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Covid and Climate Change Push South Asia Toward a Complex Emergency

By Sarang Shidore and Andrea Rezzonico 

As Cyclone Tauktae hurtled toward India’s west coast on May 17, a grim scenario outlined in  Amitav Ghosh’s eloquent meditation on climate change, The Great Derangement, suddenly loomed as a distinct possibility. A direct hit on the megapolis of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Ghosh wrote, could wreak damage far greater than the city’s monster flood of 2005. To the prospect of massive flooding and failure of essential services, Ghosh added the spectacle of corrugated iron roofs from the city’s teeming informal settlements turning into deadly projectiles slamming into its upscale glass towers, and major radioactive leakage in the city’s decades-old nuclear complex. The scenario is only too realistic, and may presage frequent complex emergency moments in South Asia, in which multiple risks (ranging from climate change to health, geopolitics, and governance) converge in a positive feedback loop, creating extensive dislocation and damage to large human populations. 

The Arabian Sea, on the coast of which Mumbai is located, has historically seen far less cyclonic activity than the more turbulent Bay of Bengal to its east. Bangladesh and the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, for example, are no strangers to major storms and attendant evacuation of tens of millions of people – with a potential new cyclone brewing even at the time of writing. But the Arabian Sea’s major urban agglomerations in South Asia – Mumbai and Karachi – but also Goa, Kochi, Mangalore and others, have generally had an easy ride, with Mumbai not seeing a serious cyclone in its vicinity in four decades.

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Report Highlight: Climate Security and the Strategic Energy Pathway in South Asia

By Sarang Shidore, Rachel Fleishman and Dr. Marc Kodack

Climate change is not just an environmental issue in South Asia; it is also a major security concern. When overlaid with pre-existing domestic distress and inter-state rivalries that roil the region, it could well act as a tipping point that triggers or magnifies violent conflict. But appropriate policy responses, including institution-building, data-sharing and embracing a rapid low-carbon pathway, provide a way forward. 

These are some of the conclusions we reached in a recent report published by the Expert Group of the International Military Council on Climate and Security titled “Climate Security and the Strategic Energy Pathway in South Asia.” The report examines the impact of climate change in three areas – the India-Pakistan rivalry, the China-India rivalry and within domestic security arenas in South Asia. 

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BRIEFER: Converging Risks in South Asia: Is a Disruptive Transition on the Horizon?

SarangShidoreTNBy Sarang Shidore

South Asia spans multiple countries that were formerly either directly or effectively a component of British India. These include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives. The subcontinent has had a traumatic history in modern times. Political partition in the wake of independence from colonial rule in 1947 left enormous death in its wake, particularly in the northwestern part of the region. Major conflicts such as the 1971 India-Pakistan war (which birthed the new state of Bangladesh) and bloody civil wars in Sri Lanka and Nepal added to suffering in the region. In addition, democracy has often been on the defensive in South Asia, with Pakistan experiencing multiple military coups and Bangladesh and India going through shorter authoritarian spells in the 1970s and 80s.

With a population of nearly 1.3 billion, India lies at the geographic and demographic core of South Asia. India’s future, perhaps more than that of any other country in the region, is likely to affect the rest of South Asia. The other countries of the region are also critical for regional security. Pakistan and Bangladesh have a combined population of close to 400 million, but often get less attention, namely because of the presence of their massive neighbor, India. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, though much smaller, impact the region in more subtle but important ways. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

Click here for the full briefer.

Takeaways from Sri Lanka Event: Climate Security in South Asia

Colombo Daily News 2 Dec 2017

Colombo Daily News, December 2

By Rachel Fleishman, Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific, The Center for Climate and Security

On November 30 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I participated in an event titledClimate Change and Resources Security: Challenges for Security and the Security Sector in South Asia” – convened just as Cyclone Ockhi hit Sri Lanka’s southeastern coast.* The storm provided a somber backdrop for the discussions. In his opening remarks, Sri Lanka’s Secretary to the Ministry of Defense Kapila Waidyaratne reported 7 killed and hundreds displaced. By the end of the session the confirmed death toll was 11, with more than 3000 having been evacuated. (more…)

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