This and coming extreme weather events, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, present a host of challenges for governments. For example, in India, north and northwest states have already struggled to harvest and sell their summer wheat, fruit and vegetable crops because of lockdown measures disrupting food production activities. If the cyclone damages later-ripening crops in more eastern parts, it will place even more pressure on the agricultural sector. As well as threatening the livelihoods and welfare of poor smallholder farmers, this will likely have knock-on effects for revenue-raising food exports and food prices.
The number of Covid-19 cases in the parts of India and Bangladesh where the cyclone is set to hit are still relatively low. However, in other places where extreme events are forecast, numbers are higher. Scientists at IWMI compared a map showing the levels of risk from multiple natural hazards (landslide, cyclone, heatwaves, floods and coastal inundation, drought, earthquake, extreme rainfall and forest fire) with the latest plot of Covid-19 cases published by India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The scientists identified 411 districts, in 22 states, that have both higher risks from natural hazards and elevated Covid-19 cases.
Well-thought-out planning for how those districts should manage potential disasters is critical, given that India is currently in lockdown until at least 3 rd May. Take Maharashtra, for example. Large parts of the state show a high level of risk for multiple hazards, including heatwaves, and 5652 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed there, with 269 deaths as of 23 April 2020. The arrival of a heatwave will likely increase the number of people needing hospital treatment at a time when services are already stretched by the pandemic.
It is a similar story for states likely affected by the monsoon. Bihar, India’s most flood-prone state, for example, will need to prepare a joint response to Covid-19 and flooding. As well as safely housing people whose homes are inundated – without increasing their risk of contracting Covid-19 – this should include financial provision for smallholder farmers who have lost crops. Insurance is one financial mechanism to consider. Scientists from IWMI, CGIAR Research Program of Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), WLE and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), recently tested a satellite-based insurance scheme in Bihar to compensate farmers in the case of flooding. Farmers who took part in the scheme shared a total payout of INR 8 lakhs (USD $10,500) when their crops were damaged during the 2019 monsoon.
In Sri Lanka, where IWMI’s headquarters is located, the monsoon brings rain between May and July. It can sometimes unleash extreme events, including flooding and landslides. Where storm water is released into urban canals, the number of mosquito-borne Dengue fever cases often greatly increases. Worryingly, the western, southern and central regions that the monsoon affects are also forecast to be the most vulnerable to Covid-19. Anoja Seneviratne, Director of Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre, has urged the country to prepare now for the combined impacts of extreme events and the pandemic, saying thousands of people could be affected.
In the past two decades, more than 750 million people in South Asia have been affected by at least one natural disaster. Of late, the Disaster Risk Reduction sector has sought to shift disaster-prone countries’ focus from ‘response preparedness’, where actions plans are simply put in place to deal with the aftermath of disasters, to ‘disaster risk reduction’, where a greater level of resilience is built into communities to make them more able to endure disasters. With time running out before new climate extremes arrive and collide with the Covid-19 pandemic, IWMI and its partners are making ten recommendations to guide South Asian nations. Countries need to get ahead of the coming crisis by moving quickly to act on these recommendations. Only early action, heavy allocation of resources and smart planning will make sure we can avoid collapse of medical, economic and food systems.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MANAGING CLIMATE DISASTERS CONCURRENTLY WITH COVID-19:
- Integrate multiple-hazard and Covid-19 hotspots to inform disaster preparedness and response strategies for monsoon planning.
- Minimize the burden on hospitals arising from other hazards (by treating Covid-19 patients separately).
- With the participation of communities, revise the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for managing cyclone shelters. Incorporate social distancing and provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in these SOPs.
- Strengthen capacities and resources for preparing for other hazards. For example, explore the possibility of using schools and colleges (with social distancing) as temporary shelters.
- Advise disaster response forces on protecting themselves from Covid-19. Establish protocols for their protection and provide personnel with appropriate PPE and psycho-social support.
- Establish support networks (with social distancing) for providing food and financial relief for the most vulnerable.
- Put in place provision for the elderly in disaster-preparedness mechanisms to reduce, or, if possible, eliminate their exposure to Covid-19.
- Strengthen hospital preparedness, including access to sanitation and quality water, to protect functionality when natural disasters strike.
- Establish capability for rapid response mapping, incorporating GIS data for hospital and health center locations, connectivity, schools and colleges, and other community facilities. This can include supporting the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team.
- Form multiple-hazard response teams with wide-ranging expertise and the capacity to respond rapidly to combined Covid-19 / natural disasters
Thrive, a blog facilitated by CGIAR; also published on Down to Earth as a WLE Op-Ed
George Hodan licensed under CC0 Public Domain