The destruction caused by Cyclone Ockhi in South Asia portends what a ‘climate-changed’ world has in store for humankind, especially taking into consideration the adverse human security implications of such disasters that have to be addressed urgently. Dhanasree Jayaram argues that planetary security in this context can be best ensured at the regional level.
2017 has been a tumultuous year for South Asia, environmentally. The region witnessed many disasters, including floods and cyclones among other extreme weather events. Cyclone Ockhi is the latest to affect peninsular India, mainly Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Lakshadweep. It wreaked havoc not only in India, but also in the neighbouring Sri Lanka and the Maldives. With hundreds of fishermen still missing, the full-scale impacts of the cyclone are still unknown. With disasters such as Cyclone Ockhi becoming a ‘new normal’ now, catastrophic implications for human security have too, thereby demanding urgent action at both international and regional levels, more so at the latter.
Cyclone Ockhi is an eye-opener
Cyclone Ockhi is one of the rare “very severe” cyclones to have occurred in the Arabian Sea. The last time when a cyclone affected India’s western coast was in 2007 (Cyclone Gonu). The Bay of Bengal is prone to tropical cyclones during the North Indian Ocean cyclone season and therefore, states lying on India’s eastern coast have implemented several disaster risk reduction measures to reduce the impact of cyclones when they make landfall and/or directly/indirectly hit the land. However, utter disregard for the need for a similar level of preparedness on the western coast exacerbated the impact of the disaster multi-fold.
A cyclone in the Arabian Sea may not be a sign of the ‘new normal’. It is not possible to directly correlate Cyclone Ockhi to climate change either. But the fact of the matter is that in the light of increasing uncertainties, there is a need for a large country like India to remain alert and prepare for the worst, even if a certain part of the country has not seen a specific kind of disaster in recorded history.
Can the planetary security agenda deliver?
The trail of destruction left by Cyclone Ockhki brings everyone back to the questions of how environmental disasters can gravely affect human security – as evidenced by its impact on the most vulnerable population, which in this case is the marine fisher-folk population – and how this could be addressed. In this context, one of the action areas of The Hague Declaration on Planetary Security is – “Creating an Institutional Home for Climate Security” – becomes salient – as it begins by quoting several examples of environmental disasters. However, the question is whether an institutional home at an international level, for specifically “climate security”, at this juncture would deliver when most existing climate change mechanisms that are also tailored to look into these aspects have not taken off. Indeed, extreme weather events are possibly the most tangible manifestations of environmental and climate change, and therefore, proposals such as the loss-and-damage mechanism need to be worked out urgently.
Where such an institutional home would be able to bridge the gap is by providing a database of information, assessments and records on security-related threats of climate change, a much-needed step, considering the literature available on this topic is at times polarising, and therefore a more credible authority can help verify and legitimise findings. Whether it can translate into coordination between different UN agencies and/or influence decision-making significantly is an open question.
Also, how does one ensure that the focus on climate security does not in any way dilute the importance of managing other ‘planetary’ boundaries, some of which the ‘planet’ seems to have already crossed and whose security implications – human and national – are being felt in various parts of the world, whether it is in terms of freshwater availability or pollution. It is still debatable if ‘climate change’ can actually act as an overarching umbrella under which all environmental risks can be dealt with.
Enhance the role of regional initiatives
Most issues related to building climate resilience are best addressed at the regional level, wherein the understanding of the impacts of environmental and climate change and responses are common to a large extent and where there are pre-existing regional arrangements that address this already or could accommodate it. It is therefore promising to see that The Hague Declaration also focuses on this level – e.g. by supporting a joint risk assessment in Lake Chad.
Cyclone Ockhi is yet another reminder that the countries in the Indian Ocean Region that have repeatedly been victims of cyclones must come together to create a regional framework to pool in the available resources aimed at disaster risk reduction; and at the same time work towards a regional approach to tackling security implications of environmental and climate change. At the same time, the regional initiative needs to be integrated with international mechanisms like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and frameworks such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Dhanasree Jayaram is Researcher at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (deemed-to-be-University), Manipal, Karnataka, India
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.