South Asia has to ready it­self for the dou­ble whammy

Down to Earth - - Governance - BY GIRIRAJ AMARNATH

AS IF man­ag­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic was not enough, coun­tries in South Asia now have to brace for an on­slaught of cli­mate dis­as­ters. This sum­mer, cen­tral and south­ern In­dia are fore­cast to heat up faster, mak­ing heat­waves more likely. And, nor­mal to above av­er­age mon­soon rain­fall could flood parts of the coun­try from June. Care­ful plan­ning is needed to es­cape ma­jor dam­age to crops, homes and in­fra­struc­ture, all amidst mar­shalling of re­sources to­wards lim­it­ing the spread of COVID-19.

Fore­casts in­di­cate that north­east In­dia and Bangladesh are set to ex­pe­ri­ence ex­tremely high rain­fall and thun­der­storms around May 13-14. A cy­clone fore­cast in the sec­ond week of May in south­ern Bangladesh is likely to have high im­pact in the coastal cities and in­land too.

Shirish Ra­van, who im­ple­ments the United Na­tions Plat­form for Space-based In­for­ma­tion for Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment and Emer­gency Re­sponse, or UN-SPIDER, be­lieves space-based tech­nolo­gies can pro­vide crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion on the ex­tent and scale of im­pacts ahead of crises. The map show­ing ma­tu­rity of crops is an ex­am­ple. This, the com­ing ex­treme weather events, and the pan­demic present a host of chal­lenges for govern­ments. In In­dia, north and north­west states have al­ready strug­gled to har­vest and sell their wheat, fruit and veg­etable crops be­cause of lock­down. If the cy­clone dam­ages ripen­ing crops in eastern parts, it will place even more pres­sure on the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

The num­ber of COVID-19 cases in the parts of In­dia and Bangladesh where the cy­clone is set to

A map cre­ated by sci­en­tists at the In­ter­na­tional Wa­ter Man­age­ment In­sti­tute and CGIAR Re­search Pro­gram of Wa­ter, Land and Ecosys­tems shows crops planted ex­ten­sively fall within the path of fore­cast storms. The dark green ar­eas in­di­cate the place where crops will ripen af­ter April 23

hit is rel­a­tively low. How­ever, the num­ber is high in places where other ex­treme events are fore­cast. Sci­en­tists at the In­ter­na­tional Wa­ter Man­age­ment In­sti­tute (IWMI) com­pared a map show­ing the lev­els of risk from mul­ti­ple nat­u­ral haz­ards, such as land­slide, cy­clone, heat­waves,

IWMI and its part­ners have pre­pared 10 rec­om­men­da­tions to guide South Asian na­tions. Th­ese are:

In­te­grate mul­ti­ple-haz­ard and COVID-19 hotspots to in­form dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and re­sponse strate­gies for mon­soon plan­ning; Min­imise the bur­den on hos­pi­tals by treat­ing COVID-19 pa­tients separately;

With the participat­ion of com­mu­ni­ties, re­vise the stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures (SOPs) for man­ag­ing cy­clone shel­ters. In­cor­po­rate so­cial dis­tanc­ing and pro­vi­sion of Per­sonal Pro­tec­tive Equip­ment (PPE) in th­ese SOPs;

Strengthen ca­pac­i­ties and re­sources for pre­par­ing for other haz­ards;

Ad­vise dis­as­ter re­sponse forces on pro­tect­ing them­selves from COVID-19. Es­tab­lish pro­to­cols for their pro­tec­tion and pro­vide per­son­nel with ap­pro­pri­ate PPE and psy­cho-so­cial sup­port; Es­tab­lish sup­port net­works (with so­cial dis­tanc­ing) for pro­vid­ing food and fi­nan­cial re­lief for the most vul­ner­a­ble;

Put in place pro­vi­sion for the el­derly in dis­as­ter­pre­pared­ness mech­a­nisms to elim­i­nate their ex­po­sure to COVID-19;

Strengthen hospi­tal pre­pared­ness, in­clud­ing ac­cess to san­i­ta­tion and qual­ity wa­ter, to pro­tect func­tion­al­ity when nat­u­ral dis­as­ters like cy­clones strike;

Es­tab­lish ca­pa­bil­ity for rapid re­sponse map­ping, in­cor­po­rat­ing GIS data for hospi­tal and health cen­tre lo­ca­tions, con­nec­tiv­ity, schools and col­leges, and other com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties; Form mul­ti­ple-haz­ard re­sponse teams with wide-rang­ing ex­per­tise and the ca­pac­ity to re­spond rapidly to the com­bined im­pact of COVID-19 and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Coun­tries need to get ahead of the com­ing crises by mov­ing quickly and act on th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions. Only early ac­tion, heavy al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources and smart plan­ning will make sure we can avoid col­lapse of med­i­cal, eco­nomic and food sys­tems.


sys­tem was not prop­erly cal­i­brated re­sult­ing in lack of good qual­ity data. Weather sta­tions are poorly man­aged and don’t have qual­ity con­trol. There is no com­mon plat­form for data col­lec­tion. The problem es­ca­lates due to poor in­spec­tions.

In 2017, the Comptrolle­r and Au­di­tor Gen­eral re­viewed the func­tion­ing of weather sta­tions and found As­sam was not mon­i­tor­ing its sta­tions. The rea­son it gave was non-re­ceipt of funds. Ra­jasthan had a neg­li­gi­ble num­ber of sta­tions in­stalled on the ground. In Ma­ha­rash­tra, some weather sta­tions of­fi­cially listed as in­stalled, were not there at all.

Agromet ad­vi­sories should ide­ally pro­vide weather in­for­ma­tion, and add value to it through ad­vice on agri­cul­tural best prac­tice. This is not al­ways the case. In As­sam, for in­stance, an ad­vi­sory re­gard­ing wheat states, “As there is no pos­si­bil­i­ties of get­ting rain­fall in the com­ing five days, farm­ers are ad­vised to ap­ply sec­ond ir­ri­ga­tion in wheat crop.” Such gen­er­alised rec­om­men­da­tions are also vis­i­ble in Gu­jarat. “Weather is clear so har­vest­ing should be done at early morn­ing,” states one. Some ad­vi­sories are out­dated and rec­om­mend fer­tilis­ers or pes­ti­cides that are pro­hib­ited, out of pro­duc­tion or not avail­able.

“Chang­ing cli­mate has the po­ten­tial to in­val­i­date cen­turies of agri­cul­tural knowl­edge ac­cu­mu­lated in ru­ral In­dia. A mod­ern agromet sys­tem is key to build­ing re­silience against this chal­lenge,” says the CSE re­port. The base for such a sys­tem has been laid in In­dia. Fo­cus now has to be on the in­te­gra­tion and co­or­di­na­tion of tech­nol­ogy and hu­man re­sources, across fields, lev­els of govern­ment, and the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors, it adds.

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