Security Salon on "Is the Prevailing Drought a result of Climate Change"

The INSSSL Security Salon held on 19th January at the Ministry of Defence saw two eminent speakers on the timely and relevant topic of “Climate Change and Disaster Management in South Asia”. Dr. Peter Hefele, Director of the Regional Project on Energy Security and Climate Change Asia-Pacific at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey, Director of the Centre of South Asian Studies (SCAS), Nepal, who are both experts on this subject provided the foundation to an interesting discussion that followed with experts from diplomatic missions, the government, Disaster Management Centre and donor agencies.

Secretary Defence Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi also provided valuable input on investing in safeguarding mechanisms in facing challenges of climate change. He also referred to the excellent water irrigation systems in the country’s history. However, as he pointed out, the wet zone generally has an abundance of water during the monsoons which are not preserved and distributed to the dry zone or when there is a drought. Director General, INSSSL in his welcome address, quoted from a speech made by Secretary Defence at a previous conference in 2013, aptly named “A Day Without Water”. He also mentioned His Excellency the President Maithripala Sirisena having highlighted the importance of climate change and has taken measures for speedy action on climate change supporting the COP21.

Dr. Hefele specifically focused on energy security and climate change. He highlighted the need for a political foundation enabling space and effective channels of communication to bring out recommendations for the future management of disasters with suggestions of transforming the economy to a non-carbon economy. He also drew on the role of geopolitics with traditional security issues closely related to energy, the core issue of security being the nexus between traditional and non-traditional security. As for the case of Asia and South Asia, the solutions need to be more pragmatic than theoretical he said.

Dr. Pandey provided an overview of the Nepal earthquake and response mechanisms. It was noteworthy that social media enabled communication when other channels stopped functioning. Some of the more serious challenges faced was with regard to reconciliation and reconstruction, distribution of aid, food security issues, displacement of persons and resource mobilization. The speaker also brought forth the much discussed issue of SAARC’s lacklustre role in the region, more specifically in disaster management. Furthermore, he stated that South Asia being a disaster zone, SAARC should bridge the gap of knowledge and experience in disaster management.

This was followed by an interesting discussion with views and comments from experts. The case of the 2004 tsunami and how a disaster of that magnitude was managed by the military, other agencies and international donors was shown as an example of an occasion where an integrated response mechanism was reasonably successful. The importance of maintaining methods of communication in the face of a disaster in order to identify priorities and take necessary action was also highlighted. Difficulties faced by the Disaster Management Centre where legislations being in place without action being taken and provincial mechanisms not being in place to address disasters were also pointed out. In this regard, a suggestion was made that inter-ministerial coordination was vital with a disaster management plan being drafted by each Ministry. Comments from international donor agencies showed mismanagement and lapses in coordination and communication in such a situation. The case of other nations with the capability of a strong response system that is decentralised which makes it easier to rise up to the occasion in managing and mitigating a disaster was provided as an example. This marked the conclusion of yet another successful Security Salon initiated by the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL).