged to promote the strengthening or establishment of volunteer corps, which can be made available during disasters.
However, SAARC has apparently failed to emerge as an effective regional body even 33 years after its inception. It could not play an effective role in helping nations enforce comprehensive frameworks on disaster management due to lack of inter-governmental cooperation.
It is important to launch community awareness and information dissemination in order to have the stakeholders involved. These campaigns would give the opportunity to understand what are the perceptions of the public on climate change and adaptation. Better coordination/integration of the different sectoral departments would be encouraged and institutionalized to render the services aiming at attaining governance for environmental protection.
A broad-based consensus among various stakeholders to implement the disaster management related act, policy with necessary modifications will be crucial - with highest political will, as a pre requisite.
Actions which will help bring about a sustainable benchmark to ensure disaster governance in South Asian countries include creating a vision that inspires action, setting goals and targets for direction, policy coordination for efficiency, policy instruments and incentives that stimulate action, integration between government and other knowledge based institutions, involvement of local administration, capacity-building for effective implementation, empowerment for equity, ensuring the right to information for timely action, participation in ownership and enforcability, and education and awareness for consensus building and participation.
Due to their critical role in service delivery and implementation, civil society organizations have been recognized as “partners” of the UN system, especially in negotiations for resource mobilization for disaster management. Civil society should play a major role in the following areas to streamline the disaster governance: Information collection and dissemination; policy development consultation; policy implementation; assessment and monitoring; advocacy for environmental justice.
Above all, the United Nations system, including international finance and development agencies, and all intergovernmental organizations and forums should, in consultation with non-governmental organizations, complement the efforts of SAARC to accelerate enforcement of legislations pertaining to disaster management for the benefit of South Asian people affected by recurrent disasters in the wake of climate change.
(The author is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow, University of Oxford. He can be contacted at

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