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The humanitarian cost of disasters

  • Published at 10:53 pm May 10th, 2017
  • Last updated at 10:49 am May 11th, 2017
The humanitarian cost of disasters
The victims of Haor (wetlands) not only lost their crops but also their source of pleasure, as enormous uncertainty has taken over their lives and livelihoods due to the recent flash floods. Around 171,115 hectares of Boro rice fields in Sunamganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona and Brahmanbari were submerged by flash floods, affecting about 300,000 farmers and causing them a loss of at least Tk1,700 crore, claimed the Haor Advocacy Platform based on the data from the Department of Agricultural Extension. The government of Bangladesh formulated a number of policies in the past to tackle climate related disasters, such as the National Disaster Management Policy 2015, the Disaster Management Act 2012, Cyclone Shelter Construction Maintenance and Management Policy 2011, and Standing Order on Disaster 2010. Bangladesh lost an estimated 5.9% of GDP to storms from 1998-2009. According to disaster related household survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2015, 25.51% of households was affected by cyclone and tornado during the period from 2009 to 2014. While six cyclones hit Bangladesh in the sixteen years between 1991 and 2006, the next decade between 2007 and 2016 saw only five cyclones. This may be due to the adoption of improved early warning systems and community based disaster preparedness. However, IPCC has identified Bangladesh as being at particular risk from climate change due to its exposure to sea-level rise and extreme events and concentrated multidimensional poverty (Eastham et al., 2008; Wassmann et al., 2009; Chapter 13, IPCC). Climate Vulnerable Monitor 2013 predicted that an additional 0.6 million people in Bangladesh might face additional economic losses of US$ 1.25 billion each year by 2030 due to climate change induced disasters like floods, cyclone, storm surges and other natural calamities.
The immense humanitarian crisis in the Hoar area is a wake-up call to all concerned stakeholders. Any reluctance to address the issue by relevant authorities may ruin the economic future of the community
Economic losses caused by any disaster can be minimised if concerned authorities become more accountable. However, TIB's study on the response to cyclone Roanu in 2016 identified that local authorities including the Water Development Board didn't assess the potential risks of the coastal infrastructure properly, e.g. possibility of breaching the embankments, polders, lack of coordination among concerned agencies, poor accountability mechanism and lack of community based planning and monitoring of the project bidding and allocation of resources for rehabilitation and absence of grievance redress mechanism. Earlier, the TIB study in 2015 also identified governance challenges in the BCCTF project implementation at Sunamganj by the BWDB. The case of constructing seasonal dams in Hoar areas is not different either. It is important to note that battling flash floods using permanent structures is likely to be less fruitful than effective temporary measures along with a long term action plan, according to experts. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) was adopted in 2015 at the Third UN World Conference in Japan, to guide disaster-prone countries like Bangladesh living with such governance challenges in disaster management at a time of alarming progression of climate-induced risks. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk is one of the key priority areas of the SFDRR along with understanding disaster risk; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience; and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The SFDRR also reiterated their commitment to integrate, as appropriate, both disaster risk reduction and the building of resilience into policies, plans, programs and budgets at all levels and to consider both within relevant frameworks and strengthening of international cooperation and global partnership, and risk-informed donor policies and programs, including financial support and loans from international financial institutions. In addition, to respond to the disasters efficiently, UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)/Agenda 11(c) has stipulated that by 2020, countries should “substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels." The SDGs 2030 were adopted by the UN in September 2015 with the aspiration of “leaving no one behind,” including the most vulnerable people from the remotest areas of the world. In particular, agenda 13 of the SDGs includes a pledge to strengthen resilience and human and institutional capacity in addressing climate change adaptation through effective integration of all related national policies, planning and strategies. The SDGs aim to transform the world by eradicating poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring peaceful and inclusive societies everywhere especially in the LDCs, where, nearly half the population remain in extreme poverty. However, the SDGs make no additional commitments on mobilizing the required funds for achieving its targets in LDCs. Moreover, how the SFDRR, SDG and the Paris Agreement will be converged to protect the vulnerable world especially in terms of climate finance is still vague. It is estimated that costs to meet the 17 SDGs and 169 targets including goal 13 on tackling global climate change will require an additional US$1.4 trillion a year in low and middle-income countries, of which, US$343-360 billion is for low-income countries and US$900 billion to US$944 billion will be required for lower-middle-income countries (Schmidt Traub, 2015). Although developing countries have objected to shifting the financial burdens of climate change to them, there is no clear commitment in the Paris Agreement to set aside the required fund for the most vulnerable countries. Oxfam estimates it would only result in adaptation receiving around 20 percent of the $100bn per year by 2020 and only an estimated 18% of climate finance went to LDCs in 2013-14 (Oxfam, 2016). More worrisome is that the USA's 2018 budget proposal "[e]liminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President's pledge to cease payments to the United Nations' (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds." "It's clear that the administration intends to halt or reverse everything domestic and foreign related to addressing the challenge of climate change," said Kei Koizumi, a top budget official in the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration." However, in 1994, while the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) formed and developed the convention developed countries have acknowledged their historical liability in climate change and the developed country Parties recognized the “Polluters Pay Principle” and committed to provide new and additional (to Overseas Development Assistance or ODA) financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties (Article 4.3) and Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation to those adverse effects (Article 4.4). However, UN framework convention on climate change fails to provide a clear, straightforward and specific targets or timetables in achieving its aims and objectives enjoined. The immense humanitarian crisis in the Hoar area is a wake-up call to all concerned stakeholders. Any reluctance to address the issue by relevant authorities may ruin the economic future of the community. Moreover, pragmatic, prompt and practical thinking to go beyond-the-box of the relevant stakeholders are essential for addressing any disaster efficiently at minimum loses. After all, a human being cannot allow corruption to get in the way of preventing irreversible damages to the planet and its inhabitants.   * Climate finance governance analyst; Email: [email protected]