In his intervention in the just concluded G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed for a global coalition to develop disaster resilient infrastructure. This is another proactive diplomatic move related to climate change by his government after the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and is based on recognition that several natural hazards like floods, earthquakes, storms, tsunamis destroy infrastructure - a key driver of economic prosperity, sustainable development and inclusive growth - and investment in new disaster-resistant infrastructure will be a keystone of sustainable development.
The government has circulated a concept paper to G20 countries on this subject. “The Prime Minister has been of the view that each time a natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world, countries scramble to give immediate relief but don’t really rebuild the infrastructure to a state where it is resilient next time a disaster occurs,” said Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale.
The Prime Minister, he said, “feels that there is space for major countries, particularly the G20 countries, to have some informal arrangement where we can share capacity building, technical knowhow and share experiences immediately after a country faces a disaster which leads to significant infrastructure erosion or development and where the immediate relief has been provided subsequently.”
Building such a coalition would also help generate new knowledge on hazard risk assessment, disaster resilient technologies and mechanisms for integrating risk reduction in infrastructure financing. India has allocated USD10 million as a seed fund to support the initiative.
P K Mishra, Additional Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, said the government has prepared a road map to set up a global coalition that would support research, knowledge sharing and mutual technical assistance among coalition partners. It would have four verticals - risk assessment for infrastructure; improvement in standards and regulation for infrastructure sectors; role of finance in promoting disaster resilience of infrastructure and mechanisms for supporting recovery in infrastructure.
In Buenos Aires, the G20 endorsed infrastructure as an asset class and said it is taking actions to achieve greater contractual standardization, address data gaps and improve risk mitigation instruments.
India’s proposition is understandable given that the country has been among the world’s top five in absolute economic losses and is likely to spend 1.5 trillion dollars on infrastructure in the next 10 years.
According to the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), India suffered economic losses of 80 billion dollars in the 20-year period of 1998 to 2017.
Again this year, the country has to bear the brunt of Cyclone Titli in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, and Cyclone Gaja in Tamil Nadu and Puduchery, and heavy rain, floods and landslides in Kerala that destroyed roads and power lines, besides damaging crops. Some estimates say that approximately USD 1trillion will be needed to make existing and future infrastructure in India climate-resilient.It is thus an imperative that all new infrastructure must be disaster-resilient.
At the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) in Ulan Bator, Mongolia four months ago, Modi had said India would work with partner countries and stakeholders to build a coalition for promoting disaster resilient infrastructure.
The new initiative is an extension of that line of thinking as the world met in Katowice, Poland, to take stock of the progress that has been made since COP21 in Paris and agree on a set of shared guidelines that will help individual countries implement climate goals. Over the next 15 years, it is estimated that disaster losses in the built environment globally could be USD 415 billion.
India has made adaptation to climate change an important agenda in its regional cooperation policy. The disaster risk reduction strategy derives strength from the size and prospect of its economy in coming years in creating opportunities for shared value for business and global society at a time of climate variability.
The new diplomatic initiative also signifies the country’s capacity to formulate and promote sensible policies and its potential for international leadership.
(The author is a writer on strategic affairs. He can be contacted at email@example.com )