Advancing Integration Series


Disaster, environment, climate integration in South Asia

Ali Sheikh, LEAD Pakistan and CDKN

The new, democratically elected, governments in South Asia are challenged by the accelerating cost of development. Many of them are off track on many, if not most, of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Almost half of the total global population that earns less than two dollars a day is concentrated in South Asia. The effort to lift large segments of their populations above the poverty line are challenged by the underlying limitations caused by the increasing costs of frequent disasters, environmental degradation and climate change.

This challenge is accentuated by an institutional landscape that is seldom integrative. The national planning commissions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, have enjoyed stronger and central influence since their inception in 1960s; with an ability to convene and broker inter-ministerial concerns and interests. In general and in historical terms, disaster preparedness, environmental degradation and climate change seldom found space in their planning documents and financial outlays.

It is only from the 1980s, following the Bruntland Commission, that the departments or ministries of environment began to emerge in the region. These new set ups were pre-occupied, perhaps consumed, by two concurrent processes: a) negotiating and reporting on UN Conventions (desertification, biodiversity, climate) and international multilateral environmental agreements (Montreal, Basil, Kyoto. etc.), and b) spearheading national environmental legislations and other legal instruments. While they were still struggling with these architectural issues, the global landscape changed and, in a parallel fashion, a range of new institutions dealing with disaster management began to emerge in the region during the 1990s. The Hyogo Framework for Action fascinated the humanitarian assistance community, often led by INGOs, but not as much the environmentalists in the region. Both communities flourished for their respective reasons in their respective silos without necessarily interacting with each other. Likewise, the development and mainstreaming of MDGs continued as an autonomous process and rarely did the energies converge.

As the climate change debate heated up in the world, another set of institutions, ministries and departments sprang up in the region. From a cautious and somewhat unimaginative start as sections within the already-weak ministries of environment, a plethora of climate related policy documents, strategies and action plans has emerged in 2010s in all these countries. The mainstreaming climate change in planning documents and budgetary allocations, as environment and disaster risk reduction before this, however, continues to be a short to medium term challenge. Pakistan and India have just recently created ministries of climate change - a step Bangladesh and Nepal could also soon take.

The uptake of environmental, disaster and climate issues in South Asia has therefore been slow, linear and lopsided. This stunted evolution and skewed sequencing of the institutional landscape in the region is, albeit, a product of global drive and consciousness. Driven by the movement of global agenda on these issues, the progress was hostage to the development and strengthening of new ministries and departments. The actions, more often than not, were top down and vertically defined. The narrative was not linked to the dual challenge of poverty and sustained economic growth.
Finally, the governments in the region traditionally looked at disaster, environment and climate as humanitarian, social, and international political issues respectively. The departments and ministries dealing with heath, education, sanitation or rural development would get better resource allocations, staffing, and donor commitments than disasters, environment or climate change.

The Advancing Integration paper on Reflections and Lessons: Unlocking policy reform and advancing integration: a synthesis of findings argues that integrated thinking and policy change depends on three important factors, i) actors, organizations and networks; ii) policy spaces or windows; and iii) knowledge and information. It is only in recent years that some attention has been paid to their economic costs. A sizable number of research institutions, think tanks and CSOs have emerged that have begun to highlight their inter-linkages, and bearing on each other. This is not to imply that integration doesn’t happen at all, but only to highlight that there is now a new space available for methodical and systematic, mainstreamed policy responses.

The paper has also highlighted five key issues to be addressed to enable The DEC integration - senior management support; organizational integration; inclusion in high-level policies; action plans; and methods for learning and dissemination. We see progress being made at the country level and Asia pacific levels, where actors including policy makers, think tanks and other civil society actors are convening to exchange information and ideas to develop synergies. Statements and positions are being formulated by CSOs and country governments which can be a catalyst for DEC integration.

Some integrative approaches are also being devised to achieve the ‘triple bottom line’ (yes, it is a renewed phrase!). The Climate Change Policy in Pakistan and the State Level Action Plans in India do justice to mainstream the DEC elements. The strategy documents and many projects such as the Future Proofing Indian Cities, Developing integrated Climate Risk Assessment for CCD planning in Central Asia, Disaster Risk Insurance For Vulnerable Communities In Pakistan and Supporting climate resilient construction in vulnerable areas in the Punjab are some examples that show a promise at not only DEC integration. but also involving governments departments to dispel the siloed approach.

The governments in the region must demonstrate leadership through their DEC integration, supporting creativity and innovation in key sectors such as energy, food and nexus, and boosting the region's prospects for sustainable economic growth.

As the new democratically elected governments in South Asia proceed with their policies, they must demonstrate political vision and leadership and ensure that their economic and social policies integrated disaster risk reduction, environmental degradation and climate change. Anything less would damage the prospects of future prosperity and wellbeing, for us, our children and future generations.