Colombo, Nov 1 – Leading Sri Lankan expert on maritime security Adm.Dr.Jayanath Colombage says that South Asia is an epicenter of natural disasters and therefore, it needs a disaster management hub. Sri Lanka, he argues is the best place to locate the hub.
In his article on the subject in Daily Mirror, P.K.Balachandran quotes Adm.Colombage as saying: ” Disasters are becoming increasingly common and dangerous. Many populations are vulnerable to disasters. As large populations are now urbanized, and living in coastal areas, they are more prone to disasters. Disasters can occur without much warning. Many governments and populations are quite unprepared for facing or recovering after a disaster.”
Colombage, a former Commander of the Sri Lankan navy, points out that nearly 90% of natural disasters and 95% of disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries. According to M.M.Ariyabandu and M.Wickramasinghe (Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management – A guide for South Asia, Zubaan, New Delhi, India), between 1992 and 2001, disasters claimed 96,285 lives in the South Asian sub continent.
“The South Asia region is exposed to a variety of hazards, mainly due to its geographical location, Colombage says.
“It is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. Three out of ten deadliest natural disasters since 1980 have occurred in South Asia. These include tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and low-intensity conflict. And climate change has increased exposure to these hazards, resulting in more frequent and more intense natural disasters,” he adds.
In South Asia, natural disasters can be exacerbated by human interference or inaction. Regional cooperation is necessary, but that is not easy in South Asia.“Political sensitivities, trust deficit between states, and the vast disparity between the size and wealth of different countries make it hard to find mutual ground on many trans-boundary issues,” Colombage points out.
SAARC has developed a comprehensive framework for disaster management and disaster prevention in 2005, and established a number of SAARC Disaster Management and Prevention Centres (SDMC). “But progress in building disaster risk management capabilities of South Asian states through regional cooperation has been slow,” he says.
The following areas must be developed, he recommends: institutional frameworks; economic capacity; frequent testing of early-warning systems; maintenance of ready-to-use resources; coordination of action among various stakeholders including domestic, international and regional agencies; recording and analysis of disaster responses; and learning from mistakes.
All this needs international cooperation and a “hub” for the region. The ideal hub for the South Asian region is Sri Lanka, says Colombage emphatically.
There are models of framework for South Asia to follow. There is the “Sendai Framework” and that of ASEAN. The Sendai Framework for disaster risk management was adopted at the Third UN World
Conference in Sendai, Japan, on March 18, 2015. It was the outcome of stakeholder consultations initiated in March 2012 and inter-governmental negotiations from July 2014 to March 2015, supported by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction at the request of the UN General Assembly. The United Nations Framework focuses more on “Disaster Risk Management” as opposed to “Disaster Management.” The scope is broadened to include both man-made and natural hazards and related environments, technological and biological hazards and risks.
Developing South Asian countries could take the cue from ASEAN and it has succeeded in providing humanitarian assistance after disasters in its area, Colombage says.
In November 2011, ten ASEAN nations signed an agreement on disaster management and created the ASEAN coordinating centre for humanitarian assistance and Disaster Management (AHA Centre) in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The AHAs Centre was aimed at facilitating cooperation and coordination among ASEAN member states with the United Nations and International organizations for disaster management and emergency response in the region.
The motto of the AHA centre is: One ASEAN-One Response. Therefore, ASEAN addresses the issues of strengthening of international cooperation and global partnership.“There is also clear recognition of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the regional platforms for disaster risk reduction as mechanisms for coherence across agendas, monitoring and periodic reviews in support of UN Governance bodies. There is a renewed understanding that international, regional and sub regional and trans-boundary cooperation is essential in supporting states, their national and local authorities, as well as communities and businesses to reduce disaster risk,” Colombage says. Lanka as hub
Since the South Asian region is both disaster-prone and vast, it has to have a “hub” to coordinate disaster risk management disaster management. Therefore, the ideal location for the hub is Sri Lanka” Colombage says.
Listing the reasons for recommending Sri Lanka, he says: Sri Lanka’s unique advantage in the India Ocean is the geographical location. It is located in the centre of the Indian Ocean, almost equidistant from the Eastern and Western Indian Ocean littorals.
Further, the island is located just 12 nautical miles from the busiest East-West shipping route across this ocean, linking Europe, the Americas, Far East, Middle East and Asia, which is considered a key shipping lane in the 21st century. Sri Lanka is blessed with deep-water ports and deep navigable waters around the country and especially along the approaches to major ports. The port of Colombo is the only port in the region which is capable of docking and handling even the latest version of mega container ships.
The country maintains a balanced and equidistant diplomatic posture and is considered to be “friendly’ country by many countries. It is the only country in this region, where all states arrive without any restrictions – be they Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis or Americans.
Sri Lanka is well connected digitally to the world and possesses an advanced telecommunication
network. It also enjoys a well connected aviation network linking major cities in the region and beyond and has already taken leadership roles in the Indian Ocean with the Indian Ocean as the Zone of Peace initiative. It had a role in creating SAARC and UNCLOS (Law of the Sea).
Sri Lanka has presently taken the initiative to discuss a Code of Conduct for Major Maritime Users in the Indian Ocean region and a new Indian Ocean Order.
It has to Disaster response with a well-established Disaster Management Centre (DMC) under government patronage. The DMC coordinates all the stake holders, both domestic and foreign agencies in responding to disasters rapidly.
“Considering these factors, Sri Lanka would be the most suitable location to act as a hub for disaster management in the South Asian and Indian Ocean Region,” Colombage concludes.