‘Emergency response and outbreak containment present tough trade-off’

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on July 21, 2020

Sanjay Srivastava, Chief of Disaster Reduction at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (Escap), Bangkok.

The speed of Covid-19 spread in recent days in India worrisome as more than 70 per cent of confirmed cases and deaths were reported during the last month, notes Sanjay Srivastava, Chief of Disaster Reduction at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (Escap), Bangkok.

One of Escap’s policy studies present how South Asia faced a ‘crisis on top of crises’ - Covid-19 intersecting with powerful cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Nisarga in the Arabian Sea, floods in Assam, and desert locust affecting large parts of South-West Asia, Srivastava wrote in an Email to BusinessLine.

Responders test positive

The biggest challenge was managing the unavoidable trade-off between emergency response and outbreak containment. Despite an accurate early warning followed up by evacuation of three million at-risk populations in Bangladesh and India, 59 members of India’s National Disaster Response Force and 170 personnel who deal with Cyclone Amphan tested positive for Covid-19.

In such cascading risk scenarios, a localised outbreak is inevitable and requires an innovative strategy for an emergency response without spreading Covid-19 in the context of critical vulnerabilities, says Srivastava. By using the consensus seasonal forecast of monsoon period in conjunction with socio-economic vulnerabilities, Escap had presented cascading risk scenarios to enable targeted and integrated policy interventions for protecting vulnerable communities.

Water and weather patterns

The scientific understanding of shifts in water and weather patterns influencing the life cycle of the pathogens or vectors is well-understood. It helps establish the links between climate change, monsoons and vector-borne diseases. Climate change is driving these links.

The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017, for example, forecast an increase in flood losses due to changes taking place in monsoon patterns. Under the moderate and severe climate change scenarios, the trans-boundary flood losses will be 2-6 times higher in the Ganga-Brahmaputra and Meghna basin; 1.5 to 5 times in the Indus basin; and 1.2 to 2 times in the Mekong basin.

Identified risk hotspots

These are the risk hotspots where climate change and monsoon will trigger mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. It is too early to understand the impact of the monsoon on Covid-19, as knowledge about the new virus is still evolving, Srivastava said.

As cascading risks emerge as the new normal, we need knowledge-based solutions. Covid-19 is shaping a new riskscape. While scientific uncertainties rely on understanding the disaster and pandemic nexus, climate resilience is the key to a resilient future of Asia and the Pacific, he added.

Published on July 21, 2020

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