Floods in Assam are a risk multiplier, whose deleterious and multidimensional impact on life and property presents an apt case for intervention through localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), enabling policymakers to take risk-informed and targeted adaptation actions. SDG localisation offers an insight into the local risk scape, says Sanjay Srivastava, Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction at UN-ESCAP. This is crucial as, while the risks are global, building resilience must be driven at the community level, he told BusinessLine. SDG localisation can also effectively inform national as well as local ‘disaster risk reduction’ strategies.
Assam often faces catastrophic floods. Records from the past five decades note that the state has been hit by floods every year and the number of events per year ranges from 71-127. In recent years, the floods have intensified, causing high economic losses, and increasing the socio-economic vulnerability of the people. The National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) baseline report 2021 estimates that 32.7 per cent of Assam’s population already lives in multidimensional poverty and takes note of poor health, nutrition, education and standard of living. In addition, floods rob small and marginal farmers of their harvest, disrupt children’s education and increase the transmission of infectious diseases. This subsequently exacerbates the risk of intergenerational poverty.
Fares poor on SDG index
SDG localisation captures the intersection of floods and vulnerability in real time, Srivastava said. India has developed a comprehensive SDG sustainable index for all States and Union Territories. Assam shows uneven progress across districts, Srivastava points out. Districts with high vulnerability to floods record relatively lower scores on the climate change and disaster related SDGs. A snapshot of the floods in Assam during May-June 2022 vis-à-vis SDG scores in the affected districts captures the real-time vulnerabilities of communities at risk. The SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 13 (Climate Action) scores are especially low for some districts.
The key to building resilient communities is inclusive adaptation. In Assam, top adaptation priorities should include strengthening early warning systems and making water resources management more resilient with 5:1 and 4:1 investment benefit-cost ratios, respectively. These are to be followed by making new infrastructure resilient, improving dryland agriculture crop production and nature-based solutions.
Social, environmental benefits
Investing in these measures will not only ensure averting major losses from natural hazards but also yield high economic, social, and environmental benefits, Srivastava said. The UN Environment Programme Adaptation Gap Report 2021 notes that, globally, four sectors (agriculture, infrastructure, water, and disaster risk management) make up three-quarters of quantified adaptation finance needs. These are aligned with the suggested adaptation priorities, which are cross-sectoral in nature. “For instance, strengthening multi-hazard early warning systems not only enhances disaster preparedness but also contributes to developing resilience in agriculture, infrastructure, and water resource sectors.”