When saving lives during disasters, transporting food and water takes center stage, but managing and disposing of waste is equally important. If not given proper attention, solid and liquid waste can fast become a health hazard in affected communities. With the chaos that comes after emergencies, it is critical that waste be disposed of safely and properly.
When typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters occur, a lot of waste is already generated. We often see fallen trees, boulders and mud blocking roads, in addition to rubble from man-made structures like houses and buildings. Clearing operations often take place to ensure that roads are passable and safe for rescue teams and the delivery of much-needed supplies. In addition to the debris, waste generated from food packaging can pile up fast especially in evacuation centres.
SOME MATERIALS THAT MAY BE CLASSIFIED AS SOLID WASTE AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS HAVE OCCURRED:
1. Fallen trees, tree trunks, branches, palm leaves
2. Rubble and debris from damaged infrastructure such as steel, concrete, wood and bricks
3. Mud, ash, rocks
4. Electric lines, poles and cables
5. Garbage from food and water such as plastic water bottles, packaging and leftover food
If there is no existing waste-disposal site, a temporary area that is safe and far away from evacuation sites and human settlements should be designated for the piling of solid waste. Communal pits can also serve this purpose. Rubble and debris can be sorted, some of it can still be used, such as metal sheeting and wood.
When selecting the type of vehicle to be used to transport solid waste, things like generation rates and densities need to be considered. Routes are also important along with the distance between collection and disposal areas or dumping sites, be they temporary or permanent.
Local people also play an important role in managing waste in emergencies. Victims of natural disasters can help in keeping their own environment safe and sanitary. They can engage in clean-up operations, as focusing on tasks is one way of dealing with the trauma that natural disasters often inflict on people. This can also boost morale as they are directly engaged in improving their homes and communities.
Proper waste management can help keep away flies, dogs, snakes and other scavengers that have the potential to spread disease. Used medical supplies like syringes should also be disposed of properly.
SOME OF THE RISKS THAT CAN ARISE FROM DISASTER WASTE ARE:
1. Nuisance from the stench from decomposing waste materials
2. Disease and bacterial infection from animals and vermin that scavenge through garbage piles
3. Direct contact with hazardous chemicals such as pesticides and acids
4. Cuts, scratches and abrasions from sharp objects
Written by : Judith Garcia Meese
LET’S GET HACKING
A major component of the Humanitarian and Emergency Logistics Innovation Expo (HELiX) 2021 is the upcoming AHAckathon competition. This competition, a hackathon (big clue in the name), is an exciting new concept for the AHA Centre and has been launched as an effort to engage more students, young people and professionals in the process of producing innovations to support humanitarian logistics and supply-chain management for the ASEAN region. But what exactly is a hackathon?
The word hackathon itself is a portmanteau of “hacking” and “marathon”, and as such is a race in which software developers, programmers, interface designers, project managers and others collaborate in developing a programme or software. The participating teams are normally given a deadline, often 48 hours, to work on the software at a marathon-like work pace. The competition is not limited only to programmers or those with coding expertise, but also to project managers or designers, as the team has to work on developing a solution to questions provided for a certain theme.
The general concept is that each team will be provided with the theme and set of questions for them to work together in developing software that can help to solve the problems. Hackathon competitions have become widely popular since the mid to late 2000s as a tool for companies and venture capitalists to develop software technologies in a short time and then promote them for potential funding.
Nowadays, the competitions are no longer limited to the commercial and private sector but also other sectors such as government and humanitarian agencies. The hackathon is a venue for all sectors to promote innovation and gather solutions, specifically from students and young people, who are normally the main target participants of the competition.
The AHAckathon is being staged by the AHA Centre as part of HELIX 2021, in partnership with the Viet Nam Disaster Management Authority (VNDMA) and in cooperation with HELP Logistics, Impact Week and LaunchLabs. The event is supported by the Government of Japan through the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).
AHAckathon participants have to propose software or application-based solutions to identified problems in humanitarian logistics. The teams will have 48 hours to work and finish the software or application. Representatives of the ASEAN Member States and from universities and other humanitarian partners will serve as judges of the competition.
THE TEAMS ARE EXPECTED TO PROVIDE AN APPLICATION-BASED SOLUTION TO ANY OR A COMBINATION OF THE FOLLOWING PROBLEMS:
How can humanitarian needs be quickly identified or estimated?
How can relief assistance be distributed more quickly, be better tracked and their receipt reported efficiently?
How can affected communities be better informed about assistance and provide feedback?
How can customs, immigration and quarantine protocols be processed more quickly?
How can decision-makers be better informed about the needs, progress and feedback from the response?
The purpose of the AHAckathon is to promote innovative solutions and collaboration to support the improvement of humanitarian logistics for the ASEAN Member States and humanitarian communities in the ASEAN region. It is hoped that the competition will trigger more creative ideas to solve the problems identified in relation to many components of the humanitarian logistics and supply-chain management process in the region.
Through the AHAckathon, the AHA Centre and our partners also want to promote collaboration between the commercial and non-commercial sectors. The competition will provide an opportunity for hackers, programmers and project managers across the globe to work together. While in return, they will have an opportunity to get coaching from experienced start-up entrepreneurs and design thinking experts, as well as exposure to potential investors.
The competition is open to students, amateurs and professionals. As we believe a complex problem requires a collaborative effort, individuals and teams may come from different disciplines to work together to unpack the problems and provide solutions. The competition will be conducted virtually from 8-10 October, 2021.
Written by : Caroline Widagdo
A JOURNEY OF THE COLUMN:
IT’S MORE THAN JUST A NEWSLETTER
I have had the great privilege of serving as Editor in Chief of The Column since December 2016 and as this edition, Volume 75, marks the end of my tenure, I would like to reflect on The Column’s journey thus far.
The Column was first published in January 2015 under the stewardship of Mr Said Faisal, who led the AHA Centre as Executive Director. At that time, the AHA Centre needed to have a platform that could regularly update and inform partners about all issues relating to disaster management and humanitarian assistance in the ASEAN region, as well as a channel to communicate to the public about the activities of the AHA Centre.
I was pleased to take over as Editor in Chief for the 24th edition and although The Column was fulfilling its initial role, I felt that there was much more that could be achieved in order to get our important message across to a wider audience. The most obvious transformation was in the visual design – to make it more attractive, and most importantly to publish The Column in a web-version format. This was achieved with Volume 36 in March 2018 and it allowed readers to access The Column from their computers or cellphones. The public could also now subscribe to receive the monthly newsletter via email.
On top of that, I sought to ensure that we had a more diverse range of contributors, from AHA Centre staff and other experts and partners to academics and the AHA Centre Executive (ACE) Programme graduates. The Other Side section of The Column also regularly features profiles of people from various backgrounds who have shared the “other side” of their public persona. In the past few editions, the Other Side has featured ACE Programme alumni from all 10 ASEAN Member States.
The Column has become an important channel for the AHA Centre to communicate with stakeholders, partners and the general public about the vitally important role the Centre plays in disaster management and humanitarian issues in the region. As a knowledge product, The Column also provides the opportunity for AHA Centre staff, partners, academics and experts to contribute to the expansion of information on all matters relating to its work.
It has been six years since the first edition of The Column was released, and many activities and a great deal of information have been captured in its pages. As Editor in Chief, I have been a witness to what has been going on in the AHA Centre and in the region through its many informative articles.
As I prepare to leave the Centre this month, I feel emotional about also leaving The Column, where over the years I have got in touch with so many dedicated individuals, both professionals and volunteers, in formal meetings, informal gatherings and through social media. We could not have achieved what we have without their efforts and I would like to take the opportunity to thank them. I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude for the support provided by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) and EU-SAHA to The Column.
I hope, indeed I am sure, that The Column will continue to inform the AHA Centre’s partners and the wider public about all disaster-management and humanitarian issues in the region. I wish it and the team every success in the future.
Written by : Ms Adelina Kamal
ESTONIAN RESCUE BOARD (ERB)
THE TURBULENT YEAR OF 2020
Although the Estonian Rescue Board (ERB) has not been the lead body during the COVID-19 pandemic, it nevertheless has played an important role in the crisis. On 12 March, 2020 the government of Estonia declared an emergency situation for the whole territory of Estonia. For those of us in the ERB this meant that we had to switch from our regular working regime to a staff regime in which we reduced drastically the services that we provide (e.g. prevention, fire supervision etc).
The main task for us was to secure business continuity in our field, meaning responding to incidents and supporting the local government authorities across the country in coping with the crisis and coordinating the information exchange between different local and state authorities. This may sound like a simple task but it was not, because as in any crisis, being on top of the information flow is one of the greatest challenges. The main reason why the ERB was given that task was due to its expertise in the crisis-coordination field. Although the emergency situation ended on 1 May 2020, our role of being the main crisis partner for local authorities and our continuous support for the Estonian Health Board in resolving the crisis is still ongoing. Another important role was to deliver face masks and disinfectant all over the country. The ERB has a good network of professional and voluntary fire stations throughout Estonia, and that was the main reason it was used to reach as wide a range of people as possible. In addition we helped the police and border guard board with our drones to prevent mass gatherings and transmission of the virus.
As mentioned above, one of the tasks for the ERB was the maintenance of business continuity. In order to achieve that, we worked out different solutions for our first responders. As we were in a pandemic that mainly spread through contact, it was important to work out how to reduce such contact. We tried to maintain every fire station as a bubble, and within each fire station every shift also. So, the changing of shifts in stations was made contactless. We tried to avoid moving firefighters between stations as we did previously in order to maintain a lifesaving number of personnel in a station. All in all, this was more costly initially, but kept the spread of the virus under control and we had no case of an entire fire station being closed for more than 24 hours/one shift as a result of having a shift in quarantine for being in contact with a COVID-positive individual. Of course, all of this was done hand-in-hand with the conventional measures of using face masks, disinfectants etc.
Estonia has a relatively small population and low population density and this in combination with a reasonably good COVID-19 testing system meant that test results were available in less than 24 hours, sometimes even 12 hours, and we could respond to the positive test result quickly and isolate any close contacts. First responders received video instruction on how to use protective equipment and how to safely dispose of it when attending incidents such as car accidents.
Estonia has a quite low natural-hazards risk, limited mostly to occasional flooding and forest fires. The year 2020 was record-breaking for the ERB in a positive sense in many ways: the number of building, dwelling, forest and landscape fires was the lowest since Estonia regained its independence. The number of casualties in fires was also the lowest since 1991. No major forest fires were reported last year in Estonia. There were not even any European Civil Protection Mechanism activations on forest fires within the whole of Europe last year.
As Estonia was the scene of fierce fighting during the Second World War, one of our challenges each year is the recovery of war relics such as unexploded ordnance. In 2020, a record-breaking 9,041 explosive devices were defused. The main reason for this is probably that the winter and spring of 2020 were warm and more people spent time in nature because of COVID-19 restrictions and many discoveries were made by people by walking in the forests.
In 2020 the work of the ERB was greatly transformed by COVID-19. Cooperation with partners from different countries also suffered due to the pandemic. Many trips and meetings were postponed and several had to be cancelled. Luckily, several employees could still participate in international cooperation events to develop partnerships, learn something new and help people in need. At the end of the year, Sudan suffered from a refugee crisis, when thousands of refugees arrived daily from Ethiopia fleeing a military conflict there. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asked the International Humanitarian Partnership (IHP) network for support in creating housing and working conditions for the people involved in solving the crisis. Estonia contributed with a base camp technician during the period of 19 December 2020 to 23 January 2021. The challenges included travel restrictions and spending a compulsory 14 days in isolation in Khartoum, before advancing to relief operations. All in all it took more time with the restrictions, but that is the new reality!
Written by : Toomas Kääparin / Photo Credit: ERB
DISASTERS DURING A PANDEMIC:
ARE COUNTRIES MORE WILLING TO ACCEPT INTERNATIONAL AID?
This month’s Insight article comes from the AHA Centre’s own Deputy Executive Director, Arnel Capili.
What if another major earthquake triggers a tsunami somewhere along the vast coastline of Indonesia? Or a super typhoon devastates one of the many islands of the Philippines? Would these countries, or other vulnerable nations in Southeast Asia, be more willing to accept international assistance in light of the pandemic?
Before the current pandemic, we saw a shift in some of the region’s countries’ policy to implement nationally-led disaster responses – with any support from the international community based on specific priorities. This was true during the Central Sulawesi earthquake in 2018, where the Government of Indonesia clearly manifested that the response was local, and that any offers of international assistance should be in-line with identified gaps, and channeled through local partners (such as the local Red Cross, local NGOs, and local government).
This tendency of governments to temper overwhelming “love and support” can be traced back from their experience of having a secondary disaster — a ‘tsunami’ of unsolicited assistance after the 2004 Banda Aceh tsunami, and super typhoon “Haiyan” (2013). The assumption is that the donations and support teams posed increased challenges for the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines, so much so that it eclipsed the well-intentioned purpose.
So then, are countries in the region more willing to accept offers of international assistance during a disaster in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic? Let us examine possible scenarios to provide some insights, and initiate conversations about how to plan responses to natural disasters in light of the pandemic.
In the short term, countries in the region will probably remain steadfast with their preference for a more nationally-led response. Understanding that most countries in the region have very strict restrictions on movement – particularly from ‘foreigners’ who are potential carriers of the virus – cash or remote technical support will be preferred. Durable goods may be accepted on the basis of diplomatic relations. For political considerations, offers from ‘friendly’ countries may be accepted to maintain good relationships, as well as in the interest of reciprocity. Regional organisations such as ASEAN may be accorded more space to reduce international humanitarian footprint.
In the longer-term, and if the threat of the pandemic persists, there is a potential for countries in the region to reconsider this position. The policy shift will stem from the fact that government resources – including its frontline services – may be exhausted. With an economic downturn and the mounting pressure to support communities, governments may be more flexible to accept international assistance. Although still considered to be a national response, governments may extend greater flexibility allowing exemptions and greater access to the international humanitarian community.
Regardless, national authorities will carefully weigh-in on issues related to national capacity and domestic politics. For a country reeling from the effects of COVID-19, food and durable goods such as mobile storage units, health and hygiene kits, and the required logistics to move them will be prioritised. Planning and anticipation are key for issues surrounding entry and quarantine requirements, certifications of compliance to national standards for medical teams and their equipment, and special handling requirements for relief items (disinfecting at port of entry for example).
One thing is undeniable – disasters during this pandemic will redefine how we do things. It will challenge how we think about humanitarian action, not just during the pandemic, but also how this model of response can be adapted post-pandemic. The difficulties faced during the pandemic have shown us that there are other ways to provide support aside from being on the ground, and that being first to assist is not necessarily a priority. Rather, it is more a profound need for greater thinking of how the international humanitarian community could enhance and add greater value to a nationally-led response.
Written by : Arnel Capili | Photo: AHA Centre
POTENTIAL COASTAL HAZARDS IN THE REGION
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), many of the world’s populations live in coastal regions. While idealistic for many, these regions still have a downside, which is that they are prone to an array of natural hazards.
Closer to home, Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most at-risk regions to the impacts and dangers caused by coastal hazards. Many areas of the Southeast Asia region are archipelagos, located between two large bodies of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Therefore, these nations are among those most vulnerable to coastal hazards, including rising sea levels, tsunamis, erosion and tidal flooding. Additionally, coastal hazards are closely linked to the impacts of climate change – particularly the issue of rising sea levels – that increasingly endanger human populations, cities, and ports across the region. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand are examples of ASEAN countries who are vulnerable to coastal hazards, and are all home to large cities located in close proximity to the coastline.
There are four major coastal hazards as identified by NOAA, namely: rising sea levels, harmful algae blooms, storm surges and tsunamis. Rising sea levels are the largest potential hazard faced by coastal communities, overly due to the onset of climate change. Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) occur when colonies of algae grow out of control, having toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, marine mammals, and birds. Storm surges take place through abnormal rises in sea levels during a large storm, that are measured at the height of water above the normal predicted astronomical tide. The last primary hazard are tsunamis, as most ASEAN nations lie in the Ring of Fire, that is home to constant earthquakes that cause the large tsunami waves.
Based on these interrelated and challenging contexts, it is therefore critical to develop resilient communities who are prepared for these threats, as well as enhance the ability of those communities to absorb impacts and bounce back should disaster strike. With strong preparation – supported by clear response mechanisms – ASEAN communities will continue to overcome and manage risks related to coastal hazards across the region.
Written by : Moch Syifa | Source: oceanservice.noaa.gov
FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND LESSONS FROM COVID-19 RESPONSE
During June 2020 an online discussion with over 60 participants from government to the private sector, academia, media and other development partners, was convened to explore alternative data for disaster management, with a focus on Indonesia’s COVID-19 response. The discussion was implemented by Saraswati – a private Indonesian firm focused on innovations in the development sector – in collaboration with SIAP SIAGA, a disaster risk management programme funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Some interesting and innovative examples of alternative data were raised as examples during the discussion – examples which could potentially be replicated and/or expanded for current or future disaster management contexts. Indonesian firm Iykra – for example –established a data network using data from Google and Flight Radar to provide analysis on mobility and early potential rates of infection. Google mobility data allowed them to develop data visualisations as an alternative source on community movement before and after large-scale social movement restrictions were implemented by the Indonesian government.
In another example, Pulse Lab Jakarta (PLJ) explored mobility patterns using data based on agreements negotiated with telecommunications providers. Such mapping was undertaken during and after natural disasters – for example following the 2018 Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia – to support insights on disaster response for multiple parties. PLJ has undertaken such work again to support the Indonesian government during this pandemic, particularly by visualising COVID-19 data from each Indonesian province for easier analysis and response.
Examples and innovations such as these form a large part of the AHA Centre’s ICT Roadmap, as well as the organisation’s overall push for increasing information and communication technology advances at the front and centre of ASEAN disaster management. While there is still much to be determined, even the small portion of ICT currently being utilised by disaster managers is having a significant impact. Alternative data not only provides new and unique insights, but also supports governments and other disaster management stakeholders to overcome data management challenges – particularly in relation to speed and infrastructure access required to gather traditional data within emergency situations. With proper understanding and utilisation, alternative data could form an integral part of disaster management processes, and support the development of policies, processes and activities through all parts of the disaster management cycle.
Written by : William Shea | Source : Saraswati Development Innovation
5 USEFUL APPS
FOR DISASTER-PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
Living in the ASEAN region requires residents to equip themselves with a range of helpful technologies that can provide support to mitigate hazards that may arise under any circumstances. These days, technology is handy for receiving alerts and information on disasters and emergency. Increasing ease of access to information is important, as the ASEAN region sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, leaving it prone to the full array of natural hazards. There are a range of applications you can use to receive disaster notifications, support your preparation, and inform you what to do during a critical event.
1. DISASTER ALERT
Developed by the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) in Hawaii, the United States, this app allows the users to search the locations of current disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, storms, landslides, floods and forest fires. And recently, the app has also included tracking the spread of a major virus outbreak. Supported by the DisasterAWARE platform (also developed by the PDC), Disaster Alert provides GPS-based notifications, also allowing users to see other details and locations that are dangerous.
2. NATIONAL APPLICATION EXAMPLES
Info BMKG (Indonesia)
The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) official app “Info BMKG”, offers features such as earthquake notifications, early warning weather alerts, and informations. Users can also get information about weather forecasts based on location. For earthquake information, all registered earthquakes can appear as notifications, complete with the epicentre location and its distance from the user.
Batingaw app (The Philippines)
Batingaw, a Tagalog word for “siren”, is a pro-active, comprehensive and rational disaster management mobile application adopted by the Office of Civil Defence (OCD) and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) as a communication tool to help reduce and mitigate the disastrous effects of natural and human-made hazards on vulnerable communities. It was developed by Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) in cooperation with the OCD and the NDRRMC. It highlights the need for tools that will not only strengthen public awareness on the importance of disaster preparedness, but also facilitate a nationwide system for disaster response and management.
Safety Guide (Brunei Darussalam)
This app provides guidelines to understand the nature of natural and man-made disasters; early warning signs and specific action plans to various emergency situations for individuals and the community as a whole. This app is based from the book published by the Brunei Darussalam National Disaster Management Centre in 2013 titled ‘Buku Panduan Asas Kecemasan dan Keselamatan Awam’.
3. QUAKEFEED EARTHQUAKE ALERTS
This free app is intended specifically for iOS users who have iPhones and iPads. As the name implies, the app is intended to inform users about earthquake occurrences. So far, it highlights earthquakes from M1.0 on the Richter scale in the USA, and M4.5 in other countries.
4. HAZARD – IFRC
Disaster Preparedness in Your Pocket. The app states that it provides instant access to the information you need to know to prepare for and respond to the impact of a range of hazards, using an alert system feature that provides official updates and warnings from alerting agencies. Hazard also allows you to prepare your homes and family for disasters, find help, and let others know you are safe.
In the ASEAN region, the app is currently supported by Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies from Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and
5. TRAVEL SMART (BONUS APP)
While Global Affairs Canada created this app, don’t let that stop you downloading it if you live elsewhere. Travel Smart app provides essential preparedness and emergency information about countries all over the world. A few highlights include locations of local emergency contacts and embassies, 24-5 alerts, estimated wait times at borders, historical data on storm seasons and natural disasters, transmittable diseases and outbreaks, higher risk areas of towns for tourists, and much more.
Written by : Ina Rachmawati
IN THE PHILIPPINES
For November the Colum volume 56 we cover the most frequent hazard that visits The Philippines – Typhoon.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Did you know that Typhoon, Hurricane and Cyclone are all essentially the same? As they are all types of tropical storms. The only difference is where they are located.
They are given different names depending on where they appear. Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific. Cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.
FREQUENCY OF TYPHOON IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is the most typhoon visited country in the world with an average of 20 tropical cyclones annually. For the past 10 years, 2013 was the year when the Philippines experience more than 25 typhoons in a year, that is nearly once every two weeks on average.
With the strongest was TC Sening (Joan) in 1970 – 275 kph. Costliest, TC Haiyan (Yolanda) 2013 – USD 2.2B and Deadliest with TC Haiphong 1881 – 20K Dead.
Catanduanes is the most frequently visited province by powerful typhoons, hence it was dubbed as “the land of howling winds”
THE NAMING OF TROPICAL CYCLONE
Ever wonder how typhoons get their names? And why do they have names at all? Meteorologists long ago learned that naming tropical storms and hurricanes helps people remember the storms, communicate about them more effectively, and so stay safer if and when a particular storm strikes a coast. These experts assign names to Typhoons according to a formal list of names that is approved prior to the start of each hurricane season.
When does a storm receive a name? Tropical storms are given names when they display a rotating circulation pattern and wind speeds of 63 kilometres per hour. A tropical storm develops into a hurricane when wind speeds reach 119 kph.
The Philippines is the only country in the world that has its own system of naming tropical cyclones. The first tropical cyclone in the Philippines to be assigned a male name was Tropical Depression “BAROK”.
The Philippines repeats the same Typhoon local name every four years but had retired 10 names which exceeded 300 deaths and USD 20M damage cost to agriculture.
The longest period where no typhoon affected the Philippines was August 15, 2002, until April 15, 2003, or 8 silent months.
Source: Earthsky.org, NDRRMC, PAGASA and Typhoon2000
Written by : Lawrence Aporto and Ina Rachmawati
Drought – formed by a significant, extended period of dry weather and limited rainfall – is particularly common across some of the ASEAN region’s drier areas. However, history has shown that drought is not confined to just those locations, with it known to impact communities and livelihoods from traditionally rainy climate, and can even be felt significantly outside of the directly-affected region.
Defining drought can be relatively complex, due to the fact that it is based not on a set precipitation figure – but compared to the average amount of precipitation experienced in a specific location. Therefore, a recognised drought situation in a tropical region (known for high rates of rainfall) may still be seen as very wet when compared to an arid location. However, we can simply determine that a drought is recognised when an area receives significantly less precipitation than it is used to, and does so over an extended period of time.
A key difference with drought, when compared to other disaster types, is its slow-onset nature. While earthquakes, floods and volcanoes strike quickly and often unexpectedly, drought slowly manifests over weeks and months of little-to-no rainfall. Sometimes bursts of rainfall may provide short-term relief, however the beginning and end of drought periods are usually only determined once the disaster has truly finished. Drought is most-often caused by changes or disruptions to the normal weather patterns (such as through winds or atmospheric circulation), with the increasing onset of climate change impact also linked to many drought situations.
IMPACTS OF DROUGHT IN ASEAN
It was recently reported by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) that droughts have impacted over 60 million ASEAN citizens throughout the past 30 years, with such estimations considered conservative due to traditional underreporting of drought based on its slow-onset context. Through a study produced to support ASEAN disaster risk reduction under the ASEAN-UN Joint Strategic Plan of Action on Disaster Management, significant increases in the future impact of drought in the region were highlighted, particularly with increased detrimental impact of climate change on ASEAN communities.
Key challenges faced by ASEAN when facing drought include the tendency of high impact on farming communities and regions, increasing vulnerability for those who rely on agriculture as their primary source of income – including in Lao PDR (61% of citizens), Viet Nam (41%), Indonesia (31%), Cambodia (27%) and the Philippines (26%). Alongside this, drought conditions also tend to impact most heavily on poorer communities, increasing inequality and therefore the risk of conflict. The report calls on starting interventions now to reduce the impacts of drought, protect the poorest communities and foster more harmonious societies.
RISK OF SECONDARY DISASTERS
Drought impact and conditions also increase significant risk of a range of secondary disasters – or disasters that occur due to conditions impacted by drought. Flooding can increase in risk in drought-affected areas, particularly when flash rains arrive, with loose and dry topsoil adding to water runoff, alongside lack of flooding preparation by communities (due to ongoing dry weather). Landslides also become a significant risk, as land degradation and decreased plant life results in unstable and landslide-prone land areas. Fires clearly also increase in risk during drought conditions, as trees and plants become dry and more prone to ignition, while dry winds and lack of rain only add to fan the flames of any hotspots or flare-ups. As previously mentioned, human conflict (or human-influenced disaster) is also an increased risk due to drought, as inequality, hunger and forced displacement all become more prevalent the longer a drought continues.
While perhaps more challenging to prepare for than quick-onset disasters, ASEAN communities and governments must adopt new practices and policies to prepare for the forecasted increase in future droughts. Even in non-rural areas, efforts for water conservation and protection of green areas can support the overall context of drought mitigation. Working with farmers through new technology and drought-resistant crops, as well as promoting more sustainable land-use practices and more responsible water-use methods are all significant opportunities to help deal with the onset of drought. All parties clearly have a role in the preparation for and overcoming of future drought conditions in the region.
Written by : William Shea | Source : Ready for the Dry Years: Building resilience to drought in South-East Asia, United Nation Publication/ESCAP