Simi Mehta, Amita Bhaduri

The biggest global challenge of the 21st century is the climate emergency. News headlines are flooded with victims of disasters, often a by-product of climate change, wrecking some part of the world. Disasters are triggered by natural, biological, technological hazards and are often exacerbated by climatic extremes and slow onset events. The impact of disasters can be felt across the spectrum as it ravages lives, economies, and ecosystems.

The increasing occurrence of disasters threatens to de-accelerate the progress achieved thus far in fulfilling the SDG goals. In such circumstances, the need to respond through disaster risk reduction and investment in the resilient building becomes imperative for sustainable development. Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are widely regarded as vital strategies for implementing and achieving sustainable development goals. The recent glacial disaster in Uttarakhand, India, which claimed countless lives and destroyed infrastructure, represents the need to recognize the danger of climate emergencies and disasters.

With this background, Dr Anil K Gupta, Professor, National Institute of Disaster Management, India speaks in a webinar on Climate Emergency, Disasters, and Resilience: Inclusive Business Continuity Management organized Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and India Water Portal.

Poster 2_Anil K Gupta_Climate Emergency and Disasters

Climate change and disasters

Dr Anil K Gupta stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic brought forth experiences for more than a decade. Highlighting the emergency’s complexity, he explained how the pandemic was not an isolated disaster but was accompanied by numerous cyclones, industrial accidents, drought, climatic extremes, and even rare locust attacks. Thus, looking at disasters in the context of climate change and subsequent implications warrants the designation of it as an emergency at the international, national, and local levels.

On the growing consciousness of climate change as an emergency,  Dr Gupta mentioned the World Sustainable Development Summit wherein PM Modi and Myanmar’s head of state were vocal about the need to consider climate change as a global and a national emergency.

It is essential to recognize that climate change pertains not only to small-scale disasters, it is a complex issue that can manifest itself in various ways. Climate-induced migration can create concerns for national security, flood-induced erosions can lead to border disputes, and lack of resources also leads to conflicts. There is a growing trend of climate change-related awareness in the global arena. Dr Gupta elucidated upon how the Inter-Governmental Panel’s work on Climate Change (IPCC) and Vice President Al Gore brought forth a global awakening on the impact of climate change on human sustainability and the occurrence of disasters.

Policy paradigms

The growing awareness also brought forth policies to combat disasters and to facilitate their management. The Hyogo Framework governed the period between 2005 and 2015 in disaster management. Assessment of underlying factors of risk was designated as a priority numbered four under the framework. Subsequently, a transition happened from the Hyogo Framework to the Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction, wherein understanding disaster risk became the priority numbered one.

Addressing the delayed focus on understanding risk, Dr Gupta explained that disaster risk is dynamic and it has become complex with climate change. Our very knowledge of disasters has evolved over the years. There is a shift of focus from hazards that can be natural to anthropogenic vulnerabilities. Dr Gupta quoted a famous saying, “vulnerabilities do not fall from the sky”, emphasizing that hazards like rainfall can be natural, but poor drainage design is attributable to humans.

TheSendai Framework for Disaster risk reduction is also accompanied by international protocols such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the new Sustainable Development goals. Dr Gupta highlighted the growing need and focus on evidence-based and indicator assessments on the nature of policies.

Interlinkage of climate, environment, development, and disaster

There exists an intricate relationship between climate, development, environment, and disaster. Climate change produces an impact on the environment through altering patterns of windfall and rain, among others. Environmental changes thus become drivers of catastrophe. An analysis of the impact of climate change on vulnerabilities, i.e., land, people, infrastructure, and ecosystems, allows for comprehending the relation between climate and disaster and how the former aggravates the latter.

However, it is also essential to recognize the role of not only climate change but non-climatic actors. These would include city governance, drainage designs, housing designs, nature of urban planning, regional planning, etc. The relationship between environment and development is inversely related. However, Dr Gupta, using the Kuznets curve, disregarded the notion of development at the cost of the environment. He stated that with environmental degradation, the per capita prosperity declines after the maximum point. The continuous stagnation of our economy reflects how ecological damage is a redundant strategy for development.

Disasters and their impact analysis

In the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the definition of disaster takes cognizance of damages to all forms of lives and ecological systems. Dr Gupta, in his address, explained how another dimension of reducing the risk of disasters is to undertake an analysis of the impact. An assessment has to take into account physical and economic losses and the impact on the environment and ecological systems.

There is a growing realization that with early warning systems, better preparedness, and better use of technology, the loss of life in disasters can be reduced. However, a dichotomy exists; while the severity of the impact has been reduced, the quantum, i.e. the number of people being affected, have increased. For the longest time, it has been accepted that disasters majorly impact low-income groups, although a recent trend shows that lower-middle-income groups are affected more. Given their higher social aspirations, the lower-middle-class move to cities and industrial areas, wherein their lack of resources compel them to stay in hazardous areas. An analysis of how various social segments are impacted by disasters is worth consideration.

Disaster risk reduction: Resilience building, climate change adaptation and business continuity management

Dr Gupta highlights the need to anticipate the unknown, i.e. black swan events, sporadic, but they cause unprecedented devastation. Thus, requiring actions to undertake processes to prepare against them. There has to be better resilience that stems from adaptability. The need for safeguarding has to extend to our future generations as well. Strategies for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction have to be sustainable.

In any climate disaster, the people can be saved, but their way of life gets obliterated. The recovery cannot be undertaken on the meager amounts of compensation they receive, and most importantly, it takes years. Even before recovery, there is recurrence. Thus Dr Gupta emphasized the need to invest in resilience infrastructure. It is worth noting that India has taken the lead in resilient infrastructure through participation in the Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)

Dr Gupta also elaborated upon his climate resilience framework. The framework constitutes an assessment of vulnerabilities, although the vulnerabilities must be captured through a shared learning process that is participatory. It also entailed utilizing local knowledge and scientific knowledge to implement resilience programs by identifying actions, prioritizing, designing, implementing, and monitoring. Climate change adaptation is also fundamental to disaster resilience. It is based on the three central pillars – economic resilience, ecosystem-based DRR, and engineering infrastructure.

Dr Gupta also emphasized the need for climate adaption to be integrated with disaster management at the district level planning. Capacity building of CCA and DRR integration has to be undertaken in developmental planning. There should be a focus on neighborhood levels, wards, and cities to undertake a participatory city resilience approach. Dr Gupta also discussed the need to focus on peri-urban systems currently lacking any planning protocol.

A review of business continuity regimes, i.e., looking at how businesses should sustain and have resilience against the impact of disasters, is also critical. How the corporate sector and companies perceive disaster resilience is essential for business continuity and business resilience. Business continuity, i.e. continuity of service, gets disrupted by disasters. Thus, the need for a robust business continuity management system arises. Dr Gupta explained how such systems include business impact analysis, business continuity strategies, business continuity response, and exercise and testing.

Concluding remarks

Dr Gupta advocated a middle path strategy for a sustainable regime, where a balance is struck between infrastructure growth and environmental protection to provide for resilience. He highlights that planning is vital and that utilization of knowledge should be undertaken at all levels, i.e. local, regional and national. The plans should be simple, concise, and understandable.

The flawed developmental plans implemented in the past have scope for continual improvement.

Additionally, our monitoring and alert systems can be made better by utilizing technology and indigenous knowledge. Dr Gupta also advocated for catastrophic modeling, wherein there is an equal focus on lower-order risks. Risks cannot be avoided, but it extent warrants consideration.

There is an opportunity to learn not only from developed countries but also developing countries, there are ample spaces for cross-learning. Towards the end, Dr Gupta acknowledged that it is easier said than done. However, efforts should be made to include nature-based solutions into the mainstream.

Acknowledgment: Kashish Babbar is a research intern at IMPRI and is pursuing BA Hons. Political Science from Lady Sri Ram College for Women.

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