The global battle to reduce disaster losses by 2030 will be won or lost in Asia and the Pacific, says Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Brisbane from September 19 to 22. The conference comes at time when the compounding consequences of natural hazards and the pandemic continue to disrupt people and the economies. “An analysis by the UN-ESCAP shows that SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) progress has been insufficient and has slowed down in the Asia-Pacific region that has regressed on achieving climate action (Goal 13) and sustainable consumption and production (Goal 12) targets,” a spokesman quoted Mizutori as saying.

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Irreversible trends in region

The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 informs multiple Sendai Framework targets are not on-track for 2030, he said. It also notes direct economic loss and damage to critical infrastructure due to natural hazards has increased substantially over the past decade. Floods, drought, tropical cyclones, and heatwaves are already intensifying disproportionately and many of these trends are now irreversible.

Five major action points

In this context, Sanjay Srivastava, Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction, UN-ESCAP, called for five action points that require immediate attention. He told BusinessLine these focus on managing complex, compounding, and cascading risk-scape in the Asia-Pacific; scaling up both resilience-building measures in emerging and intensifying risk hotspots as also resilient agri-food systems; establishing resilient infrastructure; and accelerating transformative adaptation. For instance, 2021 saw more than 100 natural hazard events occur in Asia with 80 per cent being flood and storm events. Floods in India, China, and Afghanistan caused largest fatalities because they were unprecedented in nature. Cyclone Tauktae, the deadliest cyclone in the Arabian Sea, struck India’s West Coast. In the Pacific, the volcanic eruption in Tonga presented a cascading risks scenario where large volcano triggered tsunami and storm surges, exposing, and exacerbating multiple critical vulnerabilities, Srivastava pointed out.

Ganga-Brahmaputra basin

The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, a risk hotspot with the largest concentration of poor people, is facing unprecedented flooding since May 2022. The vulnerable communities in Bangladesh and adjoining Assam are impacted not only by floods but also related waterborne diseases. In another major event, a heatwave struck India early this year coincided with the critical milking/grain filling stage of wheat crop in mid-March. The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 notes that highly exposed critical infrastructure results in high economic losses and disruptions to economic activities. This calls for transformative adaptation that is risk informed at all levels - regional, sub-regional, national, and sub-national. Frontier technologies can help scale transformative adaptation in the riskier times ahead, Srivastava said.