Natural disaster risks: Regional cooperation is vital

The EU sees huge potential for climate change adaptation and economic growth, social stability and environmental sustainability in South Asia

There is no sub-continent more vulnerable to climate change than South Asia.

This can be felt in a number of ways, such as record high temperatures in India and Pakistan and increasingly frequent natural disasters such as tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes and landslides.

Most acutely these impacts are creating burdens on those most connected to natural resources, such as the farmers of the Himalayas and Bangladesh, those living around rivers and Glacial Lakes who are impacted by floods, and small island nations which await rising sea levels.

Despite these challenges, we can see an opportunity for South Asia to become a harbor for best practices and solutions to these issues. To make this a reality, regional cooperation is a necessity.

Coming to a point in which South Asia can confidently and competently work as a region requires renewed vigor and earnestness, particularly when addressing the processes of South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

It was inspiring to see that the 15th SAARC Summit held in Colombo in 2008 decided that a “Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism” would be created.

Since then, however, we unfortunately have witnessed a number of disasters in South Asia, which should prompt us to revisit SAARC’s mandate on Natural Disaster Management Rapid Response mechanism.

The European Union has committed itself to work with SAARC and to help SAARC.

In fact, the EU has been organizing targeted events in particular countries, such as the recent conference addressing these subjects held on May 26-27th in Kathmandu, bringing people together from diverse areas of expertise and nations to bridge the existing gaps between countries that face common problems, seeking innovative solutions and pathways forward.

Solutions from this conference resulted in several key takeaways. For example, journalists from South Asian nations called upon one another to not treat natural disasters merely as a news event; rather, there is a need for timely, holistic, and responsive information dissemination.

Done correctly, responses can come at key times after disasters when information can save lives, and, before natural events, lessons can be shared across borders for better planning.

This conference also awarded the possibility of cross-contextual learning for getting climate change adaptation right. Many facts were highlighted, such as the need for sustainable financing, awareness of cross-cutting issues such as gender and inclusion, and the crucial role of international cooperation in trans boundary challenges.

As explained by Malik Amin Aslam, former Minister of Environment in Pakistan and current Vice President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “Political will is extremely important so that all stakeholders know the costs of adaptation and the costs are of not adapting.

Adaptation in the region needs to be proactive rather than reactive; if we spent one dollar adapting to climate change, that saves us seven dollars.” In total, adaptation and disaster risk reduction requires greater understanding and approaches.

Globally, the EU is fully committed to taking climate action. Ever since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was adopted in 1992 as a basis for global response to tackle climate change, the EU has been according top priority to climate change related issues.

The ‘Paris Agreement’ signed on 22 April 2016 has raised fresh hopes to promote reduction of carbon emissions.

Regionally, the EU has sought to tackle the issues of climate change, seeking a view of the region as a wealth of best practices which the rest of the world can learn and grow from.

In Nepal, the EU supports the Nepal Climate Change Support Programme to enable Nepal’s poorest and most vulnerable communities to adapt to the effects of climate change in the most climate vulnerable 14 districts of the Mid and Far Western regions of Nepal.

Looking forward, through the European Investment Bank, plans for new hydropower development are underway, with commitments of tens of millions of euros coming from the EU so that Nepal may develop while tapping into its renewable energy potential.

Last year, following the devastating earthquakes, the EU allocated enormous support towards post-earthquake reconstruction, including the signing of a state-building contract with the Government of Nepal for an amount of € 105 million.

EU support also consisted of immediate provision of humanitarian aid to the victims in the earthquake affected areas. In the future, it is hoped that better linkages are built at regional level so that these and other examples can be replicated and advanced.

Locally, and personally, every citizen worldwide has to bear personal responsibility in terms of looking at the impact of climate change. Every little gesture counts.

For example, people can install solar panels or try to look at more sustainable ways of transport. Solutions must be disseminated more in South Asia, and it should start at schools.

The EU sees huge potential for climate change adaptation and economic growth, social stability and environmental sustainability in South Asia.

Not only is regional cooperation a key, but there are new opportunities through global commitments to truly seek, and finance, emergent solutions.

These huge efforts will take a while, and the results will really be worth it.

Teerink is European Union Ambassador to Nepal.