South Asia has to ready itself for the double whammy
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.