A "disaster" refers to a sudden, calamitous event that disrupts the functioning of a community or an entire society. Natural disasters range from earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides to droughts, floods, and storm surges. Some disasters result from a complex combination of natural and man-made causes, and are typically characterized by extensive violence and mass displacement.
Over the last 25 years, the world has seen a rise in the frequency of natural disasters in rich and poor countries alike. Today, there are more people at risk from natural hazards than ever before, with those in developing countries particularly at risk.
The rate of exposure of Asian and Middle Eastern countries to natural disasters and the damage inflicted by them has escalated in recent decades. According to a report by the United Nations ESCAP, half of the world's disasters in 2014 occurred in Asia and the Pacific, affecting 80 million people and incurring nearly $60 billion in economic losses. According to a 2014 World Bank study, the average number of natural disasters in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) almost tripled since the 1980s, resulting in average annual losses of over $1 billion.
This series is intended to explore measures that have been taken, and could be taken, in order to improve responses to the threat or occurrence of natural disasters in the MENA and/or Asia Pacific regions. The essays address this subject matter through a number of different lenses, including risk reduction, relief delivery and long-term recovery. While some essays focus on the roles and contributions of individual stakeholders—whether at the national, regional, or international level—others discuss ways to enhance outcomes through effective partnerships. Most of the essays focus on specific cases as a means of deriving insights, lessons or best practices. And all of them aim to help inform the discussion about how best to prepare for and mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of a natural disaster.
May 26, 2016
Responding to Natural Disasters: Rowing Against a Fast-Rising Tide of Risk
This essay provides a brief overview of the increasing frequency and growing risk of natural disasters, surveys the natural disaster landscape in the MENA region, and briefly discusses efforts to develop strategies for reducing losses by emphasizing prevention and preparedness.
June 7, 2016
Community Responses to Floods in Fiji: Lessons Learned
As Pacific countries urbanize, the possibilities for more deaths and destruction are obvious. Traditional means of flood prevention and protection are not necessarily forgotten, despite modern changes in living patterns and life styles. In this essay, taking Fiji as a case study, lessons learned from traditional lifestyles are analyzed in the light of new, urban settlement patterns.
June 9, 2016
Learning from Deaths in Disasters: The Case of Odisha, India
Nibedita S Ray-Bennett
In 1999, Odisha, India was struck by a super cyclone featuring an unprecedented storm surge and torrential rainfall that resulted in widespread devastation and a substantial loss of life. Fourteen years later, the same area was hit by Cyclone Phailin, which despite its severity, claimed relatively few lives. This essay examines the reasons for the starkly different death tolls and considers what lessons could be drawn from the responses to these two disasters.
June 14, 2016
Addressing Worldwide Flood Concerns: Empowering Local Communities
This essay focuses on the role of local communities during the recovery stage from floods. By drawing on a case study of rural communities in Laos, the essay highlights the potential benefits of equipping local communities with long-term practices that will assist them in recovery efforts. The essay concludes with a discussion of the lessons and insights gained from this case and that they could be applied in other countries to improve flood resiliency.
June 16, 2016
Disaster Diplomacy for Asia and the Middle East
Ilan Kelman, JC Gaillard and Martina Klimesova
This essay looks briefly at the Philippines experience in order to highlight the interplay between disaster risk reduction and politics regarding disaster diplomacy across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions and beyond.
June 21, 2016
Blanket Responses in Humanitarian Response: Reflections from the 2015 Nepal Earthquake
In April and May 2015, two large-scale earthquakes struck Nepal, killing almost 9,000 people, damaging over half a million houses and displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. This essay focuses on a particular aspect of the response to this disaster—namely, the use of the ‘blanket’ approach as a basis for the distribution of relief. It suggests that while blanket approaches are commonly used in the immediate aftermath of rapid onset disasters, unless replaced as soon as feasible with approaches that target vulnerability, they can very easily result in the exclusion of those most desperately in need.
June 23, 2016
Information Filtering in Social Media During Disasters
Tahora H. Nazer, Huan Liu and Guoliang Xue
Disaster relief systems are built upon the assumption that information provided by volunteers is accurate. In recent years, social media have become widely used tools to assist in disaster relief. This essay brings to light the various types of unwanted data and their characteristics. Drawing on the case of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the essay shows how social media can support as well as impede relief efforts. The essay concludes with suggestions regarding how to 'filter' information so as to help make social media a more effective disaster relief tool.
June 28, 2016
An “All-Hazards” Approach to Resilience: Benefits and Building Blocks
What could be done to guard against the possibility of a multi-disaster incident? Drawing upon the experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, this essay discusses the need for, value of, and prerequisites for instituting an “All-Hazards” emergency management strategy.
June 30, 2016
Private Sector Engagement in Disaster Response: Opportunity and Lessons
Public officials and other stakeholders in the Asia Pacific and MENA regions face the challenge of finding ways to strengthen their capacity to respond to natural disasters, and thereby reduce the loss of life and economic damage caused by them. This essay examines the opportunities for private sector engagement in disaster response and humanitarian assistance and the potential contribution of such engagement to mitigating disaster impacts in the MENA region.
July 5, 2016
Governance Framework for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response in A.S.E.A.N.
This essay discusses the steps taken and progress made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) to address issues of humanitarian action and disaster response (HA/DR) in the region. The essay outlines A.S.E.A.N.'s evolving governance framework for humanitarian and disaster relief (HA/DR), focusing on 1) the regulatory foundation, 2) key sectors and actors, 3) instruments to mobilize resources, and 4) coordination mechanisms. The essay also offers some thoughts about which principles and actions adopted by A.S.E.A.N. member states aimed at strengthening their collective preparedness to respond to large-scale disasters might be applicable to the Middle East.
July 7, 2016
Ensuring More Effective Responses to Natural Disasters: Pakistan in Perspective
This essay draws on recent examples of efforts to respond to natural disasters in order to shed light on some of the main reasons such efforts often fall short of their desired outcome. To address these shortcomings, the author advocates, above all, the adoption of a long-term, holistic approach to disasters that could mitigate the risks associated with "slow burn" crises.
July 12, 2016
Disaster Law: The Rubric of Institutional Preparedness in Disaster Risk Reduction
In this essay, Amita Singh relates what disaster law (DL) is, why it is needed, and how it can help make communities safer from disasters. The essay examines the earthquake that struck Manipur, India in January 2016, highlighting the many institutional shortcomings of the response to this calamity. In order to address these problems, the author urges that considerably more research be conducted so as to accelerate the development of disaster law.
July 14, 2016
The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Humanitarian Response
Sabina Durrani and Agha Irfan Ali Zaidi
Emotional intelligence (EI) emerged from the premise that emotions have an impact on almost every aspect of human experience. EI refers to the ability to use emotions effectively and productively. Drawing mainly upon Daniel Goleman’s model of EI at work, this essay considers how the qualities of emotional intelligence might be integrated into disaster response thinking, planning, and operations.
July 19, 2016
South East Asia Risk Collaboration Hub (SEARCH)
Jane E. Rovins, Brian G. McAdoo and Robert Weiss
This essay examines the need to understand and quantify natural hazards and the associated risks and their inter-connectedness so that societies are better positioned to guard against and bounce back from these potentially catastrophic events. The essay describes the genesis, objectives and goals of the South East Asia Risk Collaboration Hub (SEARCH), a knowledge-driven enterprise that provides a platform for the private sector and academia to discuss these crucial issues.
July 26, 2016
Adaptation Actions, Migration and Disaster Vulnerability of Bangladeshi Coastal Communities
This essay discusses the impact of climate change on livelihoods and documents current and future adaptation strategies of the Bangladeshi coastal communities. The findings of the research conducted in preparing this essay indicate that those who migrated to another area were able to secure new places to reside but in locations that made them susceptible to other forms of disaster.
Aug 04, 2016
Data for Disaster Management: Mind the Gap
Marc van den Homberg
Organizations working on disaster management need to find sustainable and scalable ways to mitigate the increased risks and to minimize the loss of lives and livelihoods when a disaster hits. This essay focuses on the role data plays in disaster management and on how innovations in this area can benefit humanitarian actors and can help them to transform the way in which they operate.
Oct 04, 2016
Science and Technology for DRR: Asian Policy Dialogue Agenda
The science and technology sectors possess the knowledge and capabilities to reduce risk and build resilience in the Asia Pacific region. In fact, science and technology can play a key role in shaping the upcoming Asia Regional Plan as well as the political declaration at the Asia Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), which will be held this November in Delhi. This essay proposes several agenda items for these dialogues.
Oct 6, 2016
Big Data for Disaster Response in Data-Poor Settings: Lessons from the 2015 Hindu Kush Earthquake
Marc van den Homberg
Natural disasters are complex events. Responders need accurate, reliable and timely data in order to ensure that the decision-making process is efficient and that their efforts are effective. Big data emerges at a fast-paced rate in our digital age and may contribute to enhancing situational awareness. However, there are still large differences between regions in terms of uneven flows of information and levels of access to Information and Communication Technologies. This digital divide exacerbates the information and collaboration gaps between responders and affected communities even more. This essay tries to provide a realistic assessment of the role that big data could play in improving response in a high data poverty context by focusing on a case study of a sudden onset natural disaster.
Jun 13, 2017
The 2015 Chennai Flood: A Case for Developing City Resilience Strategies
Umamaheshwaran Rajasekar and Soumita Chakraborty
In November-December 2015 Chennai and its neighboring coastal districts in India experienced torrential rainfall followed by a devastating flood. Amid the chaos and widespread impact, the event brought people and institutions in and outside Chennai together, to provide support to the victims affected by the flood. Help reached the affected areas and their residents from different sections of society and in variety of forms. The lessons from this case study and others like it can help urban centers elsewhere in Asia to plan for similar eventualities.
Jun 12, 2018
India and the Middle East: Common Areas of Action on the Sendai Framework
Historically, most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have approached disaster risk management focusing on post-disaster relief and recovery activities. Governments across the region are trying to change that, and recent years have seen the establishment of a number of national-level disaster risk management units, early warning systems, preparedness plans, and national risk assessments. It is in this regard that the MENA region can draw lessons from the Indian experience of implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR).
Aug 14, 2018
India and the Middle East: Toward Building Joint Knowledge on Managing Sand and Dust Storms
This essay discusses the circumstances and consequences of several severe, destructive dust storms that recently took place in India. It argues that Middle Eastern countries, among others, have been experiencing similar, recurring disasters. It further argues that there is both a need and scope for collaborative approaches to mitigating the adverse effects of sand and dust storms. And it offers key recommendations for advancing a joint Indian-Middle Eastern agenda to address this challenge.
Aug 28, 2018
Community Leadership and Early Warning Systems in Fragile Disaster Zones
This article discusses the emergence of Early Warning Systems (EWS) as life-saving tools during disasters, with specific attention to South Asia and the Middle East. The central argument is that the potential benefits of such tools can be fully realized only when combined with community-based sources of knowledge and participation, and not when deployed as substitutes for them.
Oct 09, 2018
Dark Clouds, Silver Lining: Kerala Floods, Gulf Responses, and More Lessons
The unprecedented flooding witnessed in the Indian state of Kerala in August 2018 has been heart wrenching. Climate experts and meteorologists have dubbed it the worst flooding observed in the state in over a century. As the floodwaters recede in Kerala, leaving behind lost lives and damaged houses and wiped out livelihoods, it is important to imbibe the lessons that this disaster has offered for effective relief and sustainable reconstruction.
Jan 22, 2019
The Politics of Combating Infectious Diseases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East
Amy L. Freedman
This article compares the local responses to the 2012-2018 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to that of the Avian Influenza outbreak in Southeast Asia from 2003-2015. How well do countries cope with the spread of new and deadly diseases? Why are some countries better at addressing the problem than others? And, what does this tell us about larger questions concerning states’ abilities to provide public goods (in this case health security) to their citizens and about global systems to prevent pandemics? What this comparison demonstrates is that countries with the ‘strongest’ state capacity to make and implement policy are best able to confront disease outbreaks.
Feb 12, 2019
Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, and Sustainable Urban Adaptation in Arab Coastal Cities
Laurent A. Lambert, Cristina D'Alessandro
This article highlights how the lesser-known issue of sea level rise makes Arab states increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Using the city of Doha as a case study to highlight how sea level rise represents a critical threat to many Arab coastal cities and a national security challenge to Gulf Arab nations, this article underscores the need for greater anticipation in the region’s urban planning of the risks posed by climate change and sea level rise.
♦ United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
— Middle East and North Africa.
DOCUMENTS AND REPORTS:
♦ United Nations World Humanitarian Summit, Istanbul, May 22-26, 2016. Key Documents.
♦ UNISDR. 2015. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
♦ UNISDR. 2015. Chart of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
♦ UNISDR ROAS. 2014. Sharm El Sheikh declaration on disaster risk reduction.
♦ SDC Switzerland and UNISDR ROAS. 2013. Aqaba declaration on disaster risk reduction in cities.
♦ World Bank. 2014. Natural Disasters in the Middle East and North Africa: A Regional Overview.
♦ World Bank. Summary of the Regional Study. June 2011. Climate Change Adaptation and Natural Disasters Preparedness in the Coastal Cities of North Africa.
DISASTER RISK REDUCTION NETWORKS: